I watched a few minutes of Grumpy Old Men last night, just before popping out for a Chinese take-away, and it made me realise how happy-go-lucky and un-grumpy I actually am.
The subject this week was “The Nanny State”, and its opening narration neatly encapsulated the somewhat ambivalent attitudes some people have on the subject. I am paraphrasing, obviously, but the voice-over went something like “There was a time when at least you were free from the state’s nannying influence in the morning, when you could retire to the bathroom and dream up new laws you would like implementing”. In other words, the nanny state interfering in your life is wrong, but you want the state to enact more laws to interfere in others’ business . Smashing.
This is part of the “Daily Mail paradox”. If you were to do a statistical breakdown I would suspect that the phrase “the nanny state” has been used more often in the Mail than in all other publications throughout history put together. At the same time, no other paper is quite so active when it comes to calling for further restrictions on drinking, gambling, video games, films, television programmes and so on. If the Mail doesn’t like it, then it should be banned; if it does, then the nanny state should leave it alone.
But what were the specific intrusions by the state as voiced in Grumpy Old Men? Well, the first was being told about testicular self-examination. Oh cruel and tyrannical state! How dare you educate people about health issues? Personally, since puberty, I have been checking my balls daily for no good reason, but I am not forced to do so by law. Perhaps the contributors live in different health authorities with different byelaws, but I doubt anyone is committing an offence in not feeling their bollocks.
Then there was the old bore about CCTV cameras. “I don’t want to be watched 24 hours a day,” wailed one grump. Well, you’re not, so don’t worry; even the people in the CCTV room probably spend more time eating sandwiches and reading the paper than watching people on the monitors. I know I would if I worked there. Arthur Smith complained that sometimes he just wants to get away from peoples’ attention, but is unable to thanks to CCTV. Someone should tell him that CCTV cameras tend to be on private property, where he shouldn’t be in the first place, or in large city centres, where it is nigh on impossible to avoid other people. I suggest he tries the Cotswolds; quiet, isolated and CCTV camera free.
Just before I left to collect my Salt and Pepper Chicken with Boiled Rice they were talking about smoking bans. Now, despite being a non-smoker I am against a law preventing smoking in public places, but the complaint here seemed to be about non-smoking areas anywhere in society. Why? If a shop or bar wants to have a no-smoking policy then that isn’t the nanny state, that is an individual company exercising its freedom to run a business how it sees fit. But, as with “political correctness”, “the nanny state” is a term that people seem to bandy about whenever to describe something they don’t like.
Now listen, I am against the state interfering in areas that are not its concern, I have made that point several times here already; but I actually find myself getting more annoyed by stupid “nanny state” comments of the sort made in Grumpy Old Men. I know, I know, Grumpy Old Men is meant as a mildly amusing programme there to entertain and perhaps I am over-reacting, but whatever the humourous intent the opinions offered were serious and genuinely held. In the end I wondered what the contribitors were actually bothered about. Even the things objected to seemed largely trivial and not at all intrusive; I got the impression of a group of well off and comfortable people who wanted to play the part of the downtrodden railing against tyranny, or maybe just the arrogant whingeing about being told what to do. Orwell’s name was invoked, obviously, as if talk of the “thought police” and the “ministry of truth” was relevant, but I think that is overdoing it a bit.
When a speed camera caught me the other week I was pissed off, but as I knew that I was doing 90 mph on the A74 just because I wanted to reach my destination quicker I just accepted it, rather than moan about “big brother”. I don’t think Orwell was attacking the use of technology to enforce perfectly sensible laws in 1984; similarly, although he coined phrases such as “thought crime” and “newspeak”, I doubt he would have worried about the sort of “political correctness gone mad” where “you can’t even call people a ‘spastic’ or a ‘paki’ nowadays”*. No, I think he had some significantly more important concepts in mind when he penned his tale of a totalitarian future.
*this is not so much a direct quote as a generic “political correcteness gone mad” comment.