Over the last few months I will admit that I was starting to wonder if the world might not be such a bad place after all, but then last night I watched a programme called Toddlers & Tiaras and I'm right back on track. We are all doomed.
If you haven't seen it, then first of all you have to see it. It's a programme about those dreadful beauty pageants that they have for children in America. You know the ones: not the bouncing baby parades judged by disinterested vicars at church fetes on the village green, but the dress your child up as a hooker and make her strut to Lady Gaga records ones. The two episodes I watched were both set in southern States, so the possibility that any child not deemed beautiful enough would be fed to the alligators was ever present.
The alligators may have met their match with Laci, mind you. Tia is eight and has three ambitions in life: to be Miss America, to be Miss Universe and to shoot a deer. Shoot a deer right in the fucking face. To that end, she and her father went on a hunting trip. Two hours they spent with Laci cocking a rifle out of a hide window, but to no avail. "I'm disappointed I didn't shoot a deer", said Laci, gleefully ignoring the fact that there had neither been any deer nor had she fired a single shot, both of which are important parts of the deer hunting process. At one stage, Laci goes missing backstage just before her slot in the pageant. Her mother is beside herself with worry, because (I swear this is what she said) if you miss your slot you'll lose marks. Eventually she turned out to be out the back with her grandmother. Taking pot shots at elk.
Heaven is six and lives in Georgia. Her father is called Benny but it is pronounced "Beany". Heaven is something of a trooper, taking it with admirable calm when Beany forgets he's an integral part of her Pinocchio dance routine and leaves her up on stage folded in half for minutes on end. Heaven also has a serious chewing gum habit. Quite how her prospects in the facial beauty round will fare when her jaw muscles develop and make her look like David Coulthard, only time will tell.
But the undeniable star of the show is Alana. Alana is also six. She is sure that she will win beauty pageants left, right and centre because her face will win her da mon-neh. The potential adorability of her gormless catchphrase "Honey Boo-Boo" (which has since made her sufficiently famous to get her her own series) is undermined by the fact that she has a head that looks like a pork pie with a mouth. Luckily, her vile mother is on hand to brainwash her past this notable shortcoming and into doing her bidding. To this end, she helps lubricate the strings with Go-Go Juice. This is her own concoction, although from the effects it has it's fairly easy to guess at the ingredients, presumably Mountain Dew, Lucozade, Red Bull and a bag of sherbert. She was far from the only one filling their child with sugar backstage though. Virtually all the competitors are shovelling sweets and energy drinks down their gaping maws whilst their mother gives them a vajazzle. The elder children were all doing coke in the lavs.
It is difficult to know quite who the villain of this particular piece is when such bewildering acts of supervillany are coming from all directions. In the end I plumped for the organisers, but really I could just have stuck a pin in the screen. However, I don't buy into the complaints of people who say the worst thing about these pageants is that they sexualise children. Their argument seems to be predicated on the thought that everyone in the world is basically a dormant paedophile who just hasn't met the right child yet. Anyone who isn't wanking themselves a blue streak can tell how dazzlingly unpleasant this all is at a single glance. The outfits and the make-up and the dancing just serve to enhance the horror, rather than to lure you in.
Still, in many ways I'd rather have these preposterous melées of bouffant hair and bump 'n' grind dancing for the under-fives, than what is happening on television in a broader sense. Advertisers are particularly to blame for this, peddling the belief that everyone, everywhere must have a boyfriend or a girlfriend regardless of age, background, circumstances or species.
It's possible that I am just a deeply repressed bumpkin from Woodingdean (I am) and that my experience of growing up was atypical, but when I was of primary school age, boys and girls came from different worlds. We didn't have anything to do with one another and we didn't want to. I think it's possible that I didn't talk to a female human being my own age until I was about 9 years old. Nowadays that would get you a one-way trip to the Palookaville Autism Clinic, but at the time I don't think my experience was so rare.
Nowadays, everyone is pairing off. My niece, who is 6 in a fortnight, recently moved to a new town and started a new school. She already has a "new boyfriend". She works fast. I can only hope they use protection.
I don't want to turn into one of those people who spends their life moaning about the venality of the modern world and patiently (but furiously) explain how things were so much better in the olden days to anyone who will even pretend to be listening. But this is going to require some co-operation on the world's part, too. Namely, it has to stop being so shit.