My kids are hilarious. If you followed me on twitter, you’d already know this. Rarely a day goes by without some comedy disaster involving underpants, missing homework or a mix-up between Star Wars and real life. It might not sound funny now but if you heard about their antics in real time (which twitter permits), you’d be rolling in the aisles. Or at least mildly amused. Or maybe you’d just unfollow. Anyhow, to me they will always be unwitting comedy giants.
I tweet about the funny things they say because they have no idea why I’m laughing, and I feel a bit pathetic laughing on my own (or worse, at them). The way in which a child’s intelligence develops ahead of knowledge or experience can often be tedious, but just occasionally it leads to wonderful linguistic errors, bizarrely out-of-place quotations and passionate defences of things which simply cannot be true (although mistrustful observers rarely bear in mind how much random nonsense you’ve had to get through before mining these gems). Obviously when it’s your own child you believe these flashes of hilarity may also be a sign that your offspring is a total genius (that one time my six-year-old said the Tudors were followed by the Steves, I was dining out on it for months).
I might share daft things my children say, and you may or may not find them amusing, but here’s the thing: it doesn’t make me less politically engaged. It doesn’t mean I think this is the only thing the internet is for. It doesn’t mean I am naturally conservative, unthinking, classist, fantastical, desperate for retweets from “some fifth-rate blazer ‘n’ T-shirt wearing comedian who guest-starred in one episode of Rev and has gained 2,500 followers as a result”. Except apparently it does. Some blokes – one of whom, Clive Martin, wrote a piece for Vice, the other of whom set up a “hilarious, but not in an uncool mumsy way” twitter account – have decreed that it is so. Humour is for the child-free hipsters. Iconoclasm doesn’t allow for maintaining a sense of humour while also keeping a critical focus on material reality; it’s taking the piss out of parents for not keeping out of the way while you treat the internet as one endless, pretentious undergraduate party.
Obviously I like chuckling at the edgy witticisms of youngish men as much as the next person. Like women and older people, parents can’t really do humour. They lack the intellect, moral rigour and involvement with the stuff of real life. They’re not even any good at curating the accidental bon mots of their little ones, but then that’s hardly surprising. As Clive Martin sympathetically notes in his analysis of The Sad World of Adults Pretending to Be Kids for Retweets:
Looking after a young kid must be pretty arduous and alienating at times, so you can understand why things like Mumsnet and gin exist.
I know! Such empathy from one who still has his finger on the pulse of human endeavour and suffering! The sad thing is, give us parents an inch and we’ll take a mile. We’re not just keeping to the Mumsnet talkboards, we’re now tweeting things about our kids which may not even be funny! Think of all the important twitterspace that’s taking up! Space that could be devoted to important things, such as mocking people because reasons.
While many of the current targets of mockery are male, I can’t help thinking there is a thinly veiled misogyny behind this latest round of parent-bashing (with the implication being that men who tweet about their children are in some way less intellectually engaged and honest, and therefore less “male”). Feminists have long pointed out that experiences of childcare and domestic life are edged out of public discourse, and this applies whether we’re talking about comedy or art. Such experiences are not considered “authentic” enough. When Marilyn French wrote The Women’s Room, the life of someone who cares for children was not considered novel-worthy. There’s nothing grand, nothing big or meaningful, even if it represents a person’s whole horizon. Why should the real people – those out there in proper, public life – have to come anywhere close to it? Why should anyone want to read your pathetic little domestic tweets, even in a light-hearted context? That’s not proper activism, at least not when activism is reduced to gaining retweets. But shouldn’t it be more than that?
Does it matter whether the tweets are true? Well, jokes frequently aren’t true, or are based on exaggeration (mine aren’t. My kids really are that funny. Honest). The problem, I feel, is the subject matter and the fact that individuals should gain approval for something considered so lowly. Only a tiny sector of society – youngish, child-free, male, snarky, educated yet cagey about it – are allowed that special pat on the back.
Parenting is not, in and of itself, anti-establishment. It enforces a degree of enclosure. Nevertheless, the minutiae of childrearing, the shared truths, even the shared lies, are part of how a community is formed. Mocking inoffensive jokes isn’t just hurtful; it betrays a misanthropy which shouldn’t form part of drive for social change. My children might not make you laugh but that’s not your problem.