In this 200th anniversary year of Charles Darwin’s birth we may be justifiably proud that the great man was British. It is also fitting that we as a nation are in the forefront of what might be called reverse Darwinism, or the devolution of the species.
Unlike evolution, this is a rapid process. In fact, there is compelling evidence that we are becoming less advanced almost by the day. Marketing, always acutely sensitive to social developments, has been quick to seize the opportunities presented by a mass retreat into childhood. The effects have been monitored by Ed Mayo, the Government’s newly-appointed “consumer tsar” and a man who, to judge from all the biographical references to him, sprung from the womb with a diminutive for a first name. Appropriately, then, given his preference for the chummily demotic, the title of his study is “Consumer Kids”- the word “children” carrying the burden both of an additional syllable and outmoded formality.
Anyway, the gist of his research is that thousands of children, some as young as five, are being paid to test food, soft drinks, gadgets and video games on behalf of large companies including Mattel, Nintendo, Wrigley and Coca-Cola. “This is insidious and downright creepy,” says Ed.
His criticism might carry more weight were he not an agent of a government which during the past 11 years has striven to infantalise us, not that we needed much encouragement. The examples of official nannying are legion, but one, still fresh in the memory, will suffice for all. Last Christmas, the Children’s Secretary Ed Balls (what is it with these Eds?) issued 150,000 leaflets warning of the many dangers inherent in the festive season. His tips included an injunction to not hang baubles on the tree lest they break and give someone a nasty cut.
One’s first response is to mock. But a moment’s reflection suggests that such advice merely recognises that we are children, not only in the eyes of the Lord but in our mental state. Consider the evidence. Television is run by people who, to judge purely on the evidence of the programmes they sanction, have a mental age of no more than ten. It is significant that the most highly paid person on TV, Jonathan Ross, is in his mid-40s yet has not matured beyond the age of 18.
Newspapers, too, are afflicted by a similar callowness. Britain no longer has a serious newspaper to compare with, say, the Washington Post, El Pais, or Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The Daily Telegraph, which boasts the title of “Britain’s best-selling quality daily”, is in thrall to the slurry of popular culture. The Spectator, once the most intelligent and best-written of weekly journals, recently featured an interview, conducted by its editor no less, with Lily Allen. As for the books we read, a glance at the list of best-selling titles will tell you all you need to know about our celebrity-obsessed preferences.
If a nation might be judged by its humour – the things that make it laugh – we are in a deeply regressive state. The f-word has us falling about and mention of bodily functions is simply side-splitting. Even our dress betrays our immaturity, with men and women of advanced middle-age wearing clothes designed for teenagers. Our manners, too, are increasingly juvenile, vide the temper tantrums of drivers caught in a traffic jam or the routine behaviour of a football crowd.
So, given that we are children, there is little to commend Ed Mayo’s study of the commercialisation of those whom he is pleased to call “kids”. It is often said that our culture robs children of their childhood, which it may do. Equally, however, it robs adults of their adulthood. Just watch a few TV commercials and ask yourself the mental age of those at whom they are directed. Just as depressing, ask yourself the mental age of the “creatives” who dreamt up the commercials and the marketing directors who signed them off. Is it in the least surprising that such people would recruit children to test products? Each of us is happiest among his own kind.
One could speculate endlessly on the causes of this new Darwinism. In a sense Darwin himself may be partly responsible. It was his discovery that man was descended from the apes that first undermined religious belief and eventually led to the modern secularism that makes us all wish to live for the moment and fear the process of growing up.
Other possible causes are the collapse in educational standards; the decline of the traditional family and its usurpation by the state; and the compensation culture that denies adult personal responsibility. But whatever the reason, we are all kids now.