The Child Catchers

Once upon a time, there was a land called Vulgaria that was ruled by the evil Baron von Bomburst. His wife, the baroness, was equally awful, if not more so. You see, there is one thing that distinguished Vulgaria from other lands of tyrants—it had no children. The baroness hated children and was also deathly afraid of them, so she and the baron made a law forbidding children. 

The baroness employed the services of a loyal servant known as Child Catcher, who roamed the town in search of any children who may have been in hiding so he could imprison them. Child Catcher was as mean as he could be. His long pointy nose, elongated face, and beady eyes put terror into the heart of every child. His black coat and a top hat only made matters worse. 

This situation endured until widower and quirky inventor Caractacus Potts, and Truly Scrumptious (the woman who would become his wife and mother to his two children), arrived in Vulgaria via the magical car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Potts and Scrumptious survive a series of nail biting adventures and eventually free the children from the baroness’ clutches. 

Ken Hughes’ 1968 film, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” was loosely based on Ian Fleming’s book, the last book he wrote before he died. It starred the great Dick van Dyke as Caractacus Potts, Sally Ann Howes as indeed the truly scrumptious Truly Scrumptious, and the brilliant and graceful Robert Helpmann as one of the scariest villains when it comes to children’s tales. The film is a trip in every sense of the word. The brilliant colors, the treatment of children reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ stories, the fight to preserve the innocent, singing interludes, and of course the hilariously weird but perfectly functional car make the film a truly fun experience. 

As I’ve been going through the constant stream of news that features neverending masking of children in schools, I began to wonder what is at the heart of this problem. Although masking children in school varies from state to state, it is a problem in many of the major states that receive national attention. New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, is just one of numerous officials who have been extending the mask mandate, with no end in sight. 

Of course, hypocrisy is everywhere. How can any healthy society accept the premise that it is OK to have grocery stores or even an entire football stadium teeming with unmasked peoples, yet children remain in the clutches of this authoritarian system? One cannot apply logic to an ideological COVID policy long divorced from science. We have been living through this absurdity for almost two years, and the effects have been and continue to be detrimental for the psychological health of adults, but it is even worse for children and betrays an amazing callousness that seems to be developing in our society.

The argument for the masking of children is incredibly flimsy, and the usual proclamations from (often childless) pundits and school administrators that children are resilient and will get used to it are meaningless. Recall Hochul comparing masking to wearing shoes to school. Allegedly, her daughter used to throw a tantrum when she was little about putting shoes on for to school. She quickly got used to it and, according to Hochul, children should have no problem getting used to wearing masks, either.  

Children get used to abuse fairly quickly, too, and soon they cannot understand the difference between a person treating them well or badly. In the eyes of these administrators, masks are perfect conditioning tools. Even if they are not suffering now (meaning, they have supposedly gotten used to it), it does not mean that the effects of masking will not be palpable later. Normal psychological development depends on the embodiment of the visage, and the recognition of the child’s dignity. 

Many of these negative aspects have been recognized and analyzed by the critics of masking, yet the question still remains: What are these child-hostile policies aiming to accomplish? Are teachers trying to hold on to control? Is it easier to control the children in the classroom if they remain faceless? Is being faced with the humanity and personality of a child too much for the many joyless teachers? 

I don’t presume to have an answer because absurdity by definition makes no sense, and there is no inherent logic in it. It is difficult to pinpoint intellectually. But one thing we can conclude is that the masking of children has been a psychological experiment in obedience and collectivization. It has worked to the detriment of childrens’ personalities and spirits. The entire act points to misopedia—the hatred of children. 

Much like the baroness of Vulgaria and her servant, Child Catcher, many politicians in power and bureaucratic school administrators are indifferent to children’s suffering. The biggest victims remain children because the authoritarian system either knows no joy or outrightly rejects it. We have been told that “the new normal” must be accepted and it consists of self-denial. When an ideological system takes over the being of  grown adults it is bad enough, but injecting children with the toxin of joylessness and anonymity is quite another. They are implicitly told that they don’t matter, that they are primarily viewed as vectors of a disease, that their well-being and intellectual growth is meaningless, and that they must continue to make sacrifices in order to keep everyone else safe. 

This kind of abuse is akin to when a child is given the responsibility of managing the emotional being of a tyrant father or mother. In her 1979 book, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self, psychologist Alice Miller examines what happens when a tyrannical parent refuses to accept children’s emotions and gives them a responsibility of his or her own 

[A] healthy self-feeling,” writes Miller, is “the unquestioned certainty that the feelings and needs one experiences are part of one’s self . . . The automatic, natural contact with his own emotions and needs gives an individual strength . . . He may experience his feelings—sadness, despair, or the need for help—without fear . . . 

This, of course, is on an individual scale and leads to terrible consequences because it comes from the child’s primary caregiver. But let us think for a moment about what that kind of approach to relating to children means when it is employed on a large, societal scale? The consciousness of every child may begin to change because they are told that they have no right to take part or be part of the society in any meaningful way. In this case, the mask is a tool of oppression. They will continue to grow, though not as cherished young citizens but as subjects of oppression and exclusion. As a result, the collective consciousness of the society will begin to change as well. The political sphere is most certainly affected. Children will evolve (or devolve) into silent pseudocitizens. 

This has to be taken seriously. Even when the masking in schools begins to let up a bit, this is the moment to keep the pressure on. Authoritarian systems derive the meaning of their existence from never letting go of control and from giving occasional rewards for good behavior, just like a tyrant parent. What we are witnessing now is neither normal nor healthy, and parents must accept the responsibility and the task of protecting their children from the symbolic baroness and Child Catcher.

About Emina Melonic

Emina Melonic is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness. Originally from Bosnia, a survivor of the Bosnian war and its aftermath of refugee camps, she immigrated to the United States in 1996 and became an American citizen in 2003. She has a Ph.D. in comparative literature. Her writings have appeared in National Review, The Imaginative Conservative, New English Review, The New Criterion, Law and Liberty, The University Bookman, Claremont Review of Books, The American Mind, and Splice Today. She lives near Buffalo, N.Y.

Photo: Victor Crawshaw/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

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