04.07.09 An Orange-Tinted Ogilvy Win
Just got word that I’ve been named one of the winners of the 2009 Grand Ogilvy Award, which recognizes the role of consumer research in advertising. The award recognizes work I did last year talking with adult lovers of Cheetos, which helped inform Goodby, Silverstein & Partners’ “Orange Underground” campaign.
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A parenting expert I’m not. Still, I do have three kids and many crazy stories and half-baked opinions about parents and kids and the importance of snacks and the efficacy of bribery. All of which explains why I’m now writing a column for Reuters called (wait for it) “Family Life” (I objected to the super-plain title—what about “Super Awesome Parent Stuff?” or “Goofy Fun Dad”? until it was explained to me that other Reuters columns are called “The Stock Market” and “Personal Finance.” Oh.) Over past three months I’ve written about over-the-top kiddie birthday parties, the art of the “playdate dump” and the time a hippy pediatrician tasted my wife’s breast milk. I’m archiving the stories on my author site here.
04.11.08 New York Speechifying
I’m doing a presentation this week at the FUSE: Design & Culture Conference with my friend and colleague Bill Goodwin. We’ll be talking about “the rejuvenile aesthetic,” our fancy-pants phraseology for the cartoony, kiddie, whimsical, playful culture that now pops up everywhere from Web 2.0 font design to modern architecture to auto styling… I’ll also hang out to sign books and stalk my fellow presenter, Malcolm Gladwell… I’m on Tuesday April 15 at 2 pm. Registration and other info here.
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03.11.08 Please, don’t pander
Why do marketers have such a hard time understanding rejuveniles?
Long before social critics began fretting over “the death of the grown up,” marketers were tracking focus group findings on the quickly shifting values, affinities and loyalties of adult consumers (remember the “retro brand” craze of 2001, which relaunched everything from Converse to Radio Flyer?).
Given this early jump and expertise, you’d expect campaigns aimed at rejuveniles to be knowing, or at least reasonably on-target. But the sad fact is that, with few exceptions, ads aimed at rejuveniles evoke cringes, eye rolls and heavy sighs in the very people they’re designed to reach. A few manage to find a way to cleverly capture their fears and aspirations. But the vast majority fall horribly flat, either by regurgitating tired old clichés about childish adults or mistaking garden-variety nostalgia or rebellion for rejuvenile’s complicated but ultimately hopeful natures.
Take the current ad for Oreos Candy Bites, which features a power-suited professional looking out the window of a cab at women blowing bubbles, jumping rope and playing hopscotch. Clearly responding to research showing more adults than ever gravitating toward a brand that has always been associated with kids, Oreo can think of nothing more to say than how wacky and unusual it is. Thus we get women playing hopscotch in heels in the Oreo ad, or worse, businessmen pogo-sticking and hula-hooping in Nestle Crunch’s egregious “For the Kid in You” campaign, which reduced the entire rejuvenile phenomenon down to bubbles and hopscotch.
This is just the sort of cluelessness that causes conniptions in rejuveniles. They may appear silly, but make no mistake: rejuveniles can’t stand being pandered to. They hate seeing themselves represented as starry-eyed goofballs. Never mind that many of them are – in focus groups, many will admit that they felt goofy and starry-eyed the first time they wore a Cocoa Puffs cuckoo bird T-shirt or took a spin on their kid’s tricycle. But the novelty has long since worn off. They’re now either doing those things entirely unselfconsciously, in which case these ads seem hopelessly unhip, or they’ve moved on to another kid centric activity (like assembling Lego spacecraft, or collecting American Girl dolls).
The point is simple: aim at the starting point of a moving target and you’ll miss every time. To keep pace with rejuveniles, you’re better off ignoring surfaces and creating associations with shared values, like their need to stay playful in the face of adult responsibilities, or their impulse to buck the forces of conformity and routine, or their belief that adults are inventing a more flexible, open-ended version of maturity.
02.04.08 Parent Shmarent
File this in the Playalong Parent category—some friends and I turned an essay of mine about my daughter and a gorilla head into a YouTubish video. Watch here. Then we did another one about our family’s crazy-fun winter celebration tradition. Now we’re thinking of other episodes and maybe even a whole series of these odd little family snippets. Stay tuned.
11.20.07 Age Norms and Orangey Goodness
Listen to sociologists hold forth on the topic of age norms and you’d be forgiven for dismissing the topic as theoretical hoo-ha with little real-life relevance. But in the course of writing Rejuvenile I became convinced that age norms are in fact an enormously powerful and woefully underexamined social force that exerts influence in the unlikeliest of places.
