A couple of years ago I reviewed a book by Michael Bywater titled Big Babies, or, Why Can’t We Just Grow Up? It was a gloriously subversive, middle-aged, book-length rant from a self-confessed Big Baby, banging on the bars of his play-pen.
Michael Bywater declared that people out there are meddling with us and he went after them with a shot-gun. They included politicians, law-enforcers, industrialists, television programmers, advertisers, credit-controllers, celebrities, sign-writers. They tell us what to eat, what to think, how to dress. They invent medical conditions and then sell us the cures.
They write articles that unsettle us, create new doubts, new scares and tweak old ones so that we end up depressed and envious, sure that everyone else has more money, raunchier sex, bigger houses, fancier cars, flatter stomachs, more exciting social lives.
Other people in the firing line were those who, every time something bad happens, demand laws to prevent it happening again. Yes, fireworks can injure, pools have water in them and children could drown, dogs can be dangerous, old gravestones sometimes lean and fall over, people can drop into open manholes or trip over paving stones, smoking does injure our health, and if we eat too much we get fat.
All true, but what Bywater found so infuriating, and made him shout from the page, sometimes in capital letters, was that the architects of the mummy state believe we aren’t capable of dealing with this terrible, dangerous world on our own. They make silly laws, protect us, nag, scold, scare and bully us – in short, they infantilise us.
They warn us about dangers, just like mummies do, by sticking notices on toasters which say be careful, you’ll burn your fingers. They try to ban junk food and fizzy drinks, knives, smoking, even New Year’s Eve, because there will be too many people and you could be crushed. Everywhere it’s mummy-speak: we’re watching you, do as you’re told, we know best.
They serve childish programmes on television where advertisers try to make us buy things to make us happy. Goodies are dangled in front of our eyes: see what baby can have! Buy what you want, have it now and pay later. Bywater, having reached the age beyond which advertisers are no longer interested in him (that is, anyone over forty), was maddened by the language used to tempt us to watch, to spend. And he fairly gibbered at the very thought of political correctness. Is this, he roared, the way to treat grown ups?
Bywater’s next stage must be that of a grumpy old man, and I hope to read the book he’ll surely write then. It took me twice as long to read this one as it should have because I was laughing, cheering and shaking my rattle so hard.