Page 10, 31st October 2008

31st October 2008
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Page 10, 31st October 2008 — Why we need a cult of personality
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Why we need a cult of personality

Keywords: Death, Euthanasia, Homicide

Mary Kenny

Those of us subjected to an old-fashioned Catholic education used to be well instructed in the art of mortifying the body. You fasted at Advent and Lent, endured cold and chilblains stoically, and were lectured about the offence of wearing "immodest" clothing. The body had to be disciplined with sport, and not indulged via its carnal pleasures.

You were supposed to rise above your body, so to speak, and think of higher things. If you had to contemplate your body, it should be with respect, for it was the temple of the Holy Spirit.

It seems that youngsters growing up now have quite different problems with their bodies. A third of girls, we are told, are obsessively worried about their "body image" by the age of 10. At 14 years old, according to a study carried out by Ofsted, half of them consider that their figures are their primary worry.

From disciplining and perhaps even despising the body, the body has become an object of almost pagan worship and idolatry. The current fash ion to decorate the human body with perforations and tattoos consider what David Beckham has done to his fine physique is a strangely primitive throwback. While fashion and merchandising have focused obsessively on adorning the body, preserving it against the onslaught of time and toning it to a point of perfection.

If disdain of the body sought to make our generation into martyred ascetics. it seems that the opposite cult of obsessively focusing on the body-cult makes young girls, in particular, highly anxious and unhappy. How absolutely terrible to have an imperfect body!

I wonder, too, if a more impersonal (and image-aware) society has contributed to some of these anxieties. When neighbourhood and community life was more integrated there was a great emphasis on the "personality" of an individual. Just about the best thing you could say about anyone was that he, or she, "had a great personality". This was a balancing influence against the anxieties of the physical anatomy.

But the importance of "personality", rather than looks, was the product of a more intimate world.

It is so sad that little girls are growing up with such worries and anxieties about their "body image": Christian schools should make a positive effort to transmit counter-cultural messages about the value of the person, not the value of the looks.

Money can certainly corrupt, and Jonathan Ross may be said to provide a moral fable here. If you are given f 18 million by the taxpayer (the BBC licence fee being a virtually coercive tax, collected with threats) you soon get so above yourself that you lose a sense of judgment.

The obscene prank that Ross and Russell Brand played on the 78-year-old actor Andrew Sachs might be in naughty bad taste from a daft 15-year-old, acting on his own nickel. But for a man of 48 years of age, using taxpayers' funds for such pranks, it is odious. • But it is not just Ross who has been corrupted by the amount of money he is paid. It is also the BBC. Their investment in him is now so great that they cannot afford to reprimand seriously, let alone fire, him for such gross misconduct.

Jack Straw wants crime to attract "punishment" as well as rehabilitation. But why not use the word "penalty" instead of "punishment"? Anyone who has ever parked on a double-yellow line understands the principle of "penalty": you infringe a law, you face a penalty.

In America they call prisons "institutes of correction", which makes it sound like what your maths teacher did to your algebra copybook at school. And sometimes very constructively too.

There have been ructions in Ireland after the government tried to remove all free medical entitlements for the over-70s, with huge demos of oldies marching on the Dail, waving banners.

It was, in one way, a re-run of the soixante-huitards the 1968 generation with their penchant for taking to the streets. Some of the banners and chants were highly amusing and made a stiletto point. Several said that euthanasia would be even cheaper for government budgetary targets: indeed, one of the hidden drives behind campaigns for euthanasia.

The best if most ironic chant was: "What do we want?" "The toilet!" "When do we want it?" "Now!" Joking apart, the provision of public loos is indeed a worthy service to the senior citizens, or "silver agitators" as they are now called.

mart'@mart'-kenny.com




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