4 Nov 2014

Why do they judge me? New rebels ditch bingeing for bingo

Youth used to go hand in hand with rebellion. But Channel 4 News speaks to the Londoners playing it straight and challenging perceptions of what it means to be a millennial rebel in 2014.

Eat, sleep, rave, repeat, eat, sleep, rave repeat: just your average day in the life of an early twentysomething – if the myths (and Fatboy Slim) are to believed.

Despite plenty of studies showing that young people are skint, stressed out about the future and worried they will never get a decent job, they are still subject to perceptions that they are either lazy, or out to cause trouble. The recent 2011 riots, still fresh in people’s memory, haven’t helped the cause.

Generation swap - tune in to Channel 4 News at 7pm for more on the new millennials

Down at Bingo Palace, in the inner depths of Elephant and Castle shopping centre in London, Gary Dighton is there with his mum and for him, it’s all about the win: “I’d prefer make money, than just go out and drink.” The most he has won is £80, but this is a big club with national games – players regularly win up to £1,000.

He’s close to his mum, and takes her twice a week for a night out. But just by virtue of being a hoodie-wearing 20-year-old, he says he rubs people up the wrong way. “People around where I live aren’t very polite to me. It’s their influences, they just think I’ll be involved in crime or something,” he said.

He’s not the only one more likely to be down the bingo hall, than down the pub – and it’s not just the hipster joints putting on bingo nights as an ironic nod to a bygone era. The Bingo Palace manager Patrick Kelly, who’s also vice-chair of the Bingo Association, says the average age of players is getting younger.

“Young people are always attracted to clubs that are bigger, busier, and offer good money. It’s like everything – it’s about the atmosphere that goes with it,” he said. “They come in the evening. People often meet up, and you’ll see them moving from table to table. It’s a very safe environment, especially for women.”

Read more: over 60s drink twice as often as the under 30s, exclusive #C4news poll reveals

‘It doesn’t fit in with my stereotype’

In Hackney, east London, Rasheeda St Louis (see video above) says she’s always game for trying things out – yoga and salsa to name just a few. The 22-year-old first went to her local Mecca Bingo when a friend invited her along for the ride. “I enjoyed it so I kept going,” she said. “My friends were surprised – I guess it doesn’t fit in with my stereotype, whatever that is.

I think any person who thinks for themselves… is defiant in the face of what society, the media and their peers expect of them. Chris Dias

“Some people can only do what they know or what is shown to them, I don’t think anyone should be afraid to break away from the crowd,” she added.

“Society has often portrayed young people negatively, for example television programmes representative of me usually show crime, drugs or stereotypical things, which lack positivity and individuality.”

Stepping foot in an old-school bingo hall for the first time, is like entering a foreign land, writes Méabh Ritchie. There are strict rules about when you're allowed to talk (not at the same time as the bingo caller) and when you're allowed to take photos (almost never). There is also etiquette about giggling during a game (permitted, but frowned upon) and you are most certainly not allowed to call out if you're not absolutely sure you won. One bingo player learned the hard way, after she was almost booed back to her seat.
I went along to Elephant and Castle's Bingo Palace on the hunt for some young people playing bingo. It feels like a cross between a cruise ship and a run-down casino and with no natural light, it is not the most uplifting of places. Rows and rows of tables and chairs are surrounded by fruit machines, a bar and a canteen.
I was told the youth are normally out in force on a Sunday, the big money day. They apparently come in packs, or with family, and spend the day trying to win big. The previous Sunday, 27 people had won £1,000.
On this rainy weekday night, they were in short supply and not exactly forthcoming - unless you're dealing in cold hard cash, that is. "Do we get paid?" was the response to this journalist's questions, followed by a firm refusal when the answer was no. Another 27-year-old bingo player told me she did it for the love of the game - "after you're a kid, when else do you get the chance to play games?" But that definitely wasn't the case for them all. I left with this parting shot, ringing in my ears: "We don't want to talk if we don't get paid. All we care about is the money."

There’s always a conflict between the generations, Jon Savage, punk expert and author of Teenage, told Channel 4 News, and the old are often threatened by the young. But this generation of young people have had a raw deal.

“I also think there have been concerted attacks on youth by various governments really, for the last 20 years,” he said, citing tuition fees as one of the main factors.

This has all had its impact on what it means to be rebel, with millenials having less money and more caution.

‘The assumption is that it’s something drug-related’

“When I tell people that I grow plants in my bedroom, the assumption often is that it’s something drug related like cannabis. That’s not the case,” says Chris Dias, 23.

He grew up surrounded by plants in India, and has tried to recreate that world in his tiny bedroom in a London estate. “I get a deep sense of relaxation and comfort when I am in the garden or taking care of plants,” he said. “There is no information overload, there are no constant distractions and I don’t feel overwhelmed, like how things like the media or the internet tend to make me feel sometimes.”

And he sees it as a form of defiance. “Consciously doing something that goes against a current trend is automatically a rebellion,” he said.

“I think any person who thinks for themselves and isn’t just passively following the crowd, because people they are associated to, do, but follows something that makes them feel positive, is defiant in the face of what society, the media and their peers expect of them.”

The film above features:

Rasheeda St Louis
Chris Dias
Lateef Shofolowe
Tijan Sallah aka Kingpin
Justine Ndaya Onokoko
Olivia Bolam
Nubia Servina