British television and I are coterminous, at least as far as our beginnings are concerned. Which of us dies first remains to be seen. I fear it will be me, though that is not as certain as it once seemed.
I watched children’s television quite a lot when I was a boy. Children’s Hour on the BBC was timed to begin when children came home from school and end when dad came home from work. Dad would then switch the television on again and watch the news.
I watched less when I left home and for long periods at various times in my adult life saved money by doing without a television altogether.
Recently, for a variety of reasons, I have watched more television than usual and have been struck by one thing in particular. While children’s television has all but disappeared, at least in the way that I remember it, its place seems to have been taken by programmes in which adults behave like children.
‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.’
What I have seen on television in the last two months has convinced me that the television companies, possibly with the tacit support of the government, have conspired to infantilise the nation.
Far from putting away childish things, the men and women I see every evening on television speak like children, understand like children, think like children and have no wish or intention to put away childish things. They are over-excited. They jump up and down. They shout. They grab hold of each other. They run around. They laugh a lot and sometimes cry. In other words, they behave as children do when they are over-tired and need to go to bed.
There has been a proliferation of conspiracy theories lately and I have no wish to add to their number, but the resemblance between this and the Two Minutes Hate in Orwell’s 1984 is too striking to ignore.
The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.
Replace ‘hate’ with ‘childishness’, acts of violence with childish behaviour, and the likeness to ‘a grimacing, screaming lunatic’ remains apt, leave alone its value as a means of social control.
Within the BBC and other television companies, infantilising seems to be the job of ‘entertainment’. Hate and violence are reserved for another strand of television programming called ‘drama’.