Hello Kitty tattoos, adult coloring books: Grown-ups acting like kids is an annoying trend, with worrying implications for electoral politics.
In the lead-up to the UK’s referendum on EU membership, Michael Gove told the media that “people in this country have had enough of experts.” As a key figure in the Leave campaign, he had recognized a worrying trend: A significant number of voters were hungry for simplistic, childish political rhetoric. He was correct. Supporters of the Remain campaign were busy sharing academic analysis of the economic pros and cons of EU membership, the single market and the mechanisms behind EU legislation (see Michael Dougan video). The Leave campaign coolly popped open a packet of crayons and scrawled a big number on the side of a shiny, red bus – and won.
What Gove had (unfortunately) identified, was the increasing unwillingness that many voters feel about taking on the responsibility that comes with adulthood. Recent years have seen the rise of soft play centres for adults, super hero films that are rated unsuitable for children, and Buzz Lightyear bedsheets – for a double bed. These are symptoms of the broader trend of rejecting maturity and clinging to childhood, which has a worrying effect on the public’s expectations of political leaders. In the end, nobody cared about Donald Trump’s lack of transparency on tax, his track record of appalling attitudes to women, or the fact that he lacked any experience of government. He said he wanted to make America great again. That sounded good enough to vote for. The rest was just details.
It’s difficult to write a criticism of infantile attitudes and behaviour without coming across as a killjoy: If people want Haribo and fizzy drinks, pop music with the complexity of nursery rhymes, or to spend their time building a fort with their friends (watch this, if you think you can stand it), then they are perfectly entitled to do exactly that: It’s a free country. However, it is extremely important that it remains a free country. When Theresa May introduces further surveillance measures on the public, people need to ask questions. When Donald Trump’s government begins rolling back legislation that prevents internet service providers from manipulating the quality of their customers’ experience based on corporate alliances and financial interests, people should demand an explanation. A person’s right to vote is restricted by age: When they are granted the right to vote, they also inherit a responsibility to hold representatives to high standards.
Of course, these specific acts of policy – as well as the Brexit referendum result and the election of Donald Trump – open up a huge number of possible lines of interpretation (see my piece about the role of conservative Christianity in the US election). It is also difficult not to share the opinion that examining the often boring realities of national and international politics is less enjoyable than colouring the pretty flowers in Johanna Basford’s bestselling The Secret Garden (which has sold more than a million copies) or reading Laura Jane Williams’ Ice Cream for Breakfast for tips on organising your life to reflect the wishes of your inner child. However, engaging in politics is vastly more important, and has consequences that directly affect everybody in our society – of every age and generation. Acting like a child does not take away one’s obligations as an adult. It is time to pack away the Harry Potter box-set and grow up. For goodness sake – think of the children.