Play for today

9th December 1994 at 00:00
The late show: the end of childhood, BBC2, Monday, December 5. After the end of history, The Late Show has brought us the "End of Childhood". Are children really behaving worse than in the past? Are they overstimulated by video games and television? Or is it all a moral panic?

The programme makers approached their subject with a series of talking heads a journalist, historian, psychoanalyst and social commentators, with each of their views being balanced by another, until the viewer's head was spinning.

On one hand, it was said, children are deluged in images of adult behaviour (when you hear this you know deviant adult behaviour is meant, rather than hoovering or checking the tyre pressure on the car); while on the other hand children are excluded from so much of the adult world that they are forced to sneak glimpses of it through the media.

Other competing arguments were presented that children have never before had to watch narratives of such simplistic violence; or contrariwise that nothing today matches the gruesomeness of the stories of the Brothers Grimm.

Arguments from history, recent or ancient, are never completely convincing. We simply cannot know what life was like for people from another time, even with the most extensive documentary evidence.

But attitudes do change and the programme argued that the Romantic idea of infant innocence is disappearing fast, and that no longer will childhood be perceived as a separate state of being.

If adults are no longer duty bound to protect children's innocence, now they have a heavier burden imposed upon them keeping the child happy, and if you don't, you have failed.

But if we look around we find that despite all our efforts, children are not happy even if we fulfil our biblical duties of responsibly raising them for adult life, as well as spending more than we can afford at Toys 'R' Us.

How have we failed? Television is great at this kind of mea culpa. Look, the arguments runs, we have not created a perfect world for our children. Market forces have deregulated television and most children's richness and complexity of narrative is reduced to the pow wow of the Power Rangers.

Mothers do not always cook dinner and more money is spent on researching video games than discovering the roots of violence. Furthermore, James Bulger was killed by two children who watched horror videos.

But wait a bit. Are all these aspects of life causally connected? Discard the moral panic and what do we find?

Of course some parents really do fail children, and in more serious ways than buying them Mortal Kombat. They neglect, starve, beat, sexually abuse, exploit and torture them. That is wrong, but it may be that the springs of human behaviour lie deeper than even the The Late Show can plummet.

But the programme did throw up one timely question: why are we blaming video games for human aggression?

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