Disneyfying everyday life

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on society's celebration of the animal and denigration of the human.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics

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When they describe some grim episode, people will sometimes say that it felt ‘like living in a horror film’. But there are worse places to live than that – such as a Disney movie, filled with righteous children and animals crusading against the evil grown-ups. The horror is that we might be building a real Disneyesque world for our children, where infantile, anthropomorphic, adult-baiting attitudes rule.

Take the hullabaloo about the shooting party, reported to include the Duke of Edinburgh, which shot some pheasant on the Sandringham estate in view of some schoolchildren. This has prompted a flurry of letters from distressed pupils, a wave of media outrage and an apology from the royal estate.

On the face of it, ‘Ten-year-old girls upset about dead animals’ does not sound like big news. What made it so was that this sentimental response was endorsed, organised and amplified by teachers and parents. Indeed, these adults seemed most concerned that the reaction of the more robust children was not weepy or sentimental enough. One parent complained that ‘some children thought it was great and had a real blood lust about it’, while the head teacher protested that: ‘My children don’t play with guns, but at lunchtime some were playing at shooting each other.’

We can’t have Norfolk schoolchildren thinking it’s normal to shoot wildlife in the countryside and playing cops and robbers in the playground, can we? Better knock that out of them quick (using non-violent therapies) before we create a new generation of Tony Martin clones.

Although my late father did not belong to the same club as Prince Philip (he favoured Parkside Working Men’s), he shared the Prince’s passion for blunt talking and pheasant. The old man’s preferred method of bagging a bird, however, was to clip one with the bumper of his Ford Cortina as it strayed across the road. When his aim was slightly astray, it was my job to wash the bloody, feathered debris from the wheels and axle. Not exactly my idea of fun, but no big deal either to the son of a Suffolk man from pig-farming-butchering stock. Nowadays he might be investigated for bird abuse and child neglect.

Far away from Sandringham, many suburban London parents face a not-in-front-of-the-children dilemma of our own, when the winter brings a mouse into a Victorian house. If its scratching wakes your children, they can watch an early-morning kids’ television show starring two loveable little vermin who infest ‘a house just like yours’. Some parents I know have given in to their kids’ demands and deployed ‘humane’, non-lethal traps, releasing the mouse outside to breed a few hundred more before getting caught again. My alternative is to show our young daughters the dead mouse in the trap (‘But it’s a hamster, Daddy!’), and try to persuade them that the humane way to catch one is with one bone-crushingly violent blow to the back of the neck.

Children have long had a soft spot for animals, and no doubt this is softer now that their food comes packaged as chicken nuggets instead of a stinking, squawking bird to be killed and plucked. The real change, however, is that many people today want to revel in anthropomorphic attitudes rather than grow out of them (even in rural Norfolk). Adults will articulate infantile sentiments about animals, elevate them into a philosophy, and then try to feed this swill to the next generation, twisting happy childish feelings about animals into a miserabilist attitude towards human society.

You need not be a reactionary, an animal hater or a shooter to worry about these irrational trends. Our culture increasingly celebrates the animal and denigrates the human. Jeffrey Masson’s new book about how pigs have deep feelings and insights is only the latest nonsensical fantasy to be taken seriously. It is not that we have really discovered the intelligence and emotions of animals (although that discovery too would be a testimony to human genius), so much as we have lost faith in our own.

Hardly surprising, then, that children can develop a slightly warped view of the world. It is not just Disney. Almost every new children’s film, television programme or book peddles the same moralistic mush about virtuous children and animals in a corrupt adult world. The recent hit film, Finding Nemo, is a great animation about fish – featuring child abduction, and sharks undergoing a 12-step programme to break their fish-eating addiction. Of course there is nothing new about giving fictional animals human feelings, as an easy way of teaching children something about life. The difference is that if Winnie the Pooh were written today, the animals would probably be campaigning to stop Christopher Robin’s father from bulldozing Hundred Acre Wood for a by-pass – or a pheasant shoot.

This article is republished from The Times (London)

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Topics Politics


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