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The Last of the Monsters with Iron Teeth

daftandbarmy

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And, of course, COVID has no doubt added x 100 to this trend....


The Last of the Monsters with Iron Teeth

In all species, the play of the young is practice for the essential survival tasks of the adults. Human children play at many things, but the most important is the play of culture. Out of sight of adults, children learn and practice the rhymes, rituals, and institutions of their own culture, distinct from that of adults.

The Western child today is mostly kept inside his own home, associating with other children only in highly structured, adult-supervised settings such as school and sports teams. It was not always so. Throughout history, bands of children gathered and roamed city streets and countrysides, forming their own societies each with its own customs, legal rules and procedures, parodies, politics, beliefs, and art. With their rhymes, songs, and symbols, they created and elaborated the meaning of their local landscape and culture, practicing for the adult work of the same nature. We are left with only remnants and echoes of a once-magnificent network of children’s cultures, capable of impressive feats of coordination.

These children of the recent past observed what the Opies call a “code of oral legislation” – cultural institutions for testing truthfulness, swearing affirmation, making bets and bargains, and determining the ownership of property – the adult legal code in miniature. These codes universally included a subject absent from adult law, however – that of asking for respite, what we recognize as “calling time out,” and what today’s children reportedly call “pause,” a usage imported from video games.

They had call-and-response shibboleths and rhymes about Mickey Mouse and Shirley Temple, but they also performed the rites of a calendar full of ancient meaning. In the northern countryside, they wore oak apples or oak leaves in their buttonholes on May 29 to commemorate the escape of Charles II – on pain of being whipped with nettles by other children. In the south, however, the children spent October preparing bonfires and making elaborate “guys” – effigies for burning on Guy Fawkes Day.

These children’s cultures recognized the existence of terrible monsters, and they were able to organize against these threats. In 1954, “hundreds of children in the Gorbals district of Glasgow were reported to have stormed a local cemetery, hunting for a ‘vampire with iron teeth.’ According to press reports at the time, they said that the vampire had ‘killed and eaten two wee boys.'” (Sandy Hobbs and David Cornwell, “Hunting the Monster with Iron Teeth,” in Perspectives on Contemporary Legend Vol. III, 1988). This incident was one of at least eight “hunts,” documented in newspaper articles and interviews, from the 1930s and continuing until the 1980s. Hundreds, or in one case thousands, of children participated in monster hunts that often lasted several nights – militias called up not just against the vampire with iron teeth, but also against such characters as Springheeled Jack, an unnamed banshee, and ghosts known as the “White Lady” and the “Grey Lady.” Adults in 1954 blamed horror movies and horror comics for the vampire hunt (much as video games would be blamed today), but Hobbs and Cornwell trace the children’s adversary back much further. Nineteenth-century parents (and perhaps generations before them) had threatened their misbehaving children with the fearsome Kinderschreck known as “Jenny wi’ the airn teeth,” and her characteristic dentition is displayed by ancient bogeymen from Yorkshire (Tom Dockin) to Russia (Baba Yaga).

In order to develop and express their culture and achieve such feats of coordination, children require time and space apart from adult supervision. In the West today, outside of tiny pockets, this independence is almost exclusively the prerogative of poor children surrounded by crumbling cultures that lack the will to monitor and protect them. Groups of these children still attempt organization and armed resistance (Act Two, “Your Name Written On Me”) to protect themselves from ubiquitous violence when adults refuse to do so.

Outside of pockets of extreme deprivation, children’s society is severely restricted by our practice of placing children under the equivalent of house arrest. In only three generations, children in the British Isles as well as the United States have lost their freedom to roam, their independently explorable territories shrinking from hundreds of acres to the dimensions of each child’s own back yard. This is not an accusation toward parents; their decisions reflect their judgments about their children’s safety in the world. Specifically, parents judge that there is no community beyond their doors that they can rely on to keep their children safe. Christopher Alexander’s Pattern 57: Children in the City (A Pattern Language) states that “If children are not able to explore the whole of the adult world around them, they cannot become adults. But modern cities are so dangerous that children cannot be allowed to explore them freely.” Unfortunately, this has become the case not just in large cities, but in small towns and even rural areas.

As a result, children’s society has less and less to do with the land around them – land which, anyway, they are unlikely to occupy when they become adults in our hypermobile society. Children’s society exists on the internet if at all, with raids in video games and chat rooms replacing geographically colocated monster hunts. (This is increasingly the case with adult society as well, which also lacks architectural and geographic support.) It should be noted that the internet is not the cause of these problems. Rather, the internet is the precarious reservation onto which culture has been driven, bleak and uncanny, inhuman in scale. And even the internet is increasingly monitored and reshaped by the same malignant tiling system that drove culture here in the first place. What will happen to culture when even this frontier is closed?

