I heard the term for the first time today on radio with reference to the Raoul Moat Facebook page. (I'm not linking to it but I've seen it and it is natural BNP territory, which is in itself interesting.)
What a perfect formulation of what theorists of a certain persuasion describe as 'the post-modern condition'. Certainly it has never been uncommon to pour unarticulated personal feeling into a proxy of some sort. A residue of fury or frustration or depression has built up in us for some reason and we transfer the weight and power of it onto an object that might serve as focus or container. It is the viral communality of the experience that is fascinating.
The first startling example of this I personally recall is the funeral of Princess Diana where the intensity of feeling seemed to me grotesquely to outweigh its object. It was, I felt, a turning point in British society in that it was uncharacteristically hysterical, overt, larded with cheap little symbols, the very opposite of 'the Dunkirk spirit' or 'the spirit of the Blitz'. I don't mean the emotion itself was cheap but that its blinding glitter had passed through the magnifying lens of an acute communal sentimentality. It was, I was sure, a displaced emotion. Diana herself was as much a symbol as the symbols offered in her remembrance, and in much the same way. Something else was going on here.
When Stalin died the world stopped and women wept in their millions. When Valentino died several women allegedly committed suicide. Feminism has properly questioned the idea of hysteria in women, the word itself deriving for the Greek for womb, but one way or other an excess of overt emotion has been associated with femininity. Men were expected to restrain their emotions: women were expected to give way to theirs.
Perhaps the display of emotion at the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997 was evidence of the often argued feminisation of society. Soon enough - the next year in fact - David Beckham, the model of metrosexuality, would be wearing a sarong. Footballers wept buckets. Weeping by men was permitted, even approved, and men blossomed in tears.
The interesting term in recreational virtual grief is, however, not virtual but recreational. The transference of suppressed emotion to other objects is a basic human characteristic whose patterns were clear long before post-modernism raised its head. The virtual has always been there. Being 'there' is its very purpose.
But recreational? The word' recreation' is generally defined as:
refreshment by means of some pastime, agreeable exercise, or the like.
a pastime, diversion, exercise, or other resource affording relaxation and enjoyment.
Refreshment, relaxation, pastime, an agreeable exercise - like golf for some, or train-spotting, or flower-arranging, the suggestion is that recreation is a product of leisure. We have some leisure time, so why not let our hair down and get ourselves into a proper frenzy about... about what? Why, whatever most addresses our condition, which is one of guilt, hopelessness, helplessness, uselessness and inarticulacy combined. Time for some me time, but me doesn't know what to do with itself. So it creates its own avatar of fury and frustration, and that avatar, for some, for now, is Raoul Moat. Never mind that he shot those people. Shooting is the fury part - the justified fury part. And Raoul Moat is, in virtual terms, immediately available.
And interestingly most of the commentators on the Facebook site are men, not women. Some energy is bleeding (I use the term advisedly) across the gender line.
It is the sad mad music of humanity we can hear playing under this. Like the pro-wrestling matches where the crowd shift from fury to tenderness and back again at the drop of a virtual hat, recreational virtual grief is a kind of dangerous tenderness verging on fury. And yes, it's cheap, cheap as life, expensive as despair and guilt.
As for 'recreational rioting' see the BBC site here. What recreational people we are!