Take your local gas station or convenience store. Check out the snack display – you’ve got your adult Cape Cod Potato Chips, your teen-leaning Doritos and your kid-targeted Cheetos. What adult in their right mind would eat a snack promoted by a sneaker-clad spokescat? While snackfood giant Frito-Lay doesn’t release market research data, it seems clear that Cheetos have become a major flashpoint in rejuvenile’s assault on age norms—adults all over are embracing the orangey goodness of Chester Cheetah’s favorite snack. Many are content to causally gobble down a bag in the privacy of their workplace cubicle. Others publicly flaunt their Cheetos affiliation, proudly displaying their stained orange fingers to friends and coworkers or posting weird online video clips as proof of their playful, mischievous spirits. Eating ‘em is just the beginning:
• Members of the fabulous a-capella drag act the Kinsey Sicks stick ‘em in their well-powdered noses.
• Pajama-clad brunette tosses ‘em, gobbles ‘em, spits ‘em.
• Talkative co-ed colors her hair to match ‘em.
• Science geeks light ‘em up, dunk ‘em in booze, then down the firey cheesy cocktail (ow!)
- Clearly understimulated Iowans celebrate ‘em as prime tourist attraction.
11.20.07 Tilt-o-Wheel (formerly Paydates)
Safely stow all personal belongings. Be advised that management is not responsible for injuries resulting from following rambunctious recitation of rejuvenile-flavored news nuggets…
Capture that Flag. An epic five-family game of Capture the Flag over the weekend has reawakened my love for this ridiculously involving kidgame. Players aged 5-50 got completely immersed in strategizing, sprinting and stealthy sneaking for two-plus hours. Only bummer was waking up next morning to find myself sore in all sorts of unmentionable nooks and crannies. Recuperating at home, play guru Bernie DeKoven tipped me off to this newfangled urban street version. The organizers are New Mind Space, a wildly commendable art-play gang that hosts rejuvenile street event/games/happenings like last week’s light saber battle, street pillow fights and “bubble battles.” Check their website for upcoming events in Toronto, New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Montreal and Vancouver.
Baffling toys. Bored by Barbie? Unmoved by Legos? Maybe it’s time to graduate to a new, weirder class of plaything. How about a she-male baby doll? Or a Playmobile Hazmat crew? The online edition of that long-lost juvenile humor mag Cracked has an amazing compendium of “25 of the weirdest, most ill-conceived toys from around the globe.” I myself am now determined to get my own “toilet training tiger,” complete with sound chip that blurts “Crap! Crap like a champion!” (Thanks to “Count” Conte for the tip).
Bad-ass toys. I like to think of myself as a conscientious parent. I generally avoid battery-operated, crash-bang toys in favor of puzzles and blocks and other playthings that encourage open-ended imaginative play and so on and we’re all free, free to be you and me whatever. The point is, I avoid toys that will turn my offspring into spastic, ultraviolent little maniacs. But sometimes a dad can’t help it. Two new recent arrivals in our household have inspired mad fits of fun in both the 8-year-old boy and his 30-something dad. The first is the V-Bot, a Transformer-like robot that, with the touch of a remote, twists and folds and turns into a respectable red sports car that can zoom and careen around the house and utterly terrify the family dog (Check out YouTube clip of astonishing transformation here). From the same manufacturer comes Battle Wheels, a line of remote controlled, anime-inspired wheeled robots that bash into each other, Rock Em Sock Em Robot-style. Both toys have inspired hours of unimaginative, closed-ended and entirely awesome fun.
Wiggleheads? Really? We all know kids go bananas for Australian kiddie pop TV stars The Wiggles. But somehow I thought that even the most golly-gee rejuveniles would be immune from their super-cheery, crazy-creepy shtick (is it just me, or does the guy in purple look like the kind of fellow who circles playgrounds in tinted-window vans?). But proving yet again that literally anything kids enjoy will be inevitably taken up by rejuveniles, the group has attracted a loyal adult fanbase that calls itself (wait for it) the Wiggleheads. Amusing/horrifying Q&As with die-hard Wiggles groupies here.
06.04.07 Cheaper! Softer! Just as yellow!
Did I forget to mention that Rejuvenile is in paperback? It is. It’s gorgeous, shiny-as-a-toy and at $11, quite reasonably priced. Order a copy today and tackle a few of the deep imponderables contained therein:
• Are rejuveniles freespirited romantics or hopelessly gullible tools of a vast Madion Avenue conspiracy?
