Big Babies, or Why Can't We Just Grow Up? By Michael Bywater

The mother of all rants
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The Independent Culture

The Grumpy Old Men now have their Grumbulist Manifesto. Michael Bywater believes we Britons live in an infantilised society, where our selves are so squishy, needy and lacking in spinal cord that we are endlessly prey to manipulation by advertisers, politicians, health-and-safety officers, the ladies who make up your hotel room... It's a tough world. And, apparently, Mother is to blame.

Woven through the argument is enough biography to explain some of Bywater's rage. This is a baby-boomer who loathes the consumerism, infantilism and irresponsibility of his generation, partly because he seems to have liberally partaken of it himself. He's designed silly computer games; he's abandoned his child to "find himself" in an affair; he can fly a light aircraft, but still has to wear an ostentatious "pilot's watch" to show everyone he can.

Yet Bywater is also haunted by his memory of a childhood where men are solid authority figures. It seems to be against these stentorian figures that Bywater wants to measure the mewling maelstrom (as he perceives it) of Big Babyhood.

You're wondering throughout, is Bywater aware how psychologically revealing all this is? It's a strange onslaught against modernity that takes early-1960s petit-bourgeois "quiet" men as the basis for its critical theory. Of course, as many will say, Bywater is a comic writer: and as many comics will confess, once you become aware of the root cause of your excoriating humour, you become unfunny. But it is always entertaining to see someone's animus so unrestrainedly displayed.

It's not Big Brother, but Big Mother that Bywater is worried about. He isn't the first to pour scorn on British consumer culture, and he won't be the last. Similarly,distaste for the increasing regulation of daily life is a solid conservatism that David Cameron's back-room wonks would undoubtedly endorse.

But what is relentless, and more than a little creepy, is the way he bundles up all these issues and drops them in the lap of some gigantic, oppressive Mother figure. An advertising pitch is "coaxing, deluding, suckering and wheedling with all the skills of Mummy trying to persuade her child... to eat its broccoli". We divert ourselves from political responsibility with endless fun, "and someone will be there to blot the dribble from the corners of our mouths". On and on goes the systemic misogyny, and you're wondering at which point Bywater becomes aware of his own problem.

Saloon-bar rants can be a great spectacle, particularly ones as well-read as this. But, thankfully, you can leave for an internet café at any time - and, once there, drink edifying fruit smoothies with your mother.

Pat Kane is author of 'The Play Ethic' (Macmillan; www.theplayethic.com)

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