Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mind the mêlée of morons

Big Babies: Or - Why Can't We Just Grow Up?
by Michael Bywater (published by Granta)

Blad here. I have purchased this book Big Babies: Or - Why Can't We Just Grow Up? by Michael Bywater and I started reading it straight away. It's an extremely well written catchy read and I can recommend it, so if you can't afford to buy a copy, borrow one and devour it for I don't think you'll regret it. Anyway to cut a long story short I am reproducing below the review as written in the Daily Telegraph by Alexander Waugh on November 4th. Waugh welcomes the rallying cry of this manifesto against infantile submission to dubious authority. Here are his comments:-

'In the short walk between his aeroplane and reaching the outside world at Heathrow, Michael Bywater encountered no fewer than 93 separate notices telling him off for things he hadn't done or which hadn't even occurred to him to do. At Paddington Station he was particularly infuriated by a sign that read:

"Please be ready to move away with your luggage when you reach the top of the escalator," because, he argues "it implies that otherwise you wouldn't be ready to move away with your luggage but, instead, would stand there like a moron with other morons piling up against you so that eventually something has to give and you tumble back down the escalator in a mêlée of morons and get sucked into the mechanism and ground into a hamburger...or, if not, why the need of the notice?"

Once on board his train at Paddington, Bywater found another 25 notices to infuriate and depress him. These ranged from a complicated safety warning "with pictograms designed presumably for those who cannot read the accompanying text, but which are entirely meaningless unless you can read the accompanying text," to exhortations of "Shhhhhh: quiet zone," a company mission statement - "transforming travel" ("although from what and into what is never revealed") and another pictogram on the litter bin showing "what appeared to be a miniature T-shirt flying upwards from a woman's hand."

Being bossed and patronised are two sensations that most sophisticated adults would sooner do without and yet we are bossed and patronised, by the media, by politicians, by business, by advertising agencies and the public services, more now than at any other time in our history. Why should this be? Well, according to this sharp, very funny and slightly disturbing new thesis, we have ourselves to blame. By "we" one does not of course refer to Michael Bywater but to that large and dismal mass of our adult population that is psychopathically inert - to people who, according to Bywater, are "consumers without discrimination;" to people who "believe or reject what they are told, not by the application of reason, but according to whim;" people who "are torn, always, between a tense but vaporous individualism and a sheepish yearning to belong;" people who are "ill at ease with ambiguity or complexity and, by some brute instinct, loathe those who aren't in the same boat." He means all those maddening British twazzocks who live in the proud delusion of being free and autonomous, yet who, at the same time are "submitting, inch by inch, to a busybody tyranny that controls, restricts, surveys and admonishes."

It is hard to know which group should be more despised: that which bosses and patronises with its impudent warnings of that which feebly acquiesces. But one thing is certain: neither is likely to read Big Babies, for it is far too intelligent, witty and original to appeal to any of these infantile minds. So poor old Bywater's sermon, despite the almighty swing of its conviction and charisma, is likely to be preached only at the converted.

In his final pages, the author offers a solution of sorts - a short list of ways in which to avoid becoming a "Big Baby" oneself. His advice includes not to fuss about food and religion, to ignore fashion and celebrities, to be suspicious of administration, to cultivate the art of communal eating etc, etc, but the lively and intelligent minds who are going to read this book are the very people who already know this. We need something more if Bywater's important message is ever to lodge itself into thicker skulls and effect a change. But what?

A little direct action perhaps? Now, at least. we have a rallying point. Bywater must be our leader. Big Babies our bible. My family's services are offered in any capacity. Now, let's get out there, take up our sticks and cudgels, put on hobnail boots and start kicking in a few of Nanny's pretty little pictograms...'

Alexander Waugh