When I became a school Governor in a comprehensive school, I was shocked at the lack of educational ambition, among both working class boys and girls, even their parents. It was something that was less obvious in Calvinist Scotland, where I was brought up. I saw, and spoke to, young girls who were infatuated with make-up, looks, fashion and the lethal, mistaken hope that luck, marriage or fate will get them somewhere. They had given up on education as a means of advancement before they had even started. Since then I've been looking for causes.
Rousseau and reading
“Reading is the great plague of childhood” said Rousseau, in Emile (On Education). What he meant was the way the dead hand of a fixed narrative can shape a child’s outlook, not always to good ends. This is a debate that goes all the way back to Plato, who warned that an early infatuation with fiction has its dangers.
There was a vivid illustration of Rousseau’s point on Radio this week, when a smart, young, black, woman author, Michelle Gaye, who’s written a book called ‘Pride and Premiership: from Wags to Riches’ (what a great title), described today’s young women as being obsessed with the Cinderella narrative. She saw the WAG phenomenon, the relentless pursuit of footballers, who would rescue them from their ordinary lives, as a playing out of this narrative. The poor girl gets her prince. It’s a fixed, fictional narrative that drives young girls (and men) to extremes of behaviour, fuelled by a newspaper and magazine industry that has long abandoned serious and real events, for the perpetuation of fairy stories.
The Diana affair was mass hysteria, based around this ‘princess’ myth, albeit a tragic extension to the story, where the princess, being driven from the Ritz, gets smashed to pieces in that most fairy tale of cities, Paris. The crowds, of largely women, that flocked to the streets and laid flowers, were not shedding tears for Diana. They were playing out a narrative that locked them into a fatuous fairy tale. They had never met the woman, and acted upon their anger that the fairy tale had been usurped. It was a cathartic vehicle for their own failed dreams. They weren’t mourning Diana, they were mourning the death of a fairy tale. The story had been hijacked and skewered. Childhood dreams were being crushed.
Frankie Boyle hits a nerve
Frankie Boyle shocked the nation, and shot to fame on the back of one famous joke that hit a nerve with anyone who saw through this nonsense, when he recommended that we celebrate Diana’s death by, “by staging a gang-bang in a minefield”. It was typical Boyle, but clever in its own way, because it is so extreme. It was a disturbing and obscene counterpoint to an equally disturbing and obscene myth. It got 1.6 million hits on YouTube.
When Princes go bad
Prince Charles screwed around with the Princess story, and got burned. He’s now forever a baddy, having shacked up with one of the ugly sisters. That wasn’t meant to happen. It’s not what we wanted. Prince Andrew married Fergie, a puffed up, rouged, pantomime buffoon, and they’re still playing out the Cinderella tale gone wrong. Both have turned into money-grabbing caricatures of a Prince and Princess, and we all shout ‘boo’ when they appear. The youngest has already been written off, after his ‘nazi’ uniform gag. What a lark – eh? They thought they had supressed all that German Nazi stuff when Edward abdicated, then he splashes it all over the forever loyal, Royal, red-tops.
Third time lucky?
Third time lucky the nation hopes. This time it may work, and Royalty will clear away the broken crockery and put a new mug on the mantelpiece for the nation to adore. This time it’s an unbreakable plastic mug, as this Prince is an anodyne cypher of a man, devoid of personality and original thought. He may very well play out his destined role as the quiet actor in this crooked old pantomine. So the fairy tale will continue with the WC wedding. A large section of the nation will, once again, play out their role, resurrecting the memory of Diana and what should have been. The tape is rewound and her bloody death and possible marriage to a dark skinned foreigner, can be erased. England will revert back to buying bricabrac, eating cake, and watching their Cinderella marry her (gormless) Prince, on TV. Once again, young women will be seduced by a dangerous fiction, that if you get a makeover, tan and hawk yourself around the circuit, you’ll find your Prince.
Disneyfication of Royalty
In the second half of the 20th century two forces united in UK popular culture, Disney and Royalty. Royalty became Disnified, in the sense that the sanitised, feudal idea of a ‘Prince’ and ‘Princess’ was seen as ideal and aspirational. Young women are being seduced by this ideal into believing that it’s possible, when it’s the very opposite. Princes have been replaced by boorish footballers, but it’s the same old myth. Was there anything more depressing than the recent series Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, where the Disneyfication of the wedding reached absurd proportions. The lower the caste in society, the more they hang on to these dreams, as it’s a way of avoiding reality.
Don’t read Cinderella to your children, especially your girls, it’s a lethal cocktail of falsehoods that will do them inestimable harm.