Can you remember the good old days? When no trip to the playground was complete without the slight risk of a major head injury as you got flung off a rusty, metal roundabout headfirst onto a slab of concrete? The absolute larks you had when your friend broke their arm, but the nearest phone box was miles away, and probably not working anyway, so you had to walk miles home hoping their mum was in and they didn’t pass out in pain on the way. Back in the 70s we practised our handwriting in biro on our friends’ plaster casts.
I’m being flippant, of course, but I’m a little bit tired of the constant harking back to the good old days, when kids went out on their bikes – no cycle helmets though, are you soft? No sympathy for a crushed skull in those days, when men were men and snowflakes didn’t exist. It was character building and made us the fine, upstanding society we are today. Those of us who made it that is.
The good old days
So where was I? Oh yes, we all set off on our choppers at the crack of dawn and came back when it got dark, or when our mums called us in for our tea. We didn’t need water bottles – hydration is for wimps, if we were thirsty then we found a dirty puddle, or just drank from someone’s hosepipe.
About 60% of our childhood was spent left outside the butcher’s in a pram with big wheels, with only a packet of fags to keep us company, maybe with a tot of whisky in our bottles if we were teething. If we went on a car journey, chances are we were in the boot of an estate car with seven other kids and a dog, we didn’t need woke seat belts.
We were never ill because we ate actual dirt to boost our immune systems. Polio, you say? I mean yes, there’s pretty much been a 99.9% decline in cases since the 1980s, but we just shook that off too, all we needed was some toxic looking Lucozade and a cuff around the ear and we were right as rain. Admittedly, acid rain, but never mind that. The 80s, eh?
The past isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
I see this kind of thing all over social media, photos of dirty kids playing in bomb sites, for example – “we didn’t need a screen for entertainment in those days!” forgetting that health and safety rules were developed for a reason, that there are now fewer childhood diseases, safer roads, fewer child kidnapping cases.
I recently saw a meme comparing the 18-year-olds who stormed the Normandy beaches, to the 18-year-olds of today who need “a safe space because words hurt their feelings”.
Let’s not forget that those young men on the Normandy beaches were sent off to either certain death, or a lifetime of mental health issues; problems with aggression, broken marriages, dysfunctional relationships with their children because they were brought up in a society that didn’t equip them with a way of communicating their feelings.
Real men don’t cry, right? The effects of which are still being seen today as about three quarters of all suicides are male. That’s nothing to be proud of; why would you want that for our young people? The word ‘woke’ is thrown around as an insult, but I think if you complain about people being too aware of, and taking a stand against, injustices they see then I would go out on a limb here and suggest that it’s you who has the problem.
Nobody talked about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) back then; there was the vague term ‘shell shock’ but no proper diagnosis or treatment, they were just expected to get on with it, which mostly consisted of burying it because it was too traumatic. Plenty of soldiers were ok, but plenty of them weren’t.
Sexist double standards
Whatever the topic, you can guarantee that at some point in the conversation someone will pipe up with ‘but it didn’t do us any harm!’ Really? Are you sure about that? Because here you are on a public platform dismissing a whole generation with your vitriolic comments, which would indeed suggest that maybe some harm was done after all. In my experience, the people who shout the loudest about how they are most definitely not damaged/racist/homophobic often turn out to be very much the opposite.
Take women, for example. Remember when a harmless wolf-whistle was considered a compliment? When a man could admire a beautiful woman and innocently comment on the size of her breasts, maybe give her bottom a little pat, casually reduce all that she is to a sexual being purely here for the entertainment of men, without the fear of being arrested? It’s not as though women have anything to fear from groups of men, is it? It’s all perfectly safe and fun. Until it isn’t, but then if you will wear those short skirts what do you expect?
Those good old days when men were men and women were sexualised to sell everything from cars to aftershave, when Benny Hill chased scantily clad women around for entertainment and your newspaper had naked breasts in the midst of all the news. Although god forbid women should get those very same breasts out in public and feed their babies – have some decency, woman!
A decade of contradictions
In 1975 Margaret Thatcher became the leader of the Conservatives, the first woman to lead a major political party. Yet up until 1975 women still had to ask their husband’s permission to open a bank account. It seems incomprehensible to think that the same year we were all dancing around to Get Into the Groove by the original girl power icon, Madonna, women were still not allowed to have a drink in a pub unless they had a man with them. And marital rape was still legal when Bryan Adams was in the charts for what felt like forever, singing ‘Everything I do I do it for you’. Halcyon days indeed.
