The Natural Born Smoker; Or, the Ethics of Frightening Children

I’m sure I posted something like this over at TTD years ago. In those days it was harder to find stuff like this.

Now, however, no corner of an eighties childhood is left dark, which makes one wonder if, denuded of the vaguely invented memories and half-experiences that used to make up childhood, we will cease to exist altogether when we come, like everyone before us, to rely on our memories.

This particular dark corner was a bizarre attempt by the government, aided and abetted by the BBC, to persuade children never to take up smoking. I saw it just the once, sometime in 1985, while I was, typically, home alone in the dark. I used to wait for my mum to bring my little sister home and watch Children’s BBC or Dramarama or something like that. And one day they go and put this on:

There is a case to be made for there being something powerful at the root of mid 1980s children’s TV. It got very dark very quickly: The A Team, Lytton’s hand being crushed in Attack of the Cybermen, Changes, Chocky, Running Scared, Grange Hill.

In fact the history of Grange Hill is an interesting one. Although it was always slammed for being violent or encouraging children to be less than perfect students, in fact it was entirely tame and harmless for almost all of its run – the exception being the Zammo heroin storyline in the mid-80s. Here, not only does Zammo OD, but he also beats up Jackie in what is a really shocking scene for a children’s show.

It’s a kind of hockey stick graph…

But still, what could possibly account for this explosion of violence and terror? I mean, it’s not as if 1984-85 represented any kind of peak of ideological clash; it’s not as if the world changed definitively in that period, leaving us with the capitalist consensus of the post-modern world; it’s absolutely not as if anyone was afraid of change in that period, and acted it out in culture aimed at children, who after all were going to be living through it.

That goes without saying.


About Kevin Donnelly

I'm also known as Lawrence George, which is the name I write for Helium under. I think I ought to ditch my pseudonyms before I forget which one is me.
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