Thursday, 8 November 2007

Forever Young

‘I am a child, you know’, says Harold Skimpole in Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’, and is accordingly painted as one of the most objectionable of fictional characters as a direct consequence of this trait.

Throughout history and right up to the not too distant past, children became young adults during adolescence and left behind childish things very rapidly indeed. Going to work at 14 probably had something to do with it. Childhood and everything that went with it was forgotten, never to be revisited. But today, rather than abandoning childhood like old clothes we have grown out of, we are now actively encouraged to be the children we once were as the commercial world is now completely geared up to selling your childhood back to you.

Today, it does not take very much effort to reconstruct your own childhood around you like it was yesterday. I can buy virtually every toy I ever owned in the 1960s through eBay (and probably in better condition than my originals), every comic I read (copies of 1950s/1960s Dan Dare stories are now available in hardback, as are collections of Silver Age Superhero comics from DC and Marvel), every TV programme I ever watched is available on DVD and even FriendsReunited threatens to put me in touch with all my erstwhile classmates. Specialist companies make old sweets (but not at old prices) and fashionable clothes shops can kit me out in genuine 60s gear (man).

I can even pay for school discipline, if I was that way inclined.

The question remains why? What is it that all these companies have identified that leads them to hound us with all this stuff? Perhaps they have realised that this is the Age of the Child. Unlike in Dickens’ day when to be a child was to be a pawn in an adult world, today it is virtually the reverse where the adult world fawns over the child in every aspect of life. Youth is the elixir of existence and to be young is so precious it must be preserved at all costs.

Children have rights and power. They have power over their teachers in school and their parents at home. They have social lives and mobility, purchasing power and the right to veto. All adult authority has been legislated away and anyone over 20 now stands on the sidelines rueing their own lack of youth.

Rather ironic in an age when life expectancy is increasing and the national demographic is moving upwards. Perhaps selling you your childhood is the final solution to staying within the parameters of being forever young?

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