First published in Huffington Post
Maybe its because I’ve hit 40 that I’ve developed this ‘what is the world coming to?’ response to much of what I hear in the news. You know the feeling? Its similar to the one when you don’t recognise any of the celebs on the front of Hello! magazine any more; or when you really can’t tell one boy band from another, and are genuinely shocked by the goings-on on Geordie Shore. But maybe its not me, its you. Or them?
It all started with the relentlessly destructive dynamic of the past few weeks’ Jimmy Savile hysteria. The abuse done to our sense of normality, to our ability to get a bit of perspective on things. The BBC apparently admitting all without quite knowing what it was accused of. Then there was the news that the European Court of Human Rights may force us to give prisoners the vote. Some supposedly liberal types thought this a wonderful idea. Not for democracy but for the rehabilitation of prisoners! And the interrogation of Emma Harrison, former chair of the much-maligned A4E, by Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 News has been doing the rounds on YouTube. The interviewer’s Paxman-like demolition of this former beneficiary of the payment-by-results Work Programme has been much applauded. The Programme itself came out of it relatively unscathed, despite the revelation that millions of public money was spent on getting less than 4 of 100 long-term unemployed into work.
These three stories may sound like they have nothing to do with each other. But they are of a kind in as far as each features the increasingly shaky relationship some of us seem to have with what it means to be an adult. So what really bothered me about Harrison was not her past at A4E but how she played the victim in that interview. She accused Guru-Murthy of bullying her. What irked most about those ‘liberal’ campaigners for prisoner votes is that they were unable to tell the difference between free citizens having the right to exercise that freedom at the polls, and the unfreedom implied by the imprisonment of those who fail to live up to society’s agreed minimum standards. With Savile it was less his alleged abuse of children, than the failure of his detractors to even entertain the notion that allegations against a dead man recollected by adults who were children at the time, do not imply that the BBC, and society at large, is really a giant paedophile ring.
The trawling of 70s and 80s childhoods and the corridors of the BBC for dark tales of unimaginable deeds; the turning of democracy, and the hard won right to vote, into a not very promising therapy for convicts; the appeal to one’s own vulnerability when cornered by a journalist and asked to account for one’s actions; are each testament to the fact that increasingly acting like a grown-up and demanding to be treated as such, has gone out of fashion. We are actively diminished by each of these events, as capable, autonomous adults, deserving of each other’s respect. Trusting that we are not a society of abusers and victims, not turning one bad case into the proverbial and all too chilling ‘tip of the iceberg’; and having self-respect enough not to feel bullied when somebody says something we don’t like, are the sorts of qualities every wannabe grown-up should aspire to. If we don’t rediscover what it means to be a grown-up pretty soon I fear things could really get out of hand. Oh, they already have.