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The Attack on the Cereal Killer Café Was a Fight Between Overgrown Children

But what does that actually mean for society?

by Sam Kriss
28 September 2015, 10:30am

At long last, it's time for humanity to come together and fight to eliminate that most ancient and pernicious prejudice, the hatred of windows. Who will speak for the voiceless? Who will stand up for those who can't stand up themselves (at least, not without some kind of surrounding frame)? From the smashing of stained glass during the Reformation, to Kristallnacht, to some anarchists throwing paint at the cereal café in Shoreditch: why do people think it's OK to commit acts of violence against windows?

This is, apparently, the discussion we're having after members of a protest group called, bizarrely, "Fuck Parade" threw paint bombs and cereal at the Cereal Killer Café on Brick Lane, East London, a disquieting outpost of our inevitable candy-coloured future dystopia that only sells breakfast cereal. The café's official Twitter account described it as a "#hatecrime" – helpfully hashtagging the word in case you wanted to be one easy click away from more exciting #hatecrime news. Others, including Old Holborn ( described by the Daily Mail as "one of Britain's vilest trolls"), appeared to seriously compare it to Kristallnacht, as if the real victims in 1938 were all those innocent windows.

Across the country – or, at least, across the internet, which is by now functionally the same thing – thousands of people are trying to work out what the correct opinion on all this is. Was it wrong to attack a locally-owned independent business when there are plenty of big chain stores nearby? Is this legitimate political violence or ultraleft deviationism? Aren't hipster gentrifiers also sometimes the victims of gentrification? Isn't vandalising a window appropriate when so much of London is being taken over by blank glass boxes, windows with nobody inside? But don't windows have human rights too?

This is the first stage, next there are the thinkpieces. The Guardian's Comment is Free, always reliable for that sort of thing, has already got in on the act. Theirs is a bold line: apparently, if you're not too keen on established communities being taken over by a pair of creepily identical breakfast-peddlers, or a pop-up bar that only serves tap water, out of a single tap (which, against all sense and reason, briefly existed), you may as well don a purple rosette and start goose-stepping with the Ukippers. It won't be the last: this stuff is what thinkpieces live on, the leaky drainpipe that nourishes their mossy, parasitical sprawl. The story is silly, sure, but doesn't it say something important about where we are as a society? And it does: it shows that it's now all but impossible for anything to happen without also having to mean something.

I visited the Cereal Killer Café when it first opened; I even imagined a pitched battle taking place outside its doors. The place is weird and dark and strangely seedy, given that what it essentially does is sell food for children. It's an innocence-deficit that the customers try their best to close up, dressing in colourful onesies and bringing big-boy spoons to eat bowls of milk and sugar designed for people whose brains haven't fully developed yet.

Watch: Searching for Spitman

Tom Whyman has written persuasively on the general cultural trend towards infantilisation, the mass abandonment of the adult world for a snug and secure parody of childhood, where we can live off tap water and cereal and everything will be lovely. (There's an adult preschool in Brooklyn, where grown men and women can do finger-painting and have nap time, and this is in a country that has over seven thousand nuclear weapons.) But there's another kind of infantilisation going on outside the café, in which people choose to perform social activism under the name "Fuck Parade", crowdfund the revolution on IndieGoGo, and scrawl the word "scum" on the kiddie café during a late-night brekkie break as a means of fighting against the unchecked expansion of finance capital.

This is the political struggle that briefly entranced a nation: tots versus teens. Two groups of monstrously overgrown children had a squabble, and some paint got on a window. Sometimes windows get messy; it happens. And national newspaper after national newspaper rushed to cover the story.

Socrates is supposed to have said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but then Socrates never read the Huffington Post. To contemplate, first you need life. There's a strand of thought from Aristotle to Fichte to Marx that sees the act of contemplating something as potentially active and transformative. But, as the latter noted, thought always has the potential to coil up on itself, to give every impression of fighting for some kind of change while actually doing nothing of the sort. "Philosophy and the study of the actual world", he wrote, "have the same relation to one another as masturbation and sexual love." In this schema, the average wanky thinkpiece – what Lana Del Rey says about feminism, what the Siege of the Cereal Killer Café says about gentrification – doesn't suffer from being too shallow, but precisely from being too philosophical.

This is where we're all headed. Somewhere, in a grotty and undiscovered corner of the world, a bird will shit on someone's window. Within an hour, there'll be three trending hashtags, 20 reporters hammering on the doors and screaming through keyholes, and thousands of essays about how #TheBird represents nature's revenge for anthropogenic global warming, or how homeowners should be properly armed to defend against intruding fauna, or how we're neglecting guano as a sustainable alternative to chemical fertiliser. We already have the technology needed for every boring thing that ever happens to briefly become the subject of a global debate, across hundreds of essays just like this one. And you'll read them. And nothing will change.

@sam_kriss

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