• Why didn’t rejuvenile greats J.M. Barrie, Dr. Seuss or Hans Christian Andersen ever have actual kids of their own?
• How long until Nike launches a high performance shoe system for skipping?
• Are adults who live at home with their parents forging a new interdependent family model or just suckers for mom’s lasagna?
• Is the color of Rejuvenile’s dust jacket best described as yellow, buttercup or goldenrod?
05.05.07 Playdates (Formerly Confetti Egg)
Strap on your sneakers, pack up some snacks and get going, whippersnappers – fun awaits in London, LA and New York…
Tally-ho, U.K. Rejuveniles! Shadowy benefactor Gideon Reeling (either the name of an esteemed 71-year-old British mogul or the moniker of a production company run by a cheeky group of London theater geeks) is footing the bill for a fantastic weekend of creative fun on the banks of the Thames. The Hide & Seek Festival is the first U.K. event to showcase “pervasive games,” those gussied-up scavenger hunts and elaborate make-believe scenarios that have begun to trickle down to us plebes from the gaming elite (witness the Come Out & Play Festival in New York, which recently announced dates for its second annual event). The esteemed Mr. Reeling has assembled a roster of activities described as “all the best games you played as a kid with a grown up twist.” The games will “transform the city into a playground, make your heart race, change the way you see the world and get you playing nicely with others.” Game titles include Sheer Lunacy, Drunkpunch and Mr. Reeling’s Assistants (in which players will experience the thrill of running pointless errands for a 71-year-old mogul! Bonus round: sponge bath!)
Mighty Mamas Skate! Mother’s Day approacheth, a day of beautiful bouquets, breakfasts in bed and insane ollies on the half pipe (cue comical record scratch). For the fourth year running, Barb Odanaka (the Orange County housewife-turned-skate rat profiled in chapter two of Rejuvenile) is organizing the Mighty Mama Skate-O-Rama, a day of wicked tricks, awesome raffles and party-hearty celebration for skateboarding moms. Festivities begin at 10 am, Sunday May 13 at the Laguna Niguel Skatepark in south Orange County. More information here (click on “Barb’s Blog").
Books + babysitters + booze = awesome playdate. Parent Play, the Manhattan party planners that specialize in family-friendly weekend parties, have another great event coming up: Get Up & Giggle, a pre-Memorial Day bash that will feature a discussion with Christie Mellor, author of the seminal momoir The Three Martini Playdate, along with the usual assortment of spa treatments and gift bags for adults and supervised fun for the kiddies. You’ll have to dig deep into your allowance for this one, however: tickets are $70 a family ($80 at the door).
04.24.07 Tickets for LA Times Book Festival
Tickets are going fast for this Sunday’s LA Times Book Festival panel on “The New Adulthood.” You can order and downlaod tickets online for 75 cents
I’ll be tackling the question “Why Should Kids Have All the Fun?” with two very funny women, Brett Paesel (Mommies Who Drink) and Erika Schickel (You’re Not the Boss of Me). Also on Sunday’s schedule: a humor panel with friends and fellow rejuveniles Jill Soloway and Neal Pollack, an appearance by Ralph Nader, a memoir
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04.17.07 Wha? A Dating Column?
This has nothing really to do with all things rejuvenile, but I thought I’d share it anyhow: The LA Times just published my column on “what I wish I knew about dating when I was single.” I dug deep into my own humiliating record of romance and found a curious parallel with an unhealthy obsession of the moment: the Australian self-help DVD “The Secret.” Full text is on my author website here.
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Attention So Cal friends and fellow rejuveniles: I’ll be appearing at the LA Times Festival of Books on April 29 to tackle the burning question, “Why Should Kids Have All the Fun?”
Come hear my predictable answer (they shouldn’t), along with provocative chin-stroking from two wittier and prettier panelists, Brett Paesel (Mommies Who Drink) and Erika Schickel (You’re Not the Boss of Me). Our moderator is LA Times feature vet Robin Abcarian.
The panel is slated for Sunday, April 29 at 11:30 am in Moore 100. A full schedule for Sunday is here.
The festival is always terrific; this year’s schedule includes appearances and discussions with Arianna Huffington, Pico Iyer, T.C. Boyle, Ray Bradbury and James Ellroy. Admission is free, but you need tickets to attend certain panels and speaker sessions. Order your tickets at no charge through Ticketmaster.
