Like feminism and EU directives, the politicians’ and media’s dogged pursuit of youth is making fools of us all. If only the BBC would wake up to it. By Iain Murray
Some forms of silliness that can be traced back to the Seventies are proving astonishing durable. Just when you thought the healing power of forgetfulness had done its work and some past idiocy had finally been laid to rest, the coffin lid creaks, and up it pops, grinning and asinine as ever.
Take the wilder lunacies of feminism, for instance. I’d almost forgotten the nonsense of the Seventies when “wimmin”, caught up in the dizzy excitement of protest, scoured the dictionaries in search of sexist slights. Among the crazier and more ignorant suggestions was that “history” should be renamed “herstory”; and every instance of the hated monosyllable “man” was to be replaced with “person”, prompting derisive coinages such as “personhole cover” and daft expressions such as “person the lifeboats”.
Well, maybe those pioneering feminists of yore were just stretching a point to make a point. But if you thought the world had moved on, you reckoned without Dr Rachel Woodward, of Newcastle University, and her fellow (surely some mistake?) researcher Dr Trish Winter, of Sunderland University. At a cost of £40,000 paid by the taxpayer, these two throwbacks to a bygone age produced a report, “Gendered Bodies, Personnel Policies and the Culture of the British Army”, accusing the army of sexism for using the word “manning”. Have Dr Rachel and Dr Trish burned their bras, I wonder? Do they wear dungarees, roll their own, drink pints and talk of “women’s lib”?
Just as dated, you might have thought, was the European Community’s reputation for issuing maniacal directives governing the straightness of bananas and the harmonisation of melon pips. Not a bit of it. Up went the coffin lid last week and out crawled the Egg Directive. This specimen of the undead requires producers of organic eggs throughout the EU to invest in inkjet printers and label every egg with a raft of information including details of the hen that laid it. Wait for the eggshell that reads, “Hello, I’m Henrietta the Hen. I made this egg, rich in calcium and protein, with my own body. In went corn at one end and – waddya know? – out came the product at the other. The yolk is rich and golden, the albumen as white as driven snow. Enjoy!” Full marks, however, to the Brussels official who said the egg printing “would be a nice job for farmers’ wives”. Just the sort of comment to leave Rachel and Trish wringing beer out of their bibs.
But of all abiding idiocy, nothing quite compares with the cult of youth and the fools it makes of those who embrace it.
The Home Office – which long outgrew acne and agonies of self-doubt – has devised a seriously cool way of combating crime. Students are encouraged to play a computer game called Kebabathon on the Home Office website. Players help Danny, a drunken student who has lost his keys, to break into his digs without dropping his kebab. The aim is to increase awareness of security around homes and to impart the additional tip that, prior to breaking and entering, you should first eat your kebab. That way you have both hands free. Not many students at the newer universities know that.
No one is more besotted with youth than the media. Long before he became the corblimey director-general of the BBC, Gregory Crap-Dyke was an enthusiastic supporter of yoof in the meejah. Now that he has his hands on the antique handles of the corporation’s levers of power, yoof is bursting out everywhere, like a rash.
A new digital channel, BBC3, launches this week specially for viewers aged 25 to 34. The in-joke among the programmers seems to be that everything is called “liquid”. Thus Liquid News, Liquid Profiles, Liquid Assets, Liquid Oscars and an excess of Johnny Vaughan (liquid gas?). This is a joke that is accessible only on attaining the age of 25 and, miraculously, becomes unintelligible with the onset of dotage at 34, which is why I don’t get it.
The eerie power of yoof to unseat reason was evident again when Andrew Neil chose to present the BBC’s new programme, The Daily Politics, wearing an open-necked shirt. The aim, he said, was to be more “relaxed and accessible”, ie better able to appeal to the youth audience. Quite why any youth, no matter how callow or half-witted, should be enticed into the world of politics by the exposed neck of a wrinkly such as Neil is known only to the BBC. In any event the experiment was abandoned when protests poured in telling Neil to smarten up. Since it is unimaginable that a single one of those messages was texted, e-mailed or posted by a youth, it would seem that the show attracted the customary constituency of Middle England relics and saloon-bar stalwarts, and therefore missed its target audience by a mile.
The producers cannot say they weren’t warned. Earlier this year, Jonathan Dimbleby, 58, criticised the corporation’s plans to appeal to younger viewers, who seem increasingly uninterested in politics.
The whole exercise was misguided, he said. “I seem to remember Janet Street-Porter trying valiantly to do ‘yoof’ programming in the Eighties. Trouble is, the yoof’s always in front of you. It’s very difficult to avoid being shallow or patronising.”
And that includes taking off your tie.
By Iain Murray