Pete Fraser: Do You Need a Panda on Your Head to Be Happy?

Posted on March 8, 2011 by

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Yesterday, when walking up Hampstead High Street, I passed a man wearing a knitted hat, made to look like a panda’s face. The man was about my age, dressed like an adult in every other respect, and looked like a pretty normal guy, as opposed to a kind of Camden Town-ish subculturalist.

Perhaps the most striking element of this instance of cultural dissonance is that it wasn’t quite as dissonant as you might have assumed it might be; that someone walking down the street wearing a piece of clothing apparently designed to appeal to a young child, but in fact made for a grown man didn’t really look odd, but just another element of what seems to be a steadily increasing culture of infantilisation amongst adults in London.

Now, it’s worth pointing out from the off that I’m not saying any of this is in itself, Bad and must also confess that it’s likely that I show as many, if not more of the symptoms of this trend than most: I have a soft spot for the Cute, have a privately soppy side when it comes to films starring Tom Hanks (though, come to think of it, I don’t think sentimentalism in and of itself is necessarily an infantile quality) and, the crowning glory of my complicity, I have an insatiable passion for Spongebob Squarepants cartoons which, though I’m not a card-carrying fan (though, if someone gave me a card, I should expect I’d carry it proudly) fuels often repeated viewings of the DVDs of series 1 and 2, which I never, ever find boring. No, it’s not bad, but that doesn’t make it uninteresting as a phenomenon.

Whether it’s giant Starbuck’s coffees or smoothies and oversized blueberry muffins making us feel tiny and comforted, or hoodies and ugg boots keeping us warm and cosseted, it seems like we’re surrounded by things designed to both tickle our consumer side (itself a kind of childlike ‘Me! Me! Me!’ impulse that, with the virtual assumption of easy credit being as universal as it is) and our inner child, who just wants to feel protected and safe.

What brings on the desire for these things is another question altogether. On the face of it, a feeling of comfort seems like an obvious goal for anyone, but I can’t help feeling that older generations, for whom the importance modesty, austerity and the appreciation of savings, not to mention, in the case of the wartime generations, a tremendous reliance on the Stiff Upper Lip might seem higher on the list of priorities, a panda hat and a pair of ugg boots might be more distressing than comforting. Maybe, with the preponderance of debt, 24 hour news with a penchant for scaremongering and the cost of finding a place to live reaching ever dizzier heights, everybody just wants to escape, and be, in some small ways, a carefree innocent for a while.

Whatever the reasoning, the eternal childhood seems to be well and truly here. Today, knitted panda hats, tomorrow…?

Pete Fraser

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