Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Kids Are Alright?

As we sat down on Saturday morning to watch the Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London, we were anxious to see the festivities in our temporary homeland. The landscape in the center of the arena was just what we hoped to see: a celebration of all that we loved about England. Kenneth Branaugh was in full costume ready to recite (which he did--from the Tempest). It was beautiful. There were children’s choirs from each of the “Isles” as well as costumed folks enjoying themselves across the countryside. 

Then, things began to change. Men and women rose from the green hills to transform the countryside into a dark industrial landscape. It was eerily Tolkienesque, but instead of monster-like creatures tearing up nature, you saw people working and sweating, dirty faces and clothes. The image painted was Industry with it’s boot on the neck of the people. 
The message portrayed was that factories controlled the means of production. But, in reality individuals controlled the means of production. In fact, the rise of industry marked the transformation of the economy, fueled by free market capitalism and providing  a rich soil for the growth of entrepreneurship. By the end of the Industrial Revolution, quality of life made a huge jump for most people. 
The rewriting of history didn’t stop there, though.   
First, the show skipped over World War II completely. Never mind Winston Churchill's words:  'This was their finest hour.’ Nope. Sorry Mr. Churchill. Apparently it wasn’t your finest hour. That was yet to come.
The scene then turns to a celebration of what 21st Century Britain apparently sees as their true crowning achievement: the National Healthcare System (NHS). A perfect example of government owning the means of production.

We saw nurses and doctors wheeling in old fashioned hospital beds (which, by the way, looked just like the ones we encountered when we lived there 6 years ago---minus the lights and the trampolines). On each bed was a child in pajamas. As the lights dimmed each child had a “nurse” to read to him, with JKRowling reading a few lines from JM Barrie’s Peter Pan (whose main character is an unintentional foreshadowing of things to come for Great Britain--the boy (the country) who didn’t want to grow up.) The story ends and the children reluctantly go to sleep, the nurses watching over. 
The image: the children of the nation left to the care of the government nurses.
Then comes the nightmare, or more exactly the beginning of the nightmare. Storybook villains seem to rise out of the beds, accompanied by some really freaky creatures that look like beefed up versions of the Flying Monkees from the Wizard of Oz. Just as the nightmare becomes overwhelming, the most famous Nanny of all time floats in on her umbrella. Mary Poppins to the rescue. 
Ahhh...Mary Poppins! Wise, sweet, fun, Mary Poppins. Remember that movie? We recently watched it with the kids and I was struck by something that I found quite sad. The parents. They were mostly absent from the day to day lives of the their children. True, Mary Poppins brings them back in and they end up flying kites with their kids....but  who do we remember? Who do the children in this celebration of Great Britain look to in the midst of their nightmare? The Nanny.  Is it Mary Poppins? Or is it really the government, symbolized by the all encompassing NHS, that takes over the parenting of a nation of children?
In fact, this scene ends with a giant baby in a giant bed surrounded by the NHS nurses and doctors. A symbol of a nation cared for by Nanny Government.

But, keep watching. Because, as I said, the nightmare is not over. The next scene shows us the age of mobile phones, texting, the internet and a generation of young people with a life driven by finding the next party. The commentators repeatedly mention the partying, and the unhappy parents who find the kids flash mobbing their homes. Youth are pitted against an adult world that tries in vain to get them to take life seriously. The nightmare. 
But, in Great Britain at least, it is a reality. 
Youth unemployment is up to 21% since 2007. What are those young people doing? How do they live? For many of them, they have been under the care of THE NANNY from age three. If they go on to university they still have no financial obligation until they are making at least 21,000 pounds a year, and then the price per month is 7.50. 
So, for you folks in Rio Linda, if you are one of the 21% that are unemployed or are in the half of the population that makes less than 30,000 a year (median gross income in the UK in 2011 was under 30K) then you have no school debt, no responsibility for those years. University was free for long as you aren’t too successful. 
What then? Life is a party. Gone is the hardworking world of young adults who built the London of the modern era. 
When we lived in London, and later in Scotland, we were struck by the party culture that seemed commonplace among the 40 and under set. You sit in an NHS waiting room surrounded by posters exhorting you to “stop drinking too much,” “check your ‘partner’ for STD’s,” and  “beware if you dare to cheat on your benefits--we will catch you.” If the warnings are any evidence of the perceived problems of the adult population, there are far too many people with nothing better to do than binge drink, sleep around and cheat on their Income Support benefits. 
THE NANNY is still in charge, but the kids aren’t behaving. 
The Opening Ceremonies went on to get darker and more confusing, we ended up fast-forwarding through most of it (the kids were watching, after all), but the lasting image was of a country who has completely embraced their dependence on a nanny government. 
The NOW that the UK celebrated that night is our FUTURE if we don’t stop the drift towards THE NANNY: Obamacare, rising unemployment, unprecedented numbers on welfare....need I say more?