Hope to see you at the festival!
03.28.07 Look, a Shiny Thing!
To those of us who enjoy the luxury of waxing theoretical, being a rejuvenile is about expressing a mindset. It’s about living a life that places more value in spontaneity and openness than traditional “adult” notions of steadfastness and seriousness.
But make no mistake: being a rejuvenile is also about being a target market. At this very moment, smart and well-compensated account execs are formulating sophisticated campaigns to sell you stuff – you the thirtysomething cubicle farmer, you the grizzled Boomer with the BMW skateboard, you the fiftysomething Arielholic.
No interest in chocolate bars laced with bits of dehydrated rice? What if it possesses the power to release “the kid in you”? Anxious about finding yourself in a tract house with kids and a minivan? Then strike back! Adorn your walls with framed Chris Ware posters, get thee a belly ring, start a garage band!
Not that there’s anything wrong with belly rings, garage bands, or for that matter, being a target market. As players in a highly mediated, ever-more-commercialized new century, we’re all data points in a vast commercial matrix. Pretending to be above such things is futile.
The trick is knowing the difference between what we genuinely want and what we’re being sold. None of us want our mindsets shaped by commercial forces (even if they are). As easy as it is to fall back into tractable, pre-adult neediness – Look, a shiny thing! Wait, I want candy! – we can all agree we’re far better off recognizing a pitch when it comes along and deciding consciously and deliberately whether to accept it.
Me, I reject Nestle Crunch bars and belly rings. Here, though, are a few rejuvenile-targeted goods and services I simply cannot resist:
• The Crayola Crayon Executive Pen. For the truly self-possessed executive, this brass ballpoint pen has the weight and gravitas of the corner office and the cheery playfulness of the romper room. Store it on your desk next to your Executive Set Sea Monkey set and send a clear message: you are not a Dilbert drone.
Hidden Lemonade Stand Easter eggs. Kim & Jason, the reigning rejuvenile power couple from Madison, WI are doing a cool contest in conjunction with their online store the Lemonade Stand – win prizes by locating the hidden Easter eggs nestled among childlike goodies. But be careful– you just might find yourself leavign with an “Adulthood stinks” T-shirt or a copy of their eseential how-to manual Escape Adulthood.
Perpetual Kid – Online retailer for dizzying variety of rejuvenile novelties and doo-dads, organized into categories including “office toys” (banana cell phone cover, crocodile staple remover, Buddha pencil top), “fun fragrances” (Play-Doh Cologne, eau-du-birthday cake) and “things that shoot” (marshmallow shooters, airzookas, rubber band guns).
• Big Fun toy store. A friend visiting Cleveland happened upon what she describes as rejuvenile nirvana – a cluttered and crazed collection of new and used toys, models, action figures, board games and lunchboxes. Owner Steve Presser has a thing for vintage commercial tie-ins, from the obvious (Star Wars, Care Bears) to the obscure (M.A.S.K., Mr. T). No website; visit them on your next jaunt to Ohio: 1827 Coventry Rd, Cleveland Ohio.
02.28.07 Friends and Foes
Who are you anyway? A hopeful iconoclast forging a more playful model of maturity, or a pathetic lost soul clinging desperately to fast-fading freedoms?
And here you thought you just had a thing for cupcakes.
We rejuveniles are a polarizing bunch. Defenders proclaim the benefits of cultivating childlike tastes into adulthood, casting their critics as hopelessly stodgy sticks-in-the-mud. Traditionalists counter that adulthood is about coming to grips with sacrifice, hard work and seriousness.
Such debate makes up a big part of Rejuvenile, but I’ve been surprised at how vitriolic the discussion has become in the eight months since publication. Maybe it’s the war overseas, or Bush, or the chilly weather – in any case, a slew of red-hot, pull-up-your-bootstraps adults has appeared to circle the wagons and declare with phlegmatic ferocity that rejuveniles pose a real and present danger against all that is good and proper.
Hands down the most hard-core Harrumphing Codger to join the debate is Ingrid Schlueter, host of the syndicated radio program “Crosstalk.” She’s been on a tear about rejuveniles since the book appeared, writing last summer that my account of adults wearing footie pajamas and playing video games has convinced her that “what this country needs is a really major economic crash, the kind where people are on the sidewalk selling pencils and their children have nothing to eat.”
