Dubious wisdom from the mouths of babes

In an age when logic and thought are suspect, childhood purity has gained a new authority

THE CONSENSUS in the studio at Carlton Live seemed to be that The General had had the best of the argument. It was one of those popular TV debates in which an audience is gathered together to shout at one another as a smoothie with a microphone hops about, stoking things up.

Its theme was the environment, or maybe education, or possibly protest: it was difficult to tell. There were a few experts on hand, and one or two managed to make a worthwhile point during their 10 seconds in front of the microphone.

A sincere educationalist said one thing; a whey-faced Tory councillor said another. But it was The General - once called Matthew, relaunched as the tree protester General Survival - who received the most sustained applause. Wearing his trademark Napoleonic hat and, possibly with the help of the Carlton make-up artiste, an air of raffish angels-with-dirty- faces innocence, he delivered his message: he had been sitting at home, not going to school and all, and one day he thought, you know, about roads and all that, so he, like, decided to go up a tree and, well, sort of stay there and that was it.

Everyone in the studio seemed strangely moved by this testimony. The smoothie congratulated The General on his articulation. The councillor admitted to being impressed by the strength of his beliefs. A former advertising man argued that he would receive a better and more relevant education from fellow tree-dwellers than he would from any school. The educationalist continued to argue the importance of learning how to read and write, of interacting with other children and discovering about the broader environmental issues involved, but this seemed a quaint and old-fashioned view.

The General, as the world now knows, is 11 years old, has dropped out from school, and now lives in a tree as the media celebrity of the moment. Doubtless he will soon find himself in a TV studio with Ashley, the 12- year-old comedienne, whose act is the talk of comedy clubs throughout the country. According to newspaper reports, Ashley includes some dodgy material in her routine which brilliantly and subtly wrongfoots her audience. Does she know what she's talking about? Does laughing at iffy jokes about sex toys delivered by a pre-pubertal girl involve one in a corrupting process? Or on the other hand, could she be utterly aware and sophisticated and making a valid satirical comment from the perspective of a child about issues of the moment: adult anxiety, juvenile sophistication, the media exploitation of children? Nobody knows, so Ashley gets away with it.

Of course, these child celebrities are not alone in the world. Skulking weirdly behind The General in the Carlton studio was his mother, who refused to speak into the microphone. Ashley's dad is her agent and manager, but has confessed to being bewildered by his daughter's ambition and precocity. Rather touchingly, he has told journalists that he hopes she will outgrow the need to stand up in front of an audience and show-off. Ashley's eyes are on Hollywood.

If both these parents seem almost in awe of their offspring, it's not simply that the children are odd (although they are). Much stranger and more alarming is the reaction of adults, keening with slack-jawed desperation to hear the views of a small person unsullied by education, experience or the mess and compromise of adult existence. In an age when logic, thought and argument have become suspect, and the ability to emote and to feel is everything, the voice of childhood purity has found a new authority.

The fact that The General has not the slightest idea of the environmental arguments against proliferating by-passes, beyond a vague sense that stopping horrid men with their chainsaws is a better way of spending his time than watching Home and Away, matters less than his piping sincerity. Ashley's ignorance of the complexities of adult relationships is regarded as containing its own kind of truth. It's the tendency of the gullible to treat the words of an innocent with reverence that was explored in Jerzy Kozinski's novel Being There, only today, the Chauncey Gardiners are children.

In many households, the mindless discipline of old has given way to a lazy liberalism. In any dispute between a school and child, parents invariably range themselves against the teachers. David Blunkett's laudable attempt to encourage parents to take responsibility for the completion of homework, and his daring suggestion that a fixed time might be established for going to bed during the week, seem doomed to failure.

After all, to impose a structure for a child requires the parent to be an adult.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?

An enlightening finale for Don Draper

Arts and Entertainment
Serious player: Aussie Guy Sebastian rehearses for the big show in Vienna

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable