Saturday, 9 July 2011

Tenets of the New Puritans #3: Healthy living, hedonism and the curse of the clown

In appreciating the ideology of the New Puritans we have to understand first that these are not bad people hell bent on destroying our pleasures. Rather they believe – fervently in many cases – that it is those very pleasures that are destroying us and damaging society. It is as the only song goes:

Cigarettes and Whisky and wild wild women
They'll drive you crazy, they'll drive you insane
Cigarettes and Whisky and wild wild women
They'll drive you crazy, they'll drive you insane

To which sins we must now add the humble hamburger:

We worry so much about the many dangers to our children, like drugs and pedophiles and violence. But we often take for granted what might very well be the largest danger of all to our kids: the hundreds of billions of dollars spent each year on ads designed to get them hooked on junk food.

That's why I think it's important that this week more than 550 health professionals and organizations signed an open letter to McDonald's, imploring the fast food giant to stop marketing junk food to kids.

We have to understand the mindset of those “550 health professionals and organisations” since they are the shock troops of New Puritanism. And what they want is for us to adopt their ideology of “healthy living”. And a great deal of resource is invested in promoting this ideology through the health service and through local councils

In this section you will find a number of improvement tools, examples of good practice and case studies that address issues of health inequalities and health improvement. The information is divided into subject areas and includes those with high impact and high importance on the current government agenda. We showcase successful case studies from across all sections of the health improvement and health inequalities agenda - from smoking and teenage pregnancy to sexual health and the built & natural environment.

So say the LGID – the ‘improvement and development’ arm of the Local Government Group (what used to be the LGA). And goes on to provide hundreds of examples of what local councils and their ‘partners’ are doing – much of it good advice, some of it excellent and impactful but all of it entirely wedded to the New Puritan ideology of ‘healthy living’.

The problem isn’t that good diet, exercise and moderate behaviour are being promoted but that things that fall outside the ‘healthy living’ prescription – alcohol, “fatty foods”, salt and fizzy drinks – are condemned outright. Hence the letter from those “550 health professionals and organisations”. And such condemnation does not require good evidence but instead just two things – the fact that consumption is a pleasure and the suggestion, ideally from a doctor or “healthy living expert”, that that consumption might be bad for you.

Armed with these two findings, the New Puritans set about persuading the authorities to start controlling these bad pleasures:

‘We really need to be careful about when these adverts are being shown.

'A 9pm watershed for junk food adverts would ensure that they are banned from not just children's programmes during the day but programmes shown at night where families view them together.
'Parents also need to limit their children's screen time and talk to them about the motives behind advertising.'

Britain is said to be on the brink of an obesity epidemic.

The last line – unsupported by evidence, baldly stated – shows how the New Puritans are winning the argument. This is not prohibition but control and such regulation is needed to protect society from that obesity epidemic (as if getting fat is something that we can catch). This will be followed by calls for stronger labelling, health warnings and other elements of the New Puritan “denormalisation” strategy.

And remember, New Puritans are not evil, they are pleasant people who care deeply about society. They are holding out against decadence and hedonism – seeking to protect us from our actions. Importantly, we are infantilised – powerless in the face of advertising’s might and the corruption of “big business”. By accepting that we are unwilling puppets, we allow the New Puritans space to promote another of their beliefs – that the ‘wrong’ lifestyle choices can be cured by doctors. That sin should be medicalised, that the sinner is a victim of “Big Tobacco”, the “Beerarchy” or “the Evil Clown”

I will look at corporate backing for New Puritanism on another occasion but remember that this is now – since the capture of the NHS by New Puritans – a massive, successful and expanding industry supported by multi-million pound public budgets. So it is no surprise that big industries such as pharmaceuticals are at the forefront of the attack on booze, fags and hamburgers.

The idea of “healthy living” seems harmless yet has become the soft smiling face of the New Puritan mission – a mission to “denormalise” those unapproved pleasures. Most importantly, the New Puritan sees what we eat as a mean to an end – to a “healthy life”. Food as pleasure, indulgence, as a joy isn’t acceptable – if we are to get pleasure from food is should be from knowing we eat only that which is “good for us”. For the New Puritan, all aspects of our lifestyle must be purposeful and eating a McDonald's or grabbing a Snickers from the countline is not purposeful – such hedonism has to be stopped:

A new Food Commission campaign will call for supermarkets, grocery stores and pharmacies to stop displaying snacks at the checkouts and to put such products out of temptation's reach.

While we have yet to reach the point where one taste of cheap chocolate or one hamburger leads inexorably to a squalid death from heroin addiction, the message remains that such things are indulgent and dangerous – and there are healthy alternatives!


1 comment:

JuliaM said...

What happened to 'a little of what you fancy does you good'..?