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Bit Classist, Sexist and Anti-Aspirational
on 23 December 2014
I have just read this out loud to my seven-year-old daughter. She thought it was a good story, very funny, and she has requested more books by the same author. While I enjoyed the list of sounds that you don't want to hear in the toilet (....such as an approaching wrecking ball...), there were some aspects of the book that I found a bit iffy.
There are regular references to Page Three girls all the way through, and one appears as a character. ("Mummy, what's a Page Three girl?" "Mummy, where's the picture of her with her clothes blown off?") Seriously, why does a book aimed at pre-pubescent children have to have this strand?
Every major female character book - Spud's absent mother, Mr Spud's girlfriend, the school dinner lady, Spud's would-be girlfriend - is a gold-digging user. Every single one. The exceptions are the history teacher Miss Spite, who is a cruel hag instead, and Spud's best friend's mother, who pops in as a new love interest on the last page. The male characters are much more diverse in where they stand on gold-digging and being users, with even some virtuous characters that turn down Spud's money. Now I'm sorry if Mr Walliams has had girlfriend issues in the past (I don't read "Heat", so I don't know), but please don't put that bile into a children's book intended for my young daughter.
Spud and his father are from a quite underprivileged blue-collar background, then Mr Spud invents a toilet paper that makes them filthy rich, and they try to live an upper-class life that they don't understand. (Like eating caviar on toast for breakfast, even though they don't like caviar.) This is sneered at all the way through. It's like it's a crime to move out of the social class that you're born into, and the way the book ends, it feels like anybody who tries to reach up and make things better for themselves is going to be punished, because British society can't handle the idea of a nouveau rich class. Mr Walliams half-heartedly counters this with a few comments by Raj, the local self-employed newsagent, on how it is good to be aspirational, but the sneering wins.
One chapter describes Spud's very posh school, where the sons of dukes go, and then the sneering goes in the other direction, lampooning aristocrats. I was very annoyed to see that part of that lampooning was that the students study Classical Music Appreciation and Ballet Appreciation. This puts forward the message that such things are only for the top end of society, and they're not, they're for everyone. The whole book seems to be telling children: "This is the box that you are in, and you need to stay in it - forever."
And in case anyone's interested, studies have shown that giving children the chance to build up their cultural capital helps improve their social mobility later on in life. They may not desire to use that social mobility, but at least they have the choice.
That is my two pence' worth on this book.