Child Snatchers

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The British relationship with childhood is, perhaps, troubled by recent history. Idealised during the Victorian era as 'angels', children became the epitome of innocence - pictured as cherubs, free from malice but able to interact freely with the adult world as a reminder of simple delights.

Not for nothing did the "psychedelic" vision presented in the 1960s drew inspiration from a child's eye view of the world. Many of the totemic musical artistic outputs of the era - Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, See Emily Play, Itchycoo Park all payed homage to childhood and the wonder of discovery held to be at the heart of the youthful experience of the world. Clear lines can be drawn from the works of Lewis Carroll in particular to the dominant vision of childhood as a time of blissful imaginative experimentation, unhindered by the cynicism of the adult world.

But it was also during the sixties that this vision of childhood came under sustained attack. On the Moors of Manchester, Brady and Hindley destroyed the notion of the kindness of strangers towards children (although such a view was probably as mythic as any notion in our culture). Within 2 years of Brady and Hindley's own crimes, a child - a girl, no less - would herself commit murder: 10 year old Mary Bell claiming two lives in a deprived area of Newcastle.

Both of these cases continue to resonate down the years, informing a debate about children that alternatively portrays them at near constant risk of "stranger danger" to the view that some children are "born evil." As such, children themselves exist in a strange psychological hinterland created by these conflicting views. Increasingly, they are kept out of harms that in some cases may be entirely borne of adult imagination, although ringed by the horrible all too real fates that have befallen many children over the years.

Society has always been prone to fits of societal fear in which the vulnerable are thought to be under attack from alien forces. Spring-Heeled Jack and The Halifax Slasher are but two examples of short-lived panics that lived in a liminal space between objective reality and the dark imaginings of the mind.

Today, our fears for children largely find expression in the voluble panics surrounding paedophiles, who long ago supplanted witches as the most horrifying figures in our culture.

Perhaps it is little wonder that into this climate are borne strange - perhaps non-existent - figures such as child snatchers, who try to take children in broad daylight under disguises: here as social workers, there as clowns.

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 16th December 2014 | © Weird Island 2010-2020
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