Michael Bywater: Warning - this column contains words

'What do they take us for? A bunch of docile gullible babies?'

Share

Eighteen months ago I lost my temper with a train. It was a First Great Western train, and the precise bit of the First Great Western train I lost my temper with was the Refresca Café Bar, where, according to the guard (train manager), the steward (customer service host) would be happy to serve us.

Refresca Café Bar. Not the buffet; the Refresca Café Bar, as though there were other cafés, other bars. As though passengers (customers) could say: "No, to hell with the Refresca Café Bar, let's try Carlucci's, adjacent to coach A. Or how about Les Deux Magots by the disabled toilets? They say Jean-Paul Sartre can often be found there chatting to Beckett and Robespierre."

So I lost my temper. "What do they take us for?" I shouted at my companion. "A bunch of docile, gullible, big babies?" And so a thesis was born: that the root cause beneath so much of the annoyance and dysfunction of our public life was that those in charge - the baby boomers who are now running politics, industry, the media and everything else - were determinedly refusing to grow up, and, what's worse, were equally determinedly infantilising the rest of us.

Once I got my eye in, the evidence was everywhere: the fatuous announcements, the bossy tickings-off, the imbecilic rhyming slogans, the fake relativism, the meaningless corporate drivel, the self-help books, the nonsense about alternative medicine (alternative to the sort that makes you better), the food-faddery, the Starbucking of coffee from a grown-up stimulant into a frothy kiddies' gloop sucked out of cardboard buckets (warning: hot beverages are hot) by grown men in children's clothes.

May contain nuts. May contain bad language. Not intended for use as a dental drill. Not edible. Do not eat toner. Remember objects in the mirror are behind you. Do not pour water into your TV set. Switch on by setting on/off switch to on position. May contain small volcanic stones. Do not use for other use.

Try it for yourself. Every half-hour or so ask yourself: "Am I being treated like an adult?" and, more worryingly: "Am I actually behaving like an adult?". And the answer, more often than not, is: "No, damn it."

One of the great authorial delusions is that things will change between our finishing a manuscript and the book being released. Not this time. Things are carrying on as before. David "Dave" Cameron has appeared on his video blog to tell us he's just like we are. Tony Blair still pro-noun-ces ev-er-y syl-lab-le while ignoring Parliament and public opinion. First Great Western train managers still blither about the Refresca Café Bar, and tell us that "we are now on our final approach into Paddington", as though we are all sitting there pretending we're in an aeroplane. How 'citing! Oh, wheeee!

Look at the TV schedules (and listen to the music played on your satellite programme guide; you can't be left in silence in case you start to think). I'm off again. Nothing will change. Infantilisation is too profitable for Them, and too easily gratifying for Us.

TalkTalk is a damnably infantile bit of branding (itself the epitome of infantilism) for a telephone service. But - here's a real example - Philip Moore of Wimbledon, in his eighties, signs up for TalkTalk and finds that he and his wife cannot get incoming calls for a month (their daughter died recently and it hurts) and, after spending hours on the phone to a call centre listening to music, the system hangs up on them. Now they can't make outgoing calls, and when I ring Carphone Warehouse press office to find out what the hell is going on, they say: "We'll get back to you", and don't.

An everyday story of consumer life. But is it infantilising? Of course it is. Because the defining characteristic of the infantile is impotence, and the Moores and I have been rendered impotent by this process. Meanwhile, Carphone Warehouse gets (a) the money and (b) us off the line. There's the key process of infantilisation: give us the money: now bugger off, sonny. And will we? I fear we will.

'Big Babies or Why Can't We Just Grow Up?' will be published this week by Granta Books

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal  

What is 4Chan? And why does it threaten women like Emma Watson?

Memphis Barker
Chuka Umunna was elected MP for Streatham in 2010  

Could flirty Chuka Umunna be worth a punt for Labour’s top job?

Matthew Norman
Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world