First thoughts: Parenting problems, Murdoch’s family drama, and how genre stormed the mainstream

There was no shortage of empathy and well-meaning advice when a tweet about a toddler meltdown went viral.

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One recent morning, after having struggled even more than usual to get my two children to nursery and school on time, I felt moved to share the list of irrational complaints my son had efficiently squeezed into the 7-9am window. So I tweeted this:

Causes of 3-year-old’s meltdowns this morning:
- Banana too small
- Top of banana slightly squashed
- Honey on porridge doesn’t sufficiently resemble “a swimming pool”
- Sister had her 1st wee before his 3rd
- Doesn’t want scooter
- Does want scooter
- Something to do with sleeves

Soon the tweet started spreading, and responses (more than 1,000 of them at the latest count) began rolling in. Parents reported demands that defied the laws of physics: one toddler wanting a window “open AND closed at the same time”; a 12-minute meltdown because “mummy won’t let me hold the stars”; orders that the parent “passed, held, or brought him something without touching it”; and the simple but moving lament: “I’M TOO COMFORTABLE.”

Then, the inevitable Brexit jokes, asking if my son was a member of the cabinet. These were a little unfair, I felt, as, though capable of Westminster levels of petulance, he will eventually have a chat with the grown-ups and reach a compromise – we haven’t yet had a row epic enough to suspend the entire business of the household for several years. I know: wait until he’s a teenager.

All the feels

The psychotherapist Philippa Perry soon tweeted to comment on my son’s behaviour: “All of us feel. Then we make up narratives for how we feel. What we need to do is address the feelings rather than the narrative.” I consulted Perry’s new book, The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read, in which she elaborates: if your toddler refuses to put their coat on in the morning, for example, the answer is “observing, listening and reflecting what they feel back to them”. I do understand the thinking behind this, but how you apply it to working life with two or more kids is beyond me – especially on those days where, with mounting dread, you see the clock tick past 8:52am. There simply isn’t time. But, as much as she doesn’t like “life hacks”, Perry does have a solution for that one: get up earlier.

You are the quarry

It’s five years since the New Statesman signed a partnership with the Cambridge Literary Festival, and five years since Tracey Thorn began as an NS columnist – so it was pleasing to mark that double anniversary at Cambridge with Tracey, chaired by our features editor Kate Mossman, discussing her memoir of growing up in the 1970s, Another Planet. Tracey was funny about the self-editing of diary-writing, reading her entries in a glum, “Kevin the teenager” voice: “Deb and I went to St Albans. Tried to get some black trousers but couldn’t find any nice ones.” But revisiting her encounters at discos was more disturbing: at 13, she was dealing with “wandering hand trouble” from “boys” who were actually men: they owned cars or, in one case, were employed by the police. “It was called innocence,” she told us, “but it was really ignorance. We were fair game, and men preyed on us.”

Cut to my own interview later that evening with Madeline Miller, whose recent novel Circe reimagines the story of the immortal witch in the Odyssey. When men land on her island, nothing puts them off seeking to take advantage: “I was alone and a woman, that was all that mattered.” They get their comeuppance – she turns them into pigs – but those lines from Miller and Thorn produced the same chill in the audience. This theme, like Circe herself, will not die.

Walls come tumbling down

Unlike, say, Colm Tóibín’s recent version of the Oresteia, which strips out the supernatural elements, Miller’s novels take Greek myth seriously: there are talking centaurs, warring gods and a Minotaur C-section, and as Miller is a classical scholar, almost all of it corresponds to the ancient literature. Hearing her fans discuss the superpowers of Athena and Daedalus, I wondered: are we finally getting over genre?

When Game of Thrones – just returned for its final season (see our review later in the issue) – launched in 2011, the New York Times reviewer was not the only one to place it in a ghetto for fans of “the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic”. Now the show has not only shed all stigma but has spawned its own critical industry (in the first 10 days of April, the Guardian devoted 13 pieces to it). Meanwhile, horror and superhero films (Get Out, Black Panther) are nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, while the Tolkien industry marches on (see John Mullan's piece on the new film). And “literary” novelists such as Kazuo Ishiguro, Marlon James, George Saunders and Daisy Johnson (whose new short story we publish in this issue) are able to draw freely from the deep well of fantasy, science fiction and the paranormal without upsetting readers. This sort of cross-border traffic is not new, but it seems our genre walls have never been more porous – surely a good thing as divisions elsewhere grow and harden.

A family affair

Reading the New York Times’s recent investigation into the Murdoch empire, I finally realise just how closely Jesse Armstrong modelled his outstanding HBO series Succession on the media dynasty. Patriarch’s dramatic illness? Check. Warring brothers? Check. Family therapy retreat? Check.

After last month’s $71bn sale of 21st Century Fox to Disney, Murdoch’s wealth is unimaginable. At 88, his political power has never been greater. His outlets “have helped elevate marginal demagogues, mainstream ethnonationalism and politicise the very notion of truth”, the New York Times reporters conclude. The Murdoch family’s influence is terrifying. The upside is that it also makes for great drama.

Tom Gatti is Deputy Editor of the New Statesman. He previously edited the Saturday Review section of the Times, and can be found on Twitter as @tom_gatti.

 

This article appears in the 18 April 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Spring special