The Secret Life of Five Year Olds: ‘Look how bendy I am! I’m Donald Trump!’
A Channel 4 documentary that watches children at play makes for shuddering viewing
Who is in charge of the USA, Luke is asked? “Putin,” he shoots back immediately. “I mean, Donald Trump.” This kid will go far
The returning series The Secret Life of Five Year Olds (Channel 4, Tuesday, 8pm) asks some thorny moral questions as it illustrates how we learn the difference between right and wrong.
For instance, how long does it take before a pair of kindergarteners starts cheating in a game to win jellybeans when supervision is removed? (Between 44 and 90 seconds.)
Will a gang of children divided into teams immediately conspire to ostracise and humiliate their opponents? (Yes. See Lord of the Flies.)
And is it ok for a TV documentary to spy on children for the purposes of entertainment? (Erm . . . )
Watched from another room by a professor of neuroscience and a clinical psychologist – peering deep into a monitor and listening on large headphones like an FBI surveillance team – these adorable children are less the subject of study than humanity itself.
“It’s getting rather territorial now,” observes the psychologist, when the Orange team win a ball-throwing game and emerge as the region’s dominant force. “It is astonishing and even a little shocking how easily bias can emerge,” she notes as the Green team become the subject of a kindergarten pogrom.
“You can see the difference that success and great resources can do to a team’s cohesion,” she notes, as the Orange Team develop their first nuclear weapons.
Where do they pick this stuff up, you may wonder. To which one kid called Luke, charging through class in a magistrate’s wig, will yell: “I’m the president! Look at how bendy I am! I’m Donald Trump! ”
This eruption could be included just to trigger Channel 4 viewers (and, my god, does it work), but listen to what’s coming out of the mouths of babes these days and shudder. What are the consequences for future generations when today’s authority figures are so shockingly bendy?
Trump, it has to be said, is not considered an authority figure by anyone here, nominated “the naughtiest person” one child has ever heard of, and later given the sickest of burns by an obvious future satirist.
Who is in charge of the USA, Luke is asked? “Putin,” he shoots back immediately. “I mean, Donald Trump.” This kid will go far.
Rather than pandering to adult cynicism, though, the show is infinitely more touching on matters of cruelty and fairness. Jasmin, a Liverpudlian firecracker who emerges early as the most morally flexible of the group, offers to distribute her ill-gotten jellybeans among her peers. Even if it’s a plea bargain you can’t help but go, “awww”.
Likewise when Iris, a born leader, is petitioned by Elsa, a born lawyer, to recognise the vast inequities between the Orange and Green dens, she immediately agrees to share their resources.
“When the wind is blowing in the right direction, the borders come down by their own accord,” notes the professor. This, hopefully, is a dry run for the North Korea-United States summit, but staged in a smaller playpen by negotiators with more emotional restraint.
There’s nothing more cheering than the sight of the irrepressible Jasmin and the spirited Iris joyfully instigating their best friendship following a rift that was, unknown to them, cravenly engineered by scientific adult swines.
“Awww!” coos Iris as Jasmin wraps her arms tight around her and keeps squeezing. “Ow,” says Iris, still smiling. “My neck.”
Maybe they’ll grow out of it.