Monday, May 20, 2013

`Comfortably Settled in an Arm-Chair, Reading'

One insufficiently noted aspect of the New Puritanism (which, by the way, cohabitates cozily with the Old Hedonism) is the imposition of health-seeking obligations on every formerly innocent pastime. One no longer merely eats. One must, in the ungrammatical words of the advertizing slogan, “Eat healthy!” As a recent email from the health-insurance company informed me: “Eat your way to good health and happiness!” I would prefer to eat because I’m hungry and because the food in front of me looks tasty. 

Even the simple pleasures of walking have been moralized. The same email instructed me: “You have an obligation to your heart. Take it out for a walk!” This is offensive in at least three ways: 1.) It presumes to tell me how to run my life. 2.) It treats me like a not particularly bright child. 3.) It uses an exclamation point. In “Going Out for a Walk” (And Even Now, 1920), Max Beerbohm calls the Volksmarschers and their propagandists “walkmongers.” Beerbohm’s essay dates from 1918, suggesting that today’s didactic walkers had their precursors in his day’s “physical culturalists.” He writes, almost a century ago: 

“People seem to think there is something inherently noble and virtuous in the desire to go for a walk. Any one thus desirous feels that he has a right to impose his will on whomever he sees comfortably settled in an arm-chair, reading.” 

Beerbohm died on this date, May 20, in 1956, at age eighty-three.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You might find Aldous Huxley's short story 'The Claxtons' amusing, it satirizes all this self-righteous tofu-eating finger-wagging bullshit a good 70-odd years before our age.