November 20, 2008

Nannies with whips

    Surprise, surprise. How we all hate the nanny state - until nanny takes a day off. Then we want nannies galore. We want nannies with whips, nannies with locks, keys and public inquiries. Labour, Liberal or Tory nannies are suddenly the order of the day. The response to the case of 17-month-old Baby P has been a classic of incoherent social comment. The media, which normally excoriates every case of local authority meddling and red tape, has torn into Haringey council for failing to spot a dreadful case of child abuse.

Well, quite. This is the most puzzling aspect of the Baby P moral panic: right wing commentators calling for more state regulation. It's especially noteworthy since social workers' standard straw man role in right wing delirium is as do-gooding meddlers and child stealers, ready to break up families on the slightest of pretexts. This is proof, once again, of the essential libidinal function that public servants play in late capitalism: as figures to be blamed when things go wrong.
Of course, the Baby P story has emerged just as the Jonathan Ross/ Russell Brand scandal has faded; and the fact that it coincides with the John Sergeant furore shows how media-manufactured outrages produce strange equivalences (appalling child abuse, a telephone prank gone wrong and a beloved television presenter leaving a light entertainment TV show are implicitly deemed to be equally worthy objects of our excited patterns). As Charlie Brooker pointed out in his Screenwipe programme this week, newspapers, long since outdone by the web as deliverers of news, increasingly rely on campaigns to attract readers. But it's no accident, surely, that all three of these latest campaigns centrally feature public services.

Posted by mark at November 20, 2008 01:04 PM | TrackBack