The Offensive Of Childhood

"I was never a child, I never had childhood… warm, golden days of puerile frenzy, the long-lasting serenity of innocence, the surprise given by the daily discovery of the universe, what do all these mean to me? I know nothing of them, or I no longer remember anything. I found out about them only later, from books; now I suspect them in the boys I see; I felt and experienced them for the first time myself when I was over twenty years old, during my moments of relaxation and self-abandon."I read these words at the beginning of Giovanni Papini's confessions in Un uomo finito for the first time when I was a teenager and I assimilated them instantly, ad litteram; they seemed to fit me perfectly. Later on, though, when I realized what childhood is from reading books and noticing the beings to whom this state was attributed, I made an important distinction: I went through childhood without assimilating it, without being a child, but also without feeling the need to go back to that age. Among the many people who were not children there is an extremely rare case, that of Tudor Arghezi, who "became a child" around the age of 50, when his last two children were born. He wrote a lot about them, and for them, for some beings which he supposed to be what he had not been at the proper moment. He didn't re-live his childhood, as many others do in adulthood and in their old days, he invented himself a state of mind in order to replace a painful reality. Still, there are other reasons why you are not a child, not only because you were extremely unhappy, as it happened to Arghezi; for example, I didn't experience any great vexation at the age of happiness; but I underwent a precocious, willful crystallization due to my father's absence and the indulgence I benefited from. I simply jumped ahead to my brother's age, who was two years older than me and who, consequently, had older friends. I read his books (especially his adventure novels), I went with him to the movies twice a week and saw all the films he went to see with other boys, even older than that. At the end of the 1930s, when I started to frequent constantly and quite freely the cinemas, each show consisted of two movies: a serious, sentimental one, such as Wuthering Heights (starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon), or Countess Walewska (with Greta Garbo and Charles Boyer), followed by a western, an adventure film with pirates, gangsters, policemen and cabaret girls in which James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart or George Raft seemed to address a totally different audience. There was also news, showing scenes from the war which had already begun, and a short-reel animation film with Mickey Mouse, Donald, Popeye, or Betty Boop. In other words, we anticipated the life of present-day children, who watch movies helter-skelter, together with their parents or relatives of different generations. It has been said that television killed childhood; to an even more certain extent, it brought the adults to this age, at least for a few moments each day. Do Gulliver, Snow-white, Pinocchio, and The Jungle Books address children alone? Aren't they aiming at the puerility in each of us? And if movies starring Laurel and Hardy were recommended to "the little ones," is it the same with the Ritz brothers, or the Marx brothers? In my opinion, the latter ones together with many of Chaplin's movies, were certainly not made for children. The post-war, then post-Communist invasion of an important part of the world by Americanisms imposed the cult (or the fashion) of juvenility, thus destroying the traditional family: most movies show children who are wiser and more realistic than their absent-minded parents. And since divorce represents the urgent problem in all modern couples, young girls aged eleven or twelve appear as maids of honor at their mothers' weddings, who return to their youth by means of a new sacred vow. In some cases, the girls play the same role for their still in good shape grandmothers. The saying "second childhood" has lost its meaning – at least, the pejorative one. Childhood is in full offensive. It's just that the expressions of puerility in the guise of helpless and innocent animals (rabbits, magpies, ducklings or mice) are more aggressive than "grown-ups" and always triumphant, especially in mischief.

by Alexandru George (b. 1930)