Ms. Schlueter devoted a recent hour-long program to the phenomenon (audio archive here), proclaiming her horror at today’s “cult of youth” and noting its terrifying signifiers: middle-aged women who wear lowrider jeans (“revolting!”), religious leaders who declare a love for surfing, parents who share the same taste in music as their kids and, perhaps most distressingly, men who’ve forgotten the stoic heroism of traditional masculinity (Exhibit A: a reality show contestant who wept upon being booted from a dance program. “And he was wearing a leotard!” she said. “I would hope a real man wouldn’t go to a dance audition. It’s time to grow up.”)
Canadian journalist Kevin Libin is similarly hung up on “manliness,” though he’s infinitely more reasonable and eloquent, noting that “the centuries-old archetype of the master of the house… which has been the Western cultural tradition from Herod to Heathcliff Huxtable, is eagerly being cast off to make way for ‘alternadads.’” A column in yesterday’s National Post (sub required) includes a nice mini profile of a 36-year-old emergency room doctor who loves video games and comics and sees no reason why these enthusiasms make him a bad father. Mr. Libin trots out Codger mouthpiece Frank Furedi to give him the bad news: he’s just not a real man. “As manly authority declines, it’s not replaced by an alternative male authority,” Furedi says. “It’s replaced by ambiguity, where you try to basically resolve the problem by, instead of being a role model to your son or daughter, you try to be their best friend.”
I spoke to Mr. Libin last week and had a chance to weigh in on the charge that rejuevenile dads are sissy men too weak to be the sort of heroic figures that nature intended. And while my response didn’t make it into print (I’m quoted bashing my beatnik parents instead—sorry mom!), it’s worth repeating that I for one am only too glad that the Herod/Heathcliff Huxtable model of fatherhood is giving way to one that allows for more fun, flexibility and connection. As likeminded author and goofy dad Neal Pollack points out, it’s not as if playful dads don’t know what their primary job is – we all understand that we’re here to shelter, protect and provide. But why does that mean we’re prohibited from enjoying the same stuff our kids do? Why is it so hard for Mr. Libin or Ms. Shlueter to comprehend that one can be parent and pal, sometimes toggling uncomfortably between the two roles but often being both, in the same moment?
Fathers and their kids also get their due in a three-page review of Rejuvenile that appeared two weeks ago in the Weekly Standard (not online). It’s not the screed I was expecting from a neocon journal that is about as Harrumphing as they come; reviewer Susie Currie did a nice job recapping and even offers that book is “a fun read.” But she can’t contain her superiority over the rejuveniles described in the book, asking forgiveness for “thinking that if some of these people were any shallower, they’d be the Sahara.” She takes particular offense at remarks in book by Rebecca Flaugh, the 28-year-old childless travel agent who told me she never understood her father’s “death march” of responsible adulthood. By modeling her own life in terms of self-actualization over self-sacrifice, Flaugh “made my skin crawl,” Currie writes.
No doubt some rejuveniles need to grow up and get a grip on the particular demands of their adult lives. But the vast majority of people I met while working on the book were like the emergency room doctor with the video game habit – that is, productive and responsible adults who choose to spend their off-hours doing stuff their parents might find ridiculous. To them, adulthood isn’t just about fighting for one’s share in a cruel and unforgiving world. It’s about picking responsibilities carefully, taking care of family and self and having some fun along the way. As I say in the book, they are unimpressed with the virtues of hardship – to them, suffering is vastly overrated.
Happily, rejuvenile coverage of late hasn’t all been of the grumpy variety. Writer Whit Honea (keeper of this very funny blog) contributed a nice review to the busy site Dadcentric, calling the book “a comprehensive study of what makes this a movement and not just a load of shit.” Northeastern University student Jeff Miranda just published a thorough and sympathetic story on the phenomenon in his college paper. And similarly thoughtful stories have appeared in last few weeks in the Omaha World Herald and the Toledo Blade… proving that rejuveniles might get a bad rap in the Weekly Standard, but they love us in Toledo.
01.30.07 MC Sippy Cup Speaks
A confession, in three parts.
Firstly, I am a nearly-40 dad who spends much of his time worrying about mortgage rates, school admission procedures and acid reflux. I mainline NPR. I enjoy the occasional showtune. I am, in short, deeply boring.
Part two is more mortifying: I am a former New Wave kid who spent an inordinate amount of my youth scrounging through record shops for 12” remixes by synth-dependent Britpop bands – and not just the cool ones (favorite song in senior year? “Doot Doot” by Freur.) My teen years were marked by all-ages clubs and finger-in-lightsocket hairstyles and podium dancing. I am not proud.
