Sunday, October 23, 2005

An elegy for grazed knees

Andrew Martin had a splendidly unPC article in the Guardian's Family section yesterday. He wrote about the way modern society is conspiring to erode traditional boyhood and our views of what boys should be like.

It is a sort of elegy for grazed knees, and no doubt plenty of Guardian correspondents will remind him that not all boys want to be William Brown or Tom Sawyer, and that there plenty of girls used to enjoy playing out too.

But two of the observations he makes are important and exceptionally well expressed. First he writes about the way the dominance of the motor car has limited boys' freedom to roam:

Aside from having killed many boys, the motor car has also killed British boyhood. It and an exaggerated fear of crime make most boys housebound for most of their leisure time. They become prematurely like their fathers: stressed-out, trapped in front of an eye-burning screen, ruthlessly targeted as consumers ...

Many middle-class parents of boys try to make permanent this escape into physical freedom, but you have to hand it to the motor car: it doesn't discriminate between rich and poor. The barrister, his wife and their young son move to the country but the motor car has killed the village, so they have to drive everywhere and the boy becomes a querulous voice from the back seat: at once tyrant and victim.

And then he talks about the way the infantilisation of men is destroying our very concept of boyhood:

It's strange, given their fatal consequences for boyhood, that cars should often be referred to as "boys' toys". The word "boy" is being taken away from boys, to be used as an arch substitute for "man". Footballers have a "bad boy" reputation; and what did that Wonderbra advert say? "Hello boys."

... many of the products aimed at boys are trying to hustle them on to puberty as fast as possible. Once you've got sex in the equation you can sell a magazine, market a car and target any product. Whereas boyhood ... Well, what is that? It's beginning to seem an increasingly mysterious, abstract realm, something existing frozen in time on the covers of the William books, like a distant, slightly troublesome memory, or a reproof to the way we live now.

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