The failure of adult culture, both its physical architecture and its social institutions, has impoverished children’s culture. And in return, children no longer avidly train, in their play, to take over the burden of preserving and remaking adult culture. Somewhere a child alone in his room, wearing headphones, is fighting Jenny wi the airn teeth, a computer-controlled enemy in a video game. But perhaps at least it is a multiplayer game, and he has his fellows with him.

https://carcinisation.com/2014/10/04/the-last-of-the-monsters-with-iron-teeth/

 

Colin Parkinson

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It was not that safe even before the internet, kids disappeared, certain houses were avoided, whispers of dramatic events were all part of my growing up.
 

FJAG

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daftandbarmy said:
... Christopher Alexander’s Pattern 57: Children in the City (A Pattern Language) states that “If children are not able to explore the whole of the adult world around them, they cannot become adults. But modern cities are so dangerous that children cannot be allowed to explore them freely.” Unfortunately, this has become the case not just in large cities, but in small towns and even rural areas....

I was going to call this article "thought-provoking" but for someone of my age it isn't because I constantly look around my neighbourhood and compare the children I see today with my life as a young boy growing up in Berlin and Scarborough and wonder just how these kids are going to survive on their own. To call my own youth "free-ranging" would be an understatement.

I agree with pretty much everything said in the article except for the highlighted quote above. When have cities actually been safer. We've always had areas which were safer then others but , let's face it, would you let your child roam freely in 1890's London. Or 1910s Toronto with horse drawn wagons in mud choked streets, fledgling electrical systems, open sewers and machinery that looked like it was designed to mangle children. It's not so much that cities are that much more dangerous; what it is is that parents are so much more fearful of the unknown and have woven a web of structured activities and limitations around their kids coupled with an acceptance by children to conduct much of their socializing electronically. I do wonder sometimes if "Call of Duty" had been available to my friends and I whether we would have gone to the "bush" that often to play "guns", been on the street for hours on end playing "road hockey", or bicycled 15 kilometres to Highland creek for a picnic, to fish for catfish for fertilizer for my mother's rose garden and for a walk across the Highland Creek Railroad trestle where legend had it that untold numbers of children had met their end. And oh yeah. We all wondered if the only Catholic kid on the street had managed to avoid the priest for another week.

:cheers:
 

Weinie

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Good post FJAG,

I grew up in the 60/70's on my grandparents subsistence farm. For us kids, the primary aim was the chores in the barn, scooping shyte, feeding the animals, moving hay bales, currying the livestock etc etc.

I married late and fathered kids well beyond when most folks would do it. If the world collapsed tomorrow, I am confident that I could survive. My kids would die within 2 weeks, they have no concept of anything other than fridge and Mum and Dad.

Niner D doesn't want me to expound on any of this stuff.

 

Brad Sallows

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Older parents worry more than younger parents.  But it's all just part of a general trend favouring anxiety about all the possible risks in life.
 

Blackadder1916

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FJAG said:
. . . To call my own youth "free-ranging" would be an understatement.  . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ue7wM0QC5LE    . . .  wot other reply would you expect.
 

FJAG

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Blackadder1916 said:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ue7wM0QC5LE    . . .  wot other reply would you expect.

:rofl:
 

Kat Stevens

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I grew up with Mt Elphinstone as my back yard, and if semi feral is a term, me and a small group of compadres were that. Much like CLC, we took turns being in command of assaults on German machine gun nests, or filled our crow bounty bags with our slingshots (the kids with money had bb guns), or hand line fishing for trout in one of the many creeks up there. I could not imagine any mother allowing their kid to roam those woods from sun up to sundown these days.
 

Old Sweat

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Target Up said:
I grew up with Mt Elphinstone as my back yard, and if semi feral is aterm, me and a small group of compadres were that. Much like CLC, we took turns being in command of assaults on German machine gun nests, or filled our crow bounty bags with our slingshots (the kids with money had bb guns), or hand line fishing for trout in one of the many creeks up there. I could not imagine any mother allowing their kid to roam those woods from sun up to sundown these days.

All this sounds familiar, except for the trout fishing. We lived in the immediate Second World War period in and around Ridgeway, Ontario, scene of the Fenian Raid battle. It played a very small part in our lives, perhaps because the Second World War was still very real to us. One thing we did, when we got older, was hunt each other in the woods with loaded .22 rifles, taking "care" to fire high into the trees when one spotted a "foe". And a very high proportion of us enlisted in one of our armed forces on leaving school. Some of us even had moderately successful careers.
 

FSTO

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The 60's and 70's on a farm in SW MB was a place of absolute freedom. Yes tons of chores to do, but you were around cats, dogs, laying hens, broiler chickens, pig, cows and horses. Out in the pasture picking off gophers with the old single shot .22. There was an abandoned farm yard that a friend of mine must have assaulted the Germans a million times.

As we got older and onto the motorbikes, a whole gang of us from about a 20 square mile area would meet at an old gravel pit. We made a motocross track and raced each other on Sunday afternoons. We ranged in age from 12 to 15, there were no parents, no supervision. We made our own rules, and for the grace of god we had no serious injuries from our wrecks. I doubt if our parents really knew where we were. On top of that, maybe 1/2 of us even owned helmets let alone any of the other paraphernalia that kids today have to have.

What a great time to be a kid.
 
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