The third part of my confession is where it gets weird: even though I am a deathly dull adult who should know better, I still spend an inordinate amount of time loitering in the used section of record shops, going to shows and trading mix CDs with friends. Having kids has only intensified my pop geekdom – in fact, one of the happiest and most unexpected discoveries becoming a dad was the entry it gave me into whole new genres of music that I’d been too snobbish to pay any attention before. Now I make mix CDs to pass out as party favors at my kids’ birthday parties (under the nom-de-mix MC Sippy Cup), lurk on kid music websites (most notably Amy Davis’ fantastic blog) and write the occasional missive on the booming state of kidmusic.
So in the interest of staying abreast with what the Kids are Listening To These Days, here are four discs that have been getting heavy minivan rotation of late:
Gabby La-La’s “Be Careful What You Wish For.” My favorite kid CD at the moment isn’t really a kids CD, tho I can’t imagine why Gabby La-La isn’t being counted among the big new stars on the kidmusic scene (she kicks Laurie Berkner’s bland behind). Gabby is a hippie-damaged pixie from the Bay Area whose musical exoticism – she plays the sitar, ukulele, toy piano and Theremin – have landed her session gigs with Snoop Dogg and Macy Gray. Her debut disc was produced by Primus frontman Les Claypool, but it’s not the punky freakfolk you might expect – it’s bright and dynamic and embedded with the wonder and wit of childhood. She sings about backpacks and elves and fleas with the sort of wholehearted abandon that makes you forget age norms altogether… She’s the freaky aunt who your kids won’t leave alone.
James Kochalka’s “Our Most Beloved.” I first heard Kochalka on the first indispensable Greasy Kids Stuff compilation – his “Hockey Monkey” is truly one of the funnest kid rock songs ever and should, if there were any justice in the mediasphere, be a mammoth kidsong/mainstream crossover hit. Can’t you hear it on “Idol”? I finally splurged on the recent Rykodisc greatest hits disc, which includes a lot more loud, raucous, oddly sweet songs about monkeys and robots and wookies and the like. Great stuff for punk rock tots.
Milkshake’s “Play.” I was sent the Baltimore band’s latest by guitarist Miles Anderson, who responded to my Fids and Kamily essay about how so much new kids music sounds like warmed-over adult rock. Milkshake, in contrast, is meant to be “happy music for happy kids.” Indeed it is – the disc is unapologetically peppy, a colorful parade of glossy high-production pop in the tradition of the Archies and the Partridge Family. Kids dig it and parents can’t get it out of their heads.
The Brothers Comstock’s “What Do You Want?” This was another out-of-the-blue freebie from a band beloved by scraggly tots but too often slagged by cooler-than-thou reviewers. Billing themselves as a cross between Cheech & Chong and the Wiggles, the Brothers are a rough but tuneful ramshackle duo that writes songs about the glories of basketball and staying up late and watching DVDs. Interesting side note: brothers also invented a very cool rejuvenile machine known as the Margarator (perfect for mixing up slushies for kids and margaritas for the parents).
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The shell is dyed, the hole poked, the yolk drained… now go ahead, smash this fragile ovoid and release its bounty of smallish items of interest!
Alternadads unite. The Sunday LA Times included my review of Neal Pollack’s book about struggling to stay cool in the cultural dead zone of fatherhood. Pollack is a fellow Angeleno with a distaste for Barney and an obsessive desire for his kids to appreciate good rock and roll. It’s a very funny and thoughtful book, and Pollack is keeping a great Blog about the ongoing hilarity of raising his son Elijah. Elsewhere in blogland, here’s a review of my review.
RPS goes corporate. You’ve been in meetings since dawn, you’ve just wolfed down a wilted cobb salad and you’re now facing a long afternoon holed up in a conference room with a crowd of dispirited office monkeys… only one thing will save you now: rock paper scissors. Really. The World RPS Society (the original Toronto-based league of twee intellectuals, not to be confused with the balls-out, Bud-endorsed US Rock Paper Scissors League) has just launched a service that will organize and referee RPS tournaments at conferences, office parties and other business events. A frivolous exercise in forced cheer? No way – this is an ingenious way to quickly break professional artifice and generate creativity, communication and fun. (Here’s a hint, minions: bosses throw rock.)
