Last fortnight marked the twenty year anniversary of the murder of James Bulger and, as expected, media outlets opined and emoted on cue about the fatal events that marked the day and “shocked the nation”. Inevitably, the commemorations bled over onto the social networks, where I encountered this meme:
I had to laugh. Tacky, out-of-control, mawkish, and probably made by someone with no fucking connection to said child or his family, it symbolized for me the runaway emotionalism and Good Guy Badge-whoring one-upmanship that swept across the nation like a plague in the wake of the murder, infecting the populace with a special strain of stupidity it has yet to recover from to this day.
I remember being in the final year of my halcyon primary school days at the time, registering the news as another tragic turn of events but not much more than that. I also remember sitting cross-legged on the class mat with all the other kids, listening to our teacher sermonizing over and eliciting responses to the event. It all had the feel of a Very Special Episode from some otherwise goofy American sitcom.
Further afield, parents across the land clasped their kids to their chests in trembling, frothing indignation, drowning them in spittle and smother. Projecting their own spawn into the sad scenario, they snarled for explanations and eviscerations for the grisly crime. Enter the gutter press, ever eager to capitalise on calamity, branding the two preteen murder suspects – Robert Thompson and John Venables – as devil children, the spawn of Satan Himself. Beyond snarling for their sentences to be extended and generally stirring up the lynch mob mentality amongst their readership, they leapt on a tenuous connection to engineer a moral panic over the movie Child’s Play III.
The main recipients of national outrage, however, remained the pint-sized, primary school pair themselves. To this day, they live with concealed identities, the authorities they received them from knowing full well the socially-endorsed hunting season that would commence upon their unveiling. Venables being re-arrested for archiving kiddy porn in 2010 no doubt met with the relish of a population firmly convinced of the childhood culpability of the two.
However, make the case for preteen…nay…midteen personal agency in an entirely different context and watch the script undergo a sharp one-eighty flip.
Last September, fifteen-year-old schoolgirl Megan Stammers caused something of a commotion when she ran off to France with her maths teacher, Jeremy Forrest. Far from conceding her part in events, most members of the public who vocalised their sentiments placed all blame on Forrest’s shoulders, branding him a “paedo”, “pervert”, “kiddy-fiddler”, and other such endearing epithets. Stammers, by both the mob’s and the press’ reckoning, was an innocent, sexually oblivious “child”, “abducted” from home and hearth by an opportunistic predator.
Which begs some fucking questions:
If the general populace views fifteen-year-old Stammers as non-answerable for her actions, what’s with their Two Decades Hate against Thompson and Venables for a crime they committed in their fucking primary school years?
Why is the UK a nation of cognitively-broken schizophrenics who struggle to string together a consistent line of thought?
Once again, I suspect this is a testament to the power of childhood, actual and designated, to erode the cerebral capacity of most of the adult population. According to the clouded thinking of many an adult, childhood – a state determined for them by legislative scribblings – is a time of unique innocence and psychological purity, uncontaminated by the vice, darkness, and depravity of adult life…and woe betide anyone who would show or tell them otherwise! I attest that any anger against Thompson and Venables lingers not only for their crime against the child Jamie Bulger, but also for their unwitting attack on the very concept of childhood the majority hold so close to their hearts (perhaps closer than their actual kids). It’s never nice to have one’s cognitive dissonance, delusion-dependence, and plain irrationality exposed to the harsh glare of reality – which might explain their vehement, denialist reassertion of such traits.
Fortunately, there are some who still carry the ability to think with something approaching clarity. Although I have some issues with Frank Furedi’s analysis of the situation, I appreciate the fact he brings something approaching rigour to back up his position:
For me the most disquieting moment is this shameful episode was when I read the summing up of the case against the two children by the trial judge Mr Justice Morland. The killing of James Bulger was ‘an act of unparalleled evil and barbarity’ concluded the judge. These carefully crafted words not only communicated the idea that the killing committed by these two children was an act of evil but also suggested that it was also ‘unparalleled’ and therefore worse than the terrible deeds perpetrated by adults. The conviction and sentencing of the two children provoked a reaction that a civilised society usually reserves for hardened war criminals. ‘How do you feel now, you little bastards?’ asked the Daily Star while the headline of the Daily Mirror stated ‘Freaks of Nature’.
Strangely the myth of the feral child coexists with the powerful counter-myth of the innocent child who is incapable of lying or wrong-doing. Both of these myths are the product of adult fantasy. Both of them express sentiments that fail to grasp the reality of children’s lives. Parents who are continually confronted with engaging and processing these highly polarised myths often become distracted from seeing children for what they are –just children. And that’s the shameful legacy of moral panic created in response to the tragedy of James Bulger.
I must also express a nodding admiration for (though not full agreement with) the sentiments expressed on a previous post by Inferno commenter Jared:
…this is one issue that really bugs me how so many fuckers want to increase the age at which people can enjoy certain freedoms yet at the same time want to lower the age that people are held accountable for their actions. On that issue, here’s my offer to those law and order types, when you let 14 year olds, fuck, smoke drink, and everything else then I’ll support you guys putting them in the electric chair when they kill someone.
Alas, lushes and reprobates, such lucid thinking is the exception, rather than the rule, in a society caught up in an abject, embarrassing fetishism of childhood and youth. As long as the good people of Slave Britannia cling to their taboos like Bulger’s mum clings to her remaining child, expect this pathetic phenomenon to re-emerge at many a point in the foreseeable future.