Big Babies by Michael Bywater

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Big Babies by Michael Bywater

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An examination of why we have all become so infantile that will have you reduced to tears of shame and hysteria. Everyone should read it before we're reduced to wearing nappies.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: November 2006
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 1862078831

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This book will make you cringe with horror as you look in its mirror and see what you have become, what we have all become. It will also make you laugh until the tears run down your face. It may make you resolve to change, but you probably won't. You may not even be able to. They may not allow it.

Michael Bywater details with dreadful clarity how we are all treated as babies by government, advertisers, the media and just about everybody else you care to mention. It's not just the spin put on everything by the government, it's the lies that we're told, day in, day out in the hope and expectation that we'll remain compliant and not ask any awkward questions. Our life is lived in a miasma of catchy jingles, 'branding' (New Labour, anyone?) and being fed a succession of scares in the hope that we will hold tight to the hands of the people who made us afraid in the first place.

In the hands of a lesser writer this book could have turned into a splenetic rant. Think of it rather as a post-mortem carried out with surgical precision on the corpse of any pretensions that we might have had of being grown ups. Why for instance do we need, at the last count, ninety-three notices telling us what we can and cannot do between leaving the plane and emerging outside Heathrow airport? Why do we encounter road signs showing a picture of a camera which is only recognisable as a camera if you were born before 1920 and so needs to have the word 'camera' to explain it? Surely the point of a pictogram is that you don't need the words to understand the sign? The passage about an anthropologist from Mars travelling on a First Great Western train left me near-hysterical with tears running down my face. I've just reread it and it happened again.

It's not all their fault though, you know. We've allowed ourselves to be treated in this way. We accept recommendations from dodgy celebrities when common sense should tell us not to. We borrow money without thought as to how we're going to repay it. We expect to be looked after. Worst of all we buy computers and look at screens which say 'My Computer', 'My Pictures' and 'My Music'.

I'm not going to go on giving examples of how infantile life has become because we'd be here all night and Michael Bywater does it so much better than I ever could - and he's written a book that will make you think. I really believe that he might be the best comic writer around at the moment - it's difficult to think of anyone to compare. He has that wonderful mix of incisive, logical thought and the ability to see the funny side of everyday life. I really wanted to find an area where I thought he'd got it wrong, but I couldn't. I've thought for a long time that we were being talked down to, but I'd never before realised quite how complicit I'd been in allowing it to happen. I wanted to plead 'guilty as charged', but I was laughing too much.

If you have ever thought that life was becoming more infantile then this book is for you. If you've never thought it, then you should probably read it urgently. If you don't, then Michael Bywater knows someone who's asking for a smack.

Thanks to the publisher, Granta, for sending this wonderful book.

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Jill said:

Ohhhhhhhhh. I want it!

Magda said:

I like the sound of this! And I have to say that the shock of first time seeing 'My Computer' and 'My Documents' rather than the exquisite pleasure of designing your own directory (sorry, folder!) structure as it was in the old days of DOS and Win 3.1 still has not worn off for me...

Magda said:

I am reading it now, Sue, and it's great, I might even buy it. It's also a more serious book than I expected it to be; and in some ways addresses similar issues (in a lighter way maybe but not always) as Furedi's Culture of Fear I wrote about somewhere here.