Wherever I go, I am flummoxed by fatuousness, mugged by smugness and whacked by whimsy. In Friday’s otherwise rather lovely Highlands: Scotland’s Wild Heart (BBC2) narrator Ewan McGregor refers to an otter as a “hard-working single mother.”
I will say that again. An OTTER. Not a human being. But an OTTER. I half expected him to outline her struggle living on a sink estate surviving on meagre state handouts. Now there’s a C5 documentary series for you – ‘Otters on Benefits’.
Then the other day on BBC Breakfast the delightful Carol Kirkwood was diverted from her weather forecast by a famous internet cat.
She kept snuggling and cooing over “Grumpy Cat”. I like Carol but come on, this was at a time when most viewers would be getting ready for work, or tearing out of the house on their way to the bus stop. We want to know whether we should take a coat. Keep the cat nuzzling, if you must do it at all, for The One Show.
It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that the cat thing featured shortly after the most disposable “item” about “staycations”, where a reporter went to a campsite and cooked bacon on a little stove. Oh World in Action, where are you when we need you?
But television, in becoming so wet and soppy and weedy and pathetic, is only mirroring the wider world. Coy infantilising is everywhere.
Sitting on a rackety local train on a trip to Yorkshire the other day, I spotted the notice: “Hello! My name is carriage number 15. I always try to look my best.” Do you indeed. So do you want to go out on a date or something?
Then on a major national rail network that I won’t name for fear of embarrassing it (Virgin East Coast) the mirror in the fetid toilet bore the corporate message: “Give us a smile!” I will smile, but only when your loos smell like paradise and your towels are made from angel’s wings. And when your trains aren’t late.
Similarly, luggage trolleys have twee little signs such as “Hey Muscles!” Oh do please stop.
This is all asinine, infantilising trickery of course, designed to woo us into thinking we are being cared for, cossetted and adored. By extension, television is becoming a similar cauldron of cuteness, where no one can be upset and where we must identify with otters. I love otters – who doesn’t? – but they do ottery things in ottery places.
They are otters and I am not an otter. Truly, I really don’t need to empathise or have any point of contact. I respect their ottery-ness and wish them well in their otter-lives. Referring to an otter as if it’s a character in a Ken Loach film just won’t work.
Of course I know it’s a cruel world, with new horrors unfolding daily. Our current onslaught of global wickedness is exhaustingly sad and the news is harrowing, night after night. But please can we not get all huggy and wiffly in response. Retreating into some kind of weird netherworld of snuggles isn’t the answer.
So come on Britain, let’s toughen up! No more crying and hugging on telly! No more anthropomorphising of animals in documentaries who are simply doing what they do because that’s what they’ve always done (thanks Nature!) Let’s get our backbone back and rise up against corporate cuddles!
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