Stories about 2 March, 1981 (4/10)
In the first season of Madmen they sometimes lingered on moments when you realised how much society’s attitudes towards certain things had changed since the heady days of the 1960s. Watching heavily pregnant women chain smoke and hit the liquor is a good example, although my favourite was probably the episode that had kids running around playing games with plastic bags on their heads. Thanks to years of indoctrination parents now view playing with plastic bags as something akin to letting a baby play with a handgun. Which is probably a bit of an over-reaction. Which is why these Madmen moments provoke a mixed reaction in me. After my initial shocked laugh there always comes a nagging doubt: perhaps it is we who are the ridiculous ones.
I had a similar moment reading the Evening Post for 2 March, 1981 when I read the article about Plunket’s campaign for compulsory children’s carseats.
One in four babies still travelled on an adult’s knee in the front seat and three out of every four children between six months and four years were not restrained…. The law says that children over eight have to be restrained but only 50% are.
Aside from thinking “holy crap!” when I read this, I also wondered what the logic could possibly be in making seat belts compulsory for people over eight, but leaving it voluntary for kids under eight. Think of the children! Perhaps it was a cost thing, and the politicians didn’t want to tell every family in New Zealand that they now had to buy a car seat? They sure are expensive. Then again it would probably be cheaper for the country not to build crash barriers on roads, but I’m pleased they do. Still, there’s that nagging doubt. Perhaps if there weren’t so many cars all trying to go so fast with such tense, and stressed-out drivers feeling parental-anxiety about the latest safety feature their car doesn’t have…
In other news, Mr Ben Couch, the Minister of Police, was talking about bringing back birching for violent offendors in prison; Berend de Bes had been crowned Baker of the Year (he had a shop in Johnsonville Mall); the government had announced that licenses for the importation of pre-recorded video cassettes would only be issued to “those companies who have a reputable source of material” (the infamous Miss Bartlett had been concerned that the willy-nilly issuing of licences would lead to the importation of porn); and the Minister of Labour, Mr Bolger, was declaring that the recent round of strikes across New Zealand were part of a plot: “the objective of the unions working together is to achieve the ‘nationalisation’ and ‘worker control’ of New Zealand industry”.
The article about birching was actually included on the Youth Focus page, and asked for students to write in and express their views on corporal punishment in schools, which was still popular when I went to primary school. I was only beaten with a leather belt once in my time at school, but plenty of other boys had a taste of the belt on a regular basis. What a curiously, barbaric way to instil respect and discipline. Students sometimes jokingly say to me now that they bet I wish we still had the strap, but nothing would drive me out of teaching faster than the idea of having to physically harm another person.
Well, losing all my holidays would probably drive me out faster, but corporal punishment would be a close second.