The New Infantilism


I’m in a smart restaurant. Two huge middle-aged men come in with their girlfriends. The men wear shiny tight clothes that make them look like huge toddlers. They appear to have been dipped in gold. They’re speaking Russian. The girls are maybe nineteen, leggy, catwalk-arrogant, dressed somewhere between schoolgirl and call girl, as bare as they dare. They go to the bathroom six times in the course of the meal – not to take drugs (too nineties) but to photograph each other endlessly for Facebook. The screams and flashes from the toilet disturb everyone in the restaurant until a waiter is called to send them back to their table.

Cut to my brief stay in W Hotel. The chain is the supposedly hip end of the Starwood group. It calls staff ‘Talent’ and room cleaning ‘Styling’. There’s a lot of blinging blue neon and locality is ignored, so you could be anywhere in the world, in a tartier McDonald’s or KFC. I wait at the lift as a 25 year-old woman walks past trailing a giant teddy bear, before having a screaming fight with her skateboard-toting 30 year-old boyfriend. W hotels are designed to look better at night. They’re about sex and showing off, housing glittery nightclubs that attract surgery-enhanced girls in outfits they’ve copied from footage of celebrities on red carpets. Bad music pumps out past midnight. Even the corridor muzak can be heard in the rooms. There’s a firework display outside the bedroom windows at 2:00am. Children love bright colours and loud noises.

Welcome to the New Infantilism, where men hide behind their game-Phones while their girlfriends photograph themselves. Where it’s cool to stay in faux-sophisticated identical surroundings marketed at people who get excited when they see mauve underlighting. An Orwellian world George really didn’t spot coming.

Recently, three young people I know have been seduced out of their jobs by TV companies promising to make them stars. They weren’t paid for their time, and at the end of the process were spat back onto the street with their ten minutes of fame behind them. In one particularly nasty case, a TV company duped one into thinking he was on a talent show that turned out to be the humiliating reality show ‘Tool Academy’. The second was set up as fake-posh in ‘Made In Chelsea’. Another mentioned that his 13 year-old daughter had just been approached by a reputable model agency. Luckily the girl is way too smart to be excited.

A new survey suggests that children now see ‘celebrity’ as a viable career choice, preferable to becoming a teacher or doctor. But it’s not a choice they can possibly have the power to make. What they fail to glimpse is the selling machine behind the image.

Sensationalism is nothing new, and there are no real surprises that one sector of the population should always crave the unattainable, but this current incarnation is pernicious and far-reaching. SF writers speculate about the future – isn’t it time they speculated about this global phenomenon? (If you know one who has, let me know).

20 comments on “The New Infantilism”

  1. Bob Low says:

    I suppose this is what communists would have called ‘decadence’, and goes some way to exlaining why, if the planet is still inhabited in fifty years, we’ll all be speaking Mandarin Chinese. As for relevant science fiction, the part of your post dealing with the behaviour of television companies reminded me of a story published in the late seventies by Alan Dean Foster, called ”What Would the Simple Folk Do….?”.It’s more to do with the callousness and cruelty of unfettered inter-active television, but does touch on pointless, and brutally short-lived ‘celebrity’ status as well.It’s in a Penguin anthology called ”Pulsar 2”. I googled it, and you can pick up a second hand copy very cheaply indeed via the usual internet sellers.

  2. Alan Morgan says:

    The picture is a bit unfair in context. That’s actually Trixilix, a necromancer from heroic sword-n-sorcery. She didn’t go through seven years of night school*, sleep with the aging king, overthrow the good people in their Robin Hood hats, bring about endless night and win out over the snake cult just so you could put down all she’s achieved. That’s for a barbarian to do. You don’t come upon a castle that looks like a skull, secure pacts with dark forces, and form a stable of foxy dancing girls-cum-witches by accident you know. It was bloody hardwork. A lot of virgins blood went into that look. Have you any idea how hard it is to find a virgin in that sort of society?

    *Ba dum. Tish.

  3. Bob Low says:

    @Alan Morgan
    Can I have some of what you’ve just taken? Is there any left?

  4. admin says:

    Alan doesn’t take anything that I know of, Bob – he’s always this way. And hurray for that.

  5. Dan Terrell says:

    Excellent Alan. But wasn’t there something about her messing with a giant hairy spider family? She’d much classier than groanin’ Conan.

  6. glasgow1975 says:

    I’m sure Ballard would have written about it

  7. Bob Low says:

    No offence, Alan. I think it was just a bit early on a Sunday morning for me to process. Your comment on the ‘Cat Amongst the Pigeons’ post was priceless.

  8. Rob Nott says:

    Re: ‘SF writers speculate about the future – isn’t it time they speculated about this global phenomenon? (If you know one who has, let me know).’

    Well, in terms of the way Television has turned out, Norman Spinrad touched on this sort of thing in his classic 1969 novel, Bug Jack Barron. A story so notorious in its day that questions were raised about it (*) in the House of Commons.

