Monday, 5 March 2012
Entering an Age of Disapproval
Over the weekend my reaction to the news that David Cameron was insisting on introducing a minimum price for alcohol fluctuated between resignation, anger and cynicism. Resignation at the seeming inevitability of the nannying fussbucket’s victory. Anger that a Conservative prime minister thinks it OK to muck about with prices for the purpose of social engineering. And cynicism in that Cameron appears to be chucking some red meat to the health lobby ahead of the final stages of the Health Bill’s progress through parliament.
With the new week came the dawning realisation that Cameron is merely a mirror of a depressing age – his championing of nannying fussbucketry reflects his penchant for government by dinner party and a resulting tendency for Mumsnet-style kneejerk reactions to perceived problems in “society”.
It’s not just minimum pricing for alcohol, the PM has moaned about chocolate oranges in W H Smiths, the “premature sexualisation” of girls (but for some reason not boys) and has proposed ‘fat taxes’ on the ‘most unhealthy foods’. Whenever Cameron wants a positive headline he turns to the judgement of other people’s lifestyles and other people’s choices. And in doing this he is simply reflecting the age in which we now live.
We have entered an “Age of Disapproval” – after several decades of growing openness, personal freedom and choice, society has looked at itself and decided it doesn’t approve. Where once liberalisation was applauded, it is now seen as license, as an encouragement to decadent hedonism. We have created a new set of sins – things of which we disapprove.
A few years ago a good night out was something good – a chance to blow away some cobwebs, let our hair down and enjoy ourselves. Now it’s binge-drinking and it's unhealthy - a terrible burden on society and especially on that most sacred of sacred cows, the National Health Service.
There was a time in all our lives when the thing that hit the spot was a full English breakfast – bacon, sausage, fried eggs, hash browns or fried bread, maybe a bit of black pudding and perhaps some beans. After that big night out this great meal set us right again. Now these meals are cancer-giving, artery-clogging and sinful – we disapprove of such indulgence with talk of rising obesity and, you’ve guessed it, the great cost to the NHS of such a terrible diet.
Not so far back in time, we saw smoking as a bad habit but tolerated the smoker – it was their choice after all. We liked the fact that places made provision for smokers while allowing non-smokers space as well. Today, smoking sits as the thing we disapprove of the most. And we don’t stop at condemning the sin – we ostracise and exclude the sinner as well, casting them out into the cold and rain, making them second-class citizens, like pariahs.
Everywhere we look, we see disapproval – complaints about the covers of so-called ‘lads mags’, frowning criticism of models for being too thin and condemnation of mothers for putting a cream egg in their child’s lunchbox. Politicians, doctors, scientists, journalists and pundits fall over each other to express disapproval of the choices other people make. And this disapproval is followed by calls for action to prevent such evil from spreading – whether we’re talking about school dinners, the ‘sexualisation’ of children or me having a very large whisky at the end of a long day.
Right now the pendulum is swinging away from personal choice and private freedom towards a controlling state and society. The “Age of Disapproval” chalks up a new victory with each passing day – with every one of these little wins making society a little less free and life for so many a little less pleasant.
But this is fine for the New Puritans, prohibitionists and healthy living fanatics – it means that people are directed towards an approved, purposeful and sober life and away from indulgent, hedonism and pleasure for the sheer joy of its experience.
It isn’t a better world. It is a dreary, depressing, controlling culture where we may live a little longer but that extra will be free from pleasure, without the chance of indulgence.
It truly is an “Age of Disapproval”.