Asking a teenager to do an adult’s job
The outrage over sweary teen-twitterer Paris Jones tells us far more about the crisis of adulthood than uncouth yoof.
By Sunday evening, as she sobbed in front of TV cameras, begging forgiveness, it was hard not to feel sorry for Kent teenager, Paris Brown.
Her teary demeanour was certainly a long way from her ebullient appearance last week. Then, 17-year-old Brown was busy celebrating her selection as Kent’s youth police crime commissioner, the first role of its kind in the UK. This £15,000-a-year position may not be everyone’s idea of a dream job, but judging by Brown’s beaming visage in the publicity shots, she herself seemed more than happy. Come Sunday, however, or more specifically, revelations about Brown in the Mail on Sunday, the smiles were no more.
So what had the Mail on Sunday unearthed about the girl it inaccurately dubbed the ‘future of British policing’? Years of systematic evidence tampering? Connections with Black Bloc anarchists? Crimes against fashion? No, what those intrepid reporters from the Mail had risked life and limb to discover was Brown’s Twitter account. Not only that, they also discovered that it was full of – and get this, scandal lovers – adolescent guff.
Yep, that’s right: the Twitter account of a teenager was full of teenage bollocks. You know the score: a bit of lewdness, a few look-at-me rants, plus a reference to ‘hash brownies’. It was shockingly unshocking, written, in fact, as if the author was an adolescent. Which, of course, she was. Not that this stopped the press from indulging in a bit of po-faced outrage. ‘Just three weeks ago’, read one report, ‘she appeared to support an apparent assault, saying: “I don’t condone violence but im so pleased that my brother thumped the fat little fuck.”’ Certainly, a less-than-diplomatic outburst from Ms Brown aged 17, but worth exposing in a national newspaper?
Never slow to miss an opportunity for a bit of weekend moral posturing, in came the politicians. Labour MP and chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, clearly emerged from his very sheltered life and claimed to be ‘deeply shocked’, declaring: ‘Public money should never be given to anyone who refers to violence, sex, drunkenness and other antisocial behaviour in this offensive manner.’ Not to be outdone, Conservative Party chairman Grant Schapps said darkly that ‘something had gone badly wrong’ with the appointment.
Really? When Brown was busy talking about ‘feeling horny’ or who had beaten up who, these were, to all intents and purposes, the private utterances of a teenager to her peers. That is, when she made, for instance, some arcane reference to a Scooby Doo film a year ago, she wasn’t doing so as a person in a position of public significance, or even as a youth police crime commissioner. She was tweeting simply as teenager who, mistakenly, believes that arcane references to Scooby Doo films are fascinating. To condemn a teenager for not behaving in an adult way is absurd.
Ah, but she was not just any old teenager, her army of adult critics argue, she was a teenager rendered atypical by being in a position of authority. But that simply highlights the real problem here: this 17-year-old was thrust into a position of nominal authority to solve a problem of the adult world.
This problem was formulated by Kent’s, er, ‘old’ police crime commissioner, Ann Barnes, as follows: ‘Paris is going to be the young face of policing in the county and I’m quite sure she is going to do a brilliant job at helping the police to connect with young people.’ In other words, Brown was to be used to overcome the ‘growing void’, as the Telegraph put it, between an adult institution, in this case the police, and the nation’s yoof. As one columnist explains, that’s why Brown was employed: ‘to help the police understand and provide guidance in the face of youthful irresponsibility’.
The problem with using a young person in this way is that it is a solution to the wrong problem. While the angst felt by adults in the face of today’s incomprehensible young, writ large in the 2011 riots, is genuine enough, the root cause is to be found among adults, not teenagers. It is a crisis of adult authority, a profound incapacity to exercise authority over society’s young – like simply having a word with children misbehaving on a bus – that is the problem, not the suddenly difficult problem of ‘youthful irresponsibility’. After all, teenagers have always mucked about and challenged authority. And the police certainly never used to need to have a young face fronting its response.
You see, the parable of Paris tells us far less about teenagers than it does adults. She was built up by adults to answer a problem of the adult world, and now she is being attacked by adults (and Keith Vaz) for not being that answer. In fact, she is being attacked by people who should know better for being, well, immature.
Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.