    (*) The book was serialised in the British New Wave science fiction magazine New Worlds during Michael Moorcock’s editorship. Its explicit language and cynical attitude toward politicians, as well as the fact that the magazine was partially funded by the British Arts Council, angered British Members of Parliament. Jennie Lee, Baroness Lee of Asheridge, then head of the Arts Council, successfully defended the book. Later, it was banned by W. H. Smith, a major British chain of bookstores. Feminist typesetters at New Worlds rejected the story as sexist. – From Wikipedia.

  9. Rob Nott says:

    I know for a fact that Alan used to regularly take Tempodex in 1967, in clubs like the Club-Pussy Cat-a-go-go, where girls used to parade about semi-naked in giant inflatable transparent balloons. But he doesn’t like to talk about it these days… 😉

  10. snowy says:

    Robert Sheckley, is the author that first comes to mind. He wrote about reality TV and that human suffering and death would become entertainment in the 1950’s.
    Seventh Victim (1953) and the Prize of Peril (1958), much since copied and adapted by others, but his protagonists are driven by money rather than just fame.

  11. Mike Cane says:

    Richard Lefsetz has written about this scattered about in his columns here: That is, the new breed of eejits who just want to be “famous” — not actually have a skill or accomplish anything that benefits anyone else.

  12. james says:

    I think I may have said this before, but admin writes better blog entries than most other writers do novels.

    As for infantilised spec-fic, didn’t the almost forgotten Charles Oberndorf write about this in his novel Sheltered Lives? I seem to recall that he did, but might be getting him confused with someone else.

    I’ve written a few short stories in that vein myself, though they’re uber rough versions I wouldn’t show anyone yet. Admin’s post may inspire me to finish them, and send them out to Black Static or Interzone.

  13. Giles Le Gallez says:

    What about 15 Million Merits an episode of Black Mirror Charlie Brooker’s excellent loosely connected series about technology that was on Channel 4 last year. That particular episode deals explicitly with a celebrity obsessed dystopian future to quite chilling effect.


  14. Jez Winship says:

    Nigel Kneale’s 60s TV series The Year of the Sex Olympics anticipated a world of easeful leisure which is obsessed with trivial or vicariously sensual TV programming. He used a debased, simplified form of language to indicate the way in which his future society had become infantilised through such media saturation. His main character unwittingly becomes the star of a deadly reality show. I suppose the lesson we’ve learned in the intervening years is that there would in fact be no shortage of people who would willingly participate in such a programme.

  15. snowy says:

    The BFI do decent DVD of TYOTSO, should anyone be so inclined. It has a few extras as well as the full 103 minutes of the “play”.

    A lot of Sci-Fi seems to deal more with loss of celebrity or even identity. Flow my tears… by P. K. Dick is one. And the disturbing Alfred Bester tale, Tiger-Tiger, identity is just a mantle to be donned when needed.

    In recentish film, this is played out in “Cube”, “Unknown”(the 2006 film) and “Dark City.

  16. Bob Low says:

    What’s been most interesting about this discussion has been the reminder that several far-seeing writers like Sheckley, Dick and Nigel Kneale predicted something like our current malaise as far ago as the nineteen fifties. They tried to warn people, using satire. I think one of the reasons few contemporary SF writers deal with this now is because the reality of our current celebrity obsessed society is too grotesque to satirise. It actually happened!

  17. snowy says:

    Stepping outside the sci-fi genre, there is the story of Henry Adams, whose celebrity also comes unearned from a non bankable asset. The Million Pound Note, a note he can neither cash nor spend. But it allows him to live a very comfortable live with no further effort, from the 1893 short story by Mark Twain.

    But the cult of the overnight celebrity, goes back at least to the gladiators of Rome. Men (and Women) of the lowest social class, could achieve fame, wealth, (and lots of upper class groupies), but the price of failure or a drop in popularity was death.

  18. james says:

    I agree with Giles, 15 Million Merits is a brilliantly original take on a dystopian future. An absolute must see. The other two parts of Black Mirror are also excellent. Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set was another take on this theme. It poked fun at the contestants in a big brother house, whose self-centered childishness prevented them from grasping the reality of a zombie apocalypse.

    Charlie Brooker is seriously talented writer, I’d love to see him try his hand at dark fiction.

    PS: I initially read Giles Le Gallez as Gilles de Rais. Explains a lot, really.

  19. Helen Martin says:

    A teacher friend of mine asked his class of twelve year olds what they hoped to become and was horrified when several said they wanted to be famous but didn’t have any idea as to what – no, just ‘famous’. He was relieved by the girl who wanted to be a professor of English. (She probably will be, too.) I keep hoping we’ve reached the limit of the pendulum swing but we haven’t yet by the look of the tv listings.

  20. Helen Martin says:

    By the way, that female creature up there, is she alive? I feel pain in my chest just looking at her.

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