Like lots of baby boomers, I was brought up on archaic anthropomorphism. Upstanding Christian dogs. Rabbits with family values. Because the ancient texts and pictures were sacred – Potter, Milne and the rest. Even concerned parents who knew Freud and Jung never saw the contradictions in feeding us on them.
But how could you rear modern, rational children while you were packing their little minds with this marvellous old mixture of slop and snobbery? (I loved the story of the Christian dog that defended its owners' tent from a leopard and was torn to pieces for its gallantry.)
Successive generations of middle-class parents used to foist their own favourite books on their children. But some time in the late Eighties it began to wane – not because children had lost interest in adorable animals but because most of it was available on useful, pacifying video. These renderings seem seriously uncompelling compared to the lithographed watercolours and line drawings that stirred earlier generations. They're more easily dismissed – put away for ever with 'The Lion King' and on to gangsta rap DVDs via 'Grand Theft Auto'.
Is this why British youth is so feral? 'Time' magazine says they are, citing our Pop Kids' world-beating range of firsts. First for teenage pregnancy, first for drunkenness, first for sex (English girls are the most sexually active in Europe) and tops for violence (teenage stabbings).
Who can save us? Would it all have been better if every sink-estate child had been reared on Jemima Puddle-Duck and Winnie-the-Pooh? Could hoodie culture have been stopped in its tracks without videos and DVDs and dirty downloads?
Tabloid discussion of bad children always blames baby-boomer liberals, careerist mothers and fashion-crazed Nathan Barley types who think it's all enormously funny. But the centre-leftish psycho-thinker Oliver James says it's all down to the Thatcher-and-after culture of turbo-capitalism, making people acquisitive and unsatisfied.
I've always thought it's the lethal combination of the '68-ers' mixed rhetoric – "the personal is the political" – and the Loadsamoney liberations of Eighties Britain. Tabloid leaders don't go for this theory because a) it introduces unnecessary levels of complexity, and b) shifts some of the blame on to their favourite people. I'd only point out that there's not much hooded feral youth in Barnes.
The one continuing bolt-hole for anthropomorphic adorability for adults is British TV advertising. It's been chock-full of it for ever, from the John Smith's jumping dogs and the cat-dog-mouse central heating threesome, through to the Crusha kittens in their new milkshake commercial.
The Crusha kittens are brilliant, born of the You-Tube post-'South Park' sensibility of 10-year-old, 21st-century boy Joel Veitch. Rendered in faux naïf, wonky cutout style, they work out in the gym while their front cat, in a leopardy leotard, sings about Crusha's tremendous toughness in a gravelly Liam Gallagher kind of voice.
Veitch only got started in cultland back in 2003, but commercials have brought him into the mainstream fast. It's easily the most attractive artwork on TV now and the most clearly modern (it makes those CGI spectaculars look very Nineties). But it's got its worrying feral side too, of course. In the campaign, cats and cows get casually splattered. You'd never have seen that in Johnny Morris's 1960 'Tales of the Riverbank'.Reuse content