Friday, December 12, 2008

The child as a fashion accessory

(First published in the Curmudgeon column, Dominion Post, December 9.)

WHO would want to be a small child in the 21st century? Virtually from the moment of birth you’d be given the message that other people’s needs take priority over yours.

Within hours of being born, you’re bundled out of hospital because the health system considers there are more important things to do with the health dollar than allow new mothers time to bond with their babies. Mother struggling with breast-feeding? No support at home? Tough. Out you go.

Before you’re a few months old you’re likely to find yourself being left at a crèche each morning so that Mum can go to work, because a relentlessly acquisitive, consumerist society has convinced a generation of parents that owning a flash house, driving a late-model car and pursuing a career are more important than raising their children.

At weekends, you’re liable to find yourself being dressed in cute designer-label clothes and dragged off to a trendy café where you’re expected to behave yourself patiently while your parents slurp latté and read the Sunday paper.

And on the rare occasions when you’re taken for a walk in a pushchair – or baby-buggy, to use the cutesy-wutesy name now preferred – you’re propelled toward a procession of bewildering, and possibly frightening, strangers.

The recent report of a Dundee University study that showed forward-facing pushchairs might impair children’s development shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone.

When a small child is facing its parent there is constant interaction between the two. The Dundee study found, predictably, that this stimulated brain development. Conversely, the study concluded that babies facing away from the pusher could be “emotionally impoverished” and even suffer stress. The language is a bit melodramatic but the message is simple enough.

There are obvious practical reasons, too, why the rear-facing pushchair is preferable. It means that whoever’s pushing can see instantly if anything is wrong, such as the child choking or being dazzled by the sun, or a wasp landing on its face.

But the vagaries of fashion dictate that the forward-facing buggy is the way to go. Forward-facing pushchairs are now so prevalent that it’s hard to find an old-fashioned one in which the child faces the pusher.

I suspect the appeal of the forward-facing pushchair has more to do with the gratification of parents than with the comfort and wellbeing of the child.

Couples are delaying having children because their careers take priority. When they finally get around to it, they often behave as if this most basic biological feat is something no one has ever accomplished before.

The child then becomes an advertisement for the parents, a fashion accessory to be shown off for maximum advantage. This is accomplished far more effectively when the unfortunate infant is facing forward.

* * *

TWO Wairarapa women recently organised a litter cleanup in which an estimated 10 tonnes of rubbish was picked up from rural roads.

The forensic evidence pointing to the culprits responsible for this roadside detritus couldn’t be clearer. Discarded McDonald’s and KFC packaging predominates, along with beer cans, stubbies and alco-pop bottles.

The problem, of course, is that the slobs who get most of their nutritional intake from fast food, washed down with vile beverages like Lion Red, Red Bull or Woodstock bourbon-and-coke, are the very people most likely to thoughtlessly discard packaging, bottles and cans out the car window.

There exists an entire sub-class that is oblivious to the economic cost and aesthetic offence of the rubbish they leave behind.

What’s the answer? The Greenies want punitive taxes on the companies that produce the rubbish, but a better solution might be an old-fashioned one. The community can take matters into its own hands not by cleaning up the Neanderthals’ litter – that simply gives them licence to continue – but by showing its collective disapproval.

The litterers must be made to feel guilty every time they drop a beer can or Big Mac wrapper. Stop and glare at them. Encourage your children to point at them and ask loudly why they’re making a mess. Try suggesting politely to the litterers that they take their rubbish home. Being polite to such numbskulls may go against the grain, but getting angry and abusive just gives them an excuse to be abusive back.

Guilt and shame have become unfashionable emotions, but even the dimmest-witted, greasy-fingered KFC eater has a faint, residual trace of social conscience that can be activated. Tolerance of bad behaviour is the curse of the liberal sixties generation, and never more misplaced than when it comes to littering.

* * *

I HAVE been lobbying quietly but persistently for the broadcasting of Snoopy’s Christmas to be made a criminal offence and for a government bounty to be paid on all copies.

Once that’s achieved, the next step will be to persuade the United Nations to declare the playing of Snoopy’s Christmas a form of torture, marginally more subtle than waterboarding but no less cruel and unnatural. Readers will be kept informed of the progress of this campaign.


kassto said...

Find myself agreeing with everything here, except the spleen about Snoopy's Christmas, Karl!
It was the first record I ever owned and I could easily find a lot worse examples of Christmas tat than this charming and inoffensive piece of WW1 myth-making.

Vaughan said...

And if any of you who have finally figured out in your late thirties that the main purpose of sex is to create the next generation, please don't send us emails that describe the child's life in baby talk and fraudulently signed by your offspring...