I’m not saying it wasn’t great to grow up then – we had the Clangers and Rupert the Bear and Pacers and CHiPs and proper fuzzy felts – but my children have had an equally good childhood, maybe even better, and I’m glad they had better Lego and didn’t have to wait three hours for a computer game to noisily load on their ZX Spectrums. It’s called progress.
I want them to have a better life than I did, I’m glad that they and their friends can be open about mental health, that there isn’t the stigma and the awful labels that used to exist around mental health issues. I’m glad that their favourite bands can say they’re pulling out of a tour because they are mentally exhausted because this glorification of trauma and struggling, this push to just keep going and work harder and longer and better, is so, so harmful.
Our young people are much more accepting of each other and respectful of each other’s boundaries, more accepting of the reasons behind bad behaviour. They call out racism and homophobia and look out for each other and yes, they get things wrong, but that’s all part of growing and evolving. I’m ashamed, yet proud, when they look at me in horror when I try to explain the inherent racism and homophobia that was such a huge part of our comedy culture in the 1970s.
I’m glad that we now have a culture that talks openly about abuse, that it’s clear that it’s not acceptable. I’m glad that our young people don’t have to grow up in a time where everyone knows a teacher/neighbour/relative who you just know, without being told, that you have to stay away from.
I don’t get everything they’re into; I’m not supposed to. But that’s progress, they have new ways of seeing things. I want them to go out and discover new things so that I don’t have to. For example, I’ve discovered a lot of new music through my children without having to leave the house. It’s just that nowadays we share playlists instead of dodgy compilations tapes.
Sex education and social media
Social media needs very careful handling but there’s no denying that it has made our lives a lot easier over the last few years, it’s helped us to keep in touch, stay connected. I don’t necessarily agree that it’s made us all self-obsessed, I think we’ve always been like that, social media just magnifies it.
Humans have always wanted to capture their own image. Three hundred years ago, if you could afford it, you sat for weeks while you had your portrait painted, and in the 1970s we would sit for what felt like DAYS watching slides of ourselves on a projector. The beauty of social media is that nobody is forcing you to look at it. Although, there’s also a certain irony to people using social media to complain about social media.
People complain about kids having access to porn, but we’ve always had access to porn. It’s just that in the 1970s it was in the form of porn mags left in bushes (no pun intended) or some physically impossible act described by someone who heard it from their big brother’s friend’s sister.
At least these days it’s balanced out by decent sex education which talks about consent and emotions and different sexualities, and the pros and cons of different contraception. In my day sex education only existed in relation to having babies and while we were all equipped physically, we had no idea how to deal with the accompanying emotions.
Time to embrace the present
So, let’s stop being so resentful and bitter. Imagine how it might feel to be continuously told that you’re living your life wrong, that we all did it better but you were just unfortunate to be born at the wrong time. Imagine being judged before you’ve even opened your mouth, before you’ve even worked out who you are and where you fit in the world.
Someone needs to stamp on those rose-tinted glasses we wear when we look at the past; we’re not exactly leaving the world in a brilliant state. We’re like really rubbish hotel guests, throwing the TV out of the window and trashing the room before we leave, just dropping our key card off at reception and jumping in a taxi, expecting them to sort out global warming because we couldn’t be bothered, and accept that at a time when we’ve got a record number of billionaires in this country, food bank usage has increased by roughly 80%.
Oh yes, and did we mention there’s a recession on, you can’t afford to use your heating, we somehow let Brexit happen and we also broke the NHS, sorry! But if it’s any consolation, we had a brilliant time playing on a building site snorting asbestos.
Those traumatic things that happened to previous generations actually did do a lot of harm, and it was really tough. This is all the more reason why we should be encouraging the next generations to be better, to do things better, because if you stop looking back for just a few minutes you might actually see that our young people are amazing and doing their best and there is hope right in front of us, and right now that’s something we all really need.
Let’s stop glorifying trauma and struggle, because it didn’t make us strong. It made us screwed up, confused and needy. We are what we are today despite what we went through, not because of it.
And after all, however great it might have been growing up in the 70s, do we really want to go back to a time of flowery maxi dresses, dodgy facial hair, fuel shortages, strikes and the constant fight for equal pay. Oh, wait…