Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Cuteness and the Nerf World

Sweet muttering Jesus it's been a long time since I've posted here. My exuse is that I've been insanely busy with work ... though that's only partially true. I've also been spending way more time than is good for me exploring mixi (the Japanese myspace clone) which is somewhat time-consuming as, well, it's all in freaking Japanese.

Anyhow, some background. I'm an English teacher in Japan, by profession if not by way of vocation, and recently a lot of my work has been doing kids classes. And I mean little kids ... we're talking like three and up. Kindergarten visits, kid's parties ... it's not really education, more like 'Look at the trained monkey dance! Dance, monkey, dance!'

Not that I'm complaining. Easy work, good money. Hit's a little in the self-respect department, but hell, after this I'll never be able to take myself seriously again, which is a definite improvement over my arrogent adolescence.

I digress. These kids, being kids and, moreover, Japanese kids, are for the most part so cute it hurts. I mean, they can really turn it on. It's impossible not to like them.

But what is this cuteness thing? Where the hell does it come from?

One thing I've realized is that it doesn't really exist outside adults' heads. Kids don't notice cute; it's something you become progressively more aware of as you get older. Kids don't see it because they don't need to see it; adults see it because they're biologically wired to see it, otherwise, they wouldn't feel the need to lavish their own kids with attention. Cuteness is basically an evolved reproductive strategy, similar to the sex drive (hoo boy, bet I caught yer attention there!)

But once you get past the whole cute thing, you realize that kids are basically little people. Like I said, kids don't see 'cute'; the really little ones are blind to it, and even teenagers are only vaguely aware of it. For little kids, other kids aren't cute; they're people. And, what's more, really evil, nasty, vile and heartless people. Anyone who spends any amount of time with kids soon realizes that, left to their own and with no adults watching them, children are some of the most vicious and savage beasts there are, at least to their own kind. They have a certain level of morality, but it's just the bare superstructure of how to comport oneself in a social group, something even apes are born with; they're not in the least civilized. They say and do things to one another that are, frankly, horrible. Bullying, taunting, humiliating ... kids do it all, and what's more, they enjoy doing it.

Lest you get the idea I'm some sort of misopedist (that would be 'hater of children'), let me assure you, I love kids (though I'm not a 'pedophile', which would be the direct translation of that into greek or latin or whatever.) Insofar as I'm a mature adult, I'm fairly helpless before the power of their cuteness. I am, however, acutely aware of their shortcomings as moral human beings; civilizing the little savages is what parents (and to a lesser extent teachers) are for.

But, you know, I'm not really sure how many other people are aware of this. Floating around in our culture is this idea that kids are innately innocent ... which they are, insofar as 'innocent' is a synonym for 'ignorant'. But innocence is often used to mean 'good' and that is just complete and utter horsetwaddle.

You hear these people all over the place. Determined to keep kids from exposure to any sort of harm, any sort of risk, any sort of 'bad influence.' It was this story, in particular, about the banning of dodge ball by some American schools (hat tip: Gates of Vienna) that really got me thinking about it. This effort to turn the entire planet into one giant brightly coloured nerf world. No smoking, anywhere (even in old Warner Bros. cartoons.) No violent video games. No bad language. No competition. No violence (not even good-natured rough-housing between friends.) No guns (not even airguns.) No ... well, I think you're starting to get the idea.

Since when did the world become one giant nursery school?

But more to the point, since when did we get the idea that kids must be so extensively coddled, even at the expense of the freedom of adults to do what they please? Do these people imagine that children can somehow be sheltered from every single aspect of the real world, until they reach the age of majority, at which point it all comes crashing in? Actually, I don't think they do; my money is that the safety nazis are counting on neotenizing the population so extensively that there is no 'adult world' to do the crashing.

But really, I think this all comes down to a misunderstanding about what childhood is, the idea that it's some sort of morally pure state that must be protected at all costs, rather than the brutish state of animal ignorance that it in fact is. Get over that, and the urge to make the world safe for the children ('won't somebody please think of the children!?') disappears.