Sunday, May 22, 2011

Panic in the Streets of London

I decided I had to blog as quickly as possible, because I wanted to make sure I got at least one more post in - I don't know if I'll make it through the night. I just came back from a private screening of Cruising, the 1980 William Friedkin film with Al Pacino and Paul Sorvino, which was frightening enough, but I'm staying in the heart of bustling Soho, so I've bolted my door, barricaded it with a chair, and am sorely regretting telling that guy in shades, a leather jacket, and peaked cap where I was staying. But he seemed so nice! Christ, walking down Old Compton Street, I felt like Dominique Strauss-Kahn entering Riker's Island.

Anyway, at some point, I must deal with the comedy in Cruising, because it's very, very interesting: the cops' non-jokes ("Cork-soaker?") in their squad car as they amuse themselves by insulting and assaulting the drag queens; Steve Burns' choice of the yellow bandana; the standard funny-entry gag when the beat cop meets the unamused, gruff captain, which is revisited at the end when the two of them share the gag again, but this time with mutual respect. All of these are very strange and powerful, if disorienting, moments in a weird, unsure film.

But right now, I want to move away from Gay Panic (and for all its flaws and ambiguities, Cruising scrupulously, if not always successfully, steers away from Gay Panic), and instead turn to something we should all be panicking about: the state of today's youth. Let's face it: today's youth are complete flops as humans. Yes, we know they're socially better than we are - they dance better, they dress better, they have cooler films and cooler music - but we also know we're intellectually and morally superior. Today's youth can't read anything that isn't an acronym, they think it's okay to shoot priests and nuns in video games without a wink of guilt. But science has now proven once and for all that they're also physically inferior! And I don't just mean compared to us. Almost all of my readership can beat 10-year olds at arm wrestling. No, compared to youth of yesteryear or, in this case, yesterdecade.

The Observer's front-page headline says it all: "Modern Life is Producing a 'Generation of Weaklings'". On their homepage, The Observer entices its readers with: "Computer games making people weak"; and the on-line article itself is titled, "Children growing weaker as computers replace outdoors games." According to Denis Campbell, a study in Acta Paediatrica has shown that children can do fewer sit-ups and are less able to hang from wall bars in a gym than children 10 years ago.

Now, in addition to being for all intents and purposes a lawyer and a philosopher, I'm also a scientist. I will assume that when the authors of this study, Sandercock et al., conducted the study, they controlled for such things as gender; and I'll assume their populations of Essex children are comparable in all potentially confounding ways across time; and I'll assume this population is an adequate reflection of this nation's and, indeed, this world's children: in other words, I'll assume there is an internal validity to the comparison and that the results are generalisable. I will also assume that in the reporting, we are being given the full facts, and that it wasn't found that, say, the children were equal in most tests of strength, and only different in these two. And I will assume the raw data is compelling, and that we're not only being given a few differences that are only "statistical differences" (I notice that Campbell doesn't include any statistics, much less any confidence intervals, whereby we might judge the strengths of the association over time). I suppose I could look this all up in Acta Paediatrica, but that would be working. This is blogging, not work.

Okay, I looked - I can't get in. It's protected. I'm not going to pay money to see the study; I'm just going to trust the reporting. We can safely say that it's proven that children today are weaklings. But we knew that.

There are a few little worrying things, though.

"This is probably due to changes in activity patterns among English 10-year-olds, such as taking part in fewer activities like rope-climbing in PE and tree-climbing for fun," Sandercock said. "Typically, these activities boosted children's strength, making them able to lift and hold their own bodyweight."

The fact that 10% could not do the wall bars test and another 10% refused to try was "really shocking", he added. "That probably shows that climbing and holding their own weight was something they hadn't done before."

Yes, it could mean that they had never done it before. It could also mean that they couldn't be fucked to do it either - in which case, today's youth may not be pussies, they may be little pricks. And I'm sure that's true too. But I have no doubt the authors of the study ascertained why the youth refused, and didn't just assume that it was because they were too weak to do it.

And I'm a little bit worried that there is absolutely no mention of how the authors of the study assessed such things as how much time the youth actually do spend on computers and in front of the television; that the authors based their conclusions on an assessment that looked at the children's lifestyles, their proximity to parks, who is working at home and for how long; and I'm sure they're also looking at how much money local schools are spending on physical education and sporting opportunities, what sort of access to sports and coaches and swimming pools these children have, whether children walk and bike to school or whether they are driven, and other aspects that might factually support what we all know to be true: that today's youth are wasting away like forgotten larvae in the ambient glow of a computer screen. As the headlines tell us, it's the fault of computers and modern life, so all that information must have been part of the study. They didn't need to include it in the reporting; that would have been overkill.

At least we definitely know one cause of their wasting-away:

"Climbing trees and ropes used to be standard practice for children, but school authorities and 'health and safety' have contrived to knock the sap out of our children," said Tam Fry of the Child Growth Foundation.

"Falling off a branch used to be a good lesson in picking yourself up and learning to climb better. Now fear of litigation stops the child climbing in the first place."

Yes, it's all that 'health and safety' rubbish. Bring back lead in the petrol, bring back the lash, put the sap back in the whippersnappers, and we'll soon have these children scampering up trees like sap-filled squirrels, instead of a nanny-state producing anaemic, blob-like amoeboids slowly leaking sap as they dissolve into the white light emanating from their computer screens. One thing is very clear: today's children are feeble not because we're not investing enough money and time and energy in childhood - it's because we're doing too much for them!

But I will say this, there is good news for us in the report: when these 10-year olds get a year or two older and try to mug us, we'll be able to kick their weak-armed little butts or, at the very least, we know what to do: run to the nearest tree and climb it. We'll be safe up there.

1 comment:

sw said...

"Now fear of litigation stops the child climbing in the first place."

I spent some time amusing myself with an image of a kid approaching a tree and thinking "Should I? Should I climb it? No . . . I shouldn't. I be might be sued."