Sometimes I think I’m a sucker for Internet memes, especially when they involve slightly navel gazing tendencies. Hence, here’s my contribution to the Caesar’s Bath postings.
For those who don’t know what it’s all about (which I didn’t until Kim posted) the idea is to list five things that your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but that you just don’t get, along, of course, with a suitably naval gazing explanation. So here are mine.
Thing The First: Star Wars
In the summer of 1977, I was 10 years old and thoroughly obsessed with science fiction of all kinds. I’d made my mother take me to a rare showing of 2001: A Space Odyssey (complete with a second feature of 1958’s From The Earth To The Moon as it was the days when you got two films for the price of one). I’d read Heinlein until my eyes bled and I believed in military service for all (OK, I grew out of that one). I’d bought everything Arthur C. Clarke wrote, and memorised the lot.
But Star Wars left me nonplussed. Even then, it made no sense: how come they could make computers smart enough to power intelligent robots, but couldn’t make a targeting computer for the X-Wing that could shoot better than Luke? If the force was so cool, how come the funny guys with white uniforms didn’t use it too? And how could the Empire hold itself together when it’s Stormtroopers were the worst shots in the history of the universe?
Ever sense then, I’ve been left vaguely puzzled by the whole adoration of Star Wars that seems endemic in everyone my age. It’s an OK film, one that I’d watch and enjoy on a rainy Sunday afternoon, but the level of fan worship revolving around it is crazy. But perhaps it’s actually something to do with the second of my Caesar’s Baths…
Thing The Second: New Ageness. Vague waffly hand waving and other Anti-Rationalisms
As I type this, in the background on TV is a show called Have I Been Here Before?, in which a variety of B-List celebrities get hypnotized and “regress to previous lives”, accompanied by (of all people) Philip Schofield. Leaving aside for a second that the last person in the world you’d want to find in a previous life is Philip Schofield, it’s a prime example of the kind of anti-rationalism that’s gradually crept into television and culture – especially things like daytime TV, the Daily Mail and Hello! Magazine, which appeal to the notion that intuition is valued more than reason. To its credit, the programme does at least have psychologists and the like explaining that there’s no evidence that any of it is other than bunk, but the fact that it’s on at all – and that the majority of screen time is spent gently suggesting that the sceptics are wrong – is enough to make the blood boil.
Some people would suggest that this isn’t actually anything to be concerned about, that it’s confined largely to a small minority of people (such as those lovely people who come here and post pleas to David Blaine to intercede in their lives, just as once they would have done pleas to saints). But in fact, it’s incredibly wide spread – especially among the educated middle classes, who flock to Feng Shui, Reiki, Crystal Healing and every other minor brand of craziness like it was the saviour of mankind.
Guess what everyone: It’s all bunk. You’re being conned, and paying for the privilege.
Thing The Third: Food Allergies
When I was a teenager, doctors found out that the reason I’d been coughing my guts up (literally) wasn’t due to the bronchitis they thought I’d had. In fact, I’d developed an allergy to house dust, one of the more common ones, which in me had led to a fairly severe reaction. They promptly put me on a course of injections to boost my system’s resistance to house dust, by exposing me to it. It made me feel woozy for a day or so after each injection, but it worked and I haven’t been troubled since.
This taught me a simple fact: Exposure to something you’re allergic to makes you less allergic to it. Your body gets used to it, and you stop getting the violent reaction. When I was a kid, my Gran had a cat and so I was constantly exposed to cat hair, with no problem. A couple of years after I left home, moving away from the cat, I got scratched by one – and promptly ended up spending a day in bed, feeling like someone had hit me with a bowling ball. Yes, I’m allergic to cat hair too – yet because I’d been constantly exposed to it, I’d built up a level of immunity that let me be around any time I liked. Only when that exposure decreased did the allergy assert itself.
The same is surely true of that most common of complaints, a “food allergy”. Food allergies have only become commonly noted in the past ten or so years, although severe ones have been around a lot longer. Now, it seems, half the people I know seem to be allergic to something, from peanuts to whey. So what’s going on?
There’s only two real options. The first is that the food’s changed, which is something I doubt. Every kid I knew at school scoffed peanuts, for example, like there was no tomorrow without falling over dead. Yet do that now and, if you believe the hype, half of them would come out in hives. Peanuts haven’t changed (they’re still yummy) so it has to be the kids.
My bet – and this isn’t science – is that we look out for allergic reactions earlier, and remove them from kid’s diets. This has the effect of preventing them from building up resistance, making their “allergic” reactions more severe.
Or of course there’s the third option: We’re all turning into puny human weaklings. And, for the Futurama fans, we all know what Morbo does to puny human weaklings.
Thing The Fourth: Thou Must Breed, Immediately
I like kids. Kids are fun. They climb trees, do stupid things, and generally act like you’d secretly want to when you’re really 38.
However, the parents of kids usually aren’t fun, especially when they’ve bred for the first time in their 30’s. Suddenly, all conversation not revolving around children stops. Simply because you have fulfilled your biological imperative doesn’t mean your life is over, but that’s what some parent’s behaviour would lead you believe.
No, I do not want to hear about the brand of Vegan nappy you found. No, I don’t want to know about the fact that you’ve laid out little Tarquin’s room in strict accordance with a Feng Shui mystic’s rules. And no, I don’t want to know about how you found out that he had an allergy to potatoes because he spit some out the other day.
And most especially, I don’t want to see that look of vague pity in your eyes because I don’t have kids. I don’t want to hear about how no one who isn’t a parent could possibly understand about how life-affirming and changing the whole experience is. Yes, it is life-changing: if you’re not careful, it can turn you into the kind of selfish, short-sighted idiot who drives their brats a mile to school “because it’s safer” while complaining about rising levels of asthma caused by increased pollution.
You want perspective? Stop thinking that you’re the first person in the world to have a child. And stop thinking that something is OK if it protects your child, even if it damages the lives of others.
Thing The Fifth: Ali G
So there’s this middle class Jewish comedian pretending to be an Asian kid obsessed with American black urban culture. Sorry, run that by me again?
Simply because it’s post-modern and self-referentially ironic doesn’t make it anything other than the 21st Century equivalent of the Black and White Minstrel Show.