Harrumphing Codgers rejoice! Here’s a manifesto for cranky old men! British author and broadcaster Michael Bywater has published what sounds like a clever tho reactionary survey of the Rejuvenile phenomenon, or to quote his title, Big Babies: Why Can’t We Just Grow Up? Reviews say it’s about how government and advertising treat adults as “mewling infants who have to be told, essentially, look look shiny shiny coin coin every forlorn second of every babyish day.” There’s good reason to worry about business and government encouraging adults to drop critical defenses, but I refuse to believe the answer to that problem is a return to the rigid and overserious traditional mold of maturity. The rejuveniles I met while working on the book were mature in many ways and immature in many others – as I say in the book, it’s possible to lead a happy healthy life that “includes charity and skateboarding, G-8 summit position papers and midnight cupcakes, long stretches of concentrated seriousness and mad fits of impulsiveness.”
01.19.07 All Grown Up (and Unmarried)
It’s just a data point, but as stats go, this one’s a doozy: “51% of women are now living without a spouse.” So sayeth the headline of a piece in Monday’s New York Times now prompting much hand-wringing over the changing makeup of the American family.
This increase in unmarrieds may be just an uptick – the number was 49% six years ago – but it’s being greeted as a terrifying sign of social collapse among the conservative-minded – indeed, it signals a terrifying tipping point in the ever-descending path of the American family. It’s a Phyllis Schlafly nightmare: faithful wives outnumbered by swinging single gals, cohabitating girlfriends and merry widows.
So, you may well ask, what’s all this got to do with cupcakes and kickball and other childish leisure pursuits? Here’s what: beyond the demographic shifts at work in this story (increasing co-habitation, longer lifespans, declining rates of remarriage after divorce or death), it seems to me there’s a more primary force driving the change: the reinvention of the American grown-up. As I discuss in chapter 5 of Rejuvenile, marriage was, as recently as the mid-1960s, the single defining right of passage into adulthood. Getting married meant moving out on your own, having sex, starting a family, the lot. Today, of course, we’re free to sample all those freedoms outside marriage. Weddings are still important, of course, but today they’re less announcements of maturity than party-down pageants (exhibit A: Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings).
Times columnist David Brooks chimed in yesterday, arguing that the real problem is that marriage is too important – in essence, that women are afraid to get married because it signals an end rather than a beginning. His solution? To persuade people that marriage is “less a state of sacred bliss, and more a social machine.” One can only imagine a young Mr. Brooks approaching his beloved, bending down one knee, and uttering the sage advice from his own column: “Accompanied with the right instruction manual, (marriage) can be useful for achieving practical ends.” Oh, swoon!
My own sense is we’re not, as Brooks suggests, witnessing the disintegration of the American family. Rather we’re seeing the continuing evolution of what it means to be an adult. What was once rigidly understood in terms of familial relationships is now tailor-made, up-for-grabs, loosey-goosey. The increasing number of unmarried women are not, by and large, stunted. They’re not suffering from arrested development – many in fact are working mothers who go to great lengths to care for their kids, partners and themselves. They are, in short, grown ups – just not the sort observers like Brooks want them so very much to be.
01.08.07 Are Fun and Work Oxymoronic?
Rejuvenile made a brief appearance Monday morning in the first hour of ABC’s “Good Morning America” in a story about play at the workplace.
Here’s the gist of the GMA piece: work is boring. A few office monkeys are fighting back with inter-department playground slides, break room foos-ball tables and other goofy innovations. Cue remark from yours truly on the importance of play and fun in the workplace and how these changes reflect the larger rejuvenile phenom.
All of which is nice enough, but I’ve got to say the story stirred the harrumphing codger in me—apparently, play at work is all about M&Ms and Nerf basketball. In our interview, I tried to emphasize that too often, the merry chattering bosses who institute “playful” reforms are putting window dressing on salt mines. There is little more infuriating than having a Wacky Fun Day hosted by an employer who skimps on health insurance or restricts family leave. I don’t think there’s any doubt a genuinely playful attitude toward work can benefit both worker and the bottom line, but it’s not about bouncing balls or bobbleheads. It’s about doing our work with the same wonder and imagination and sense of fun that too many workers ditch in the name of professionalism.
For more on developing a truly playful approach to work, start by reading chapter 2 of Rejuvenile then checking out the following:
• The Play Ethic - Pat Kane’s brilliant manifesto on the end of the old protestant work ethic was published last year in the U.S. and contains many dazzling, scholarly ideas about having fun in the name of productivity.
• Adultitis - Jason & Kim Kotecki offer a free, step-by-step program of practical tips on loosening up and sparking childlike wonder in the midst of an adult life.
• You can do better than a depressing bowl of M&Ms on your desk. Check out Office Playground for the best in cubicle doo-dads. Get thee a desktop sandbox!
12.15.06 Rejuvenile: The Backstory
First, we talked cupcakes. Now, we talk business. Rachel Kramer Bussel, whose online presence is deliciously split between a blog about cupcakes and a blog about erotica, did a very nice piece this summer on the cupcake blog about rejuveniles and food.
This week she posted an equally good, if somewhat less tasty, question-and-answer about the mechanics and practicalities of writing this book. It’s posted on the journalism webzine Mediabistro. Here’s an excerpt:
Where did you first get the idea for The New York Times “rejuvenile” article and how long did you spend researching it? Did you have plans to turn it into a book at that time? Were there more things you wanted to explore and chronicle than you had room for in the Times piece?
I approached a few agents with the idea but was mostly met with “call us back when you have a proposal.” Betsy Amster—a former editor at Pantheon and Vintage, who now runs an independent agency here in L.A.—was the exception. She loved the idea, helped me plan and shape the proposal, and advised me on what material to concentrate on for a sample chapter.
After the rejuvenile story ran on the front page of the “Sunday Styles” section, I spent another month fleshing out the proposal, eager to submit it while the story was still relatively fresh. In the end, I didn’t do a sample chapter at all, opting instead to do a detailed overview and lengthy chapter summaries (which, of course, changed when I got the deal and actually began writing).
How did the book deal come about?
In your book proposal, how much of your research plans were mapped out?
Do you have any advice to first-time nonfiction authors? Is there anything you’d have done differently, either from a financial standpoint or a journalistic one? ?
12.12.06 Strobe Lights (Formerly Snackage)
You there, against the wall – drop the Dixie cup and get out on the dance floor. Under the flickering lights, behold!
• I took this photo a few weeks ago on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood and find myself thinking about this poor guy way too often. Beyond wondering about what goes through his mind all day long (Isn’t this how Brad Pitt started?), my question is this: isn’t $14.99 a little steep for a fart machine?
• I just relaunched my author site to include a deeper archive of clips and a Flickr site of photos, doodles and found art. Fun stuff.
• The unstoppable force for good known as Kim and Jason Kotecki have done a sweet redesign of their website devoted to Adultitis, the Jason-named condition marked by over-seriousness, chronic dullness and all the other assorted qualities rejuveniles seek to avoid. Take the online intake questionaire and begin your treatment today!
• If ever there was a worthwhile political campaign for rejuveniles, this is it: preservationists are rallying to stop demolition of an amazing little playground in San Gabriel. I discovered Monster Park a few years ago while hunting for a soup dumpling joint: there, tucked beside a storm drain amidst drab suburban sprawl was a cluster of odd concrete figures – a dinosaur, an octopus, a whale – all of which you could slide and climb and scramble all over. It’s the sort of weird, wonderful, probably-unsafe-but-delightfully-so place for kids that you never see anymore. Even if you’ll never make it to San Gabriel to see it yourself, trust me: sign the petition and join the effort to stop the Man from slaying these lovable monsters to make room for another bland, padded plastic-composite play structure. (Link via Spike Brower, who used Monster Park as a principal location in his terrific short film The Fish Burglars)
• Bond goes rejuvenile: In a clever co-opting of moves that mix Kung Fu grace with Spiderman daring-do, the new Bond movie Casino Royale gets an thrilling kick from the age-norm-busting urban gymnastic known as parkour. Producers cast Sebastien Foucan, the parkour pioneer featured in chapter 3 of Rejuvenile, as Mollaka the Bomb-Maker, who leads Bond on an intense opening foot chase. Not shabby for a 36-year-old dad.
• Here’s a culinary event for rejuveniles – the Grilled Cheese Invitational, an annual meeting of gooey sandwich connoisseurs described as “part competition, part fashion disaster and part rave potluck.” (thanks to best teevee critic ever Heather Havrilesky for tip)
• Trendspotters Buzzfeed did a nice roundup on adult enthusiasm for Legos, which I write about in chapter 2 of Rejuvenile. The Buzzfeed piece links to a bunch of sites by AFOL’s (Adult Fans of Lego), including one by former JPL engineer and entrepreneur Phillip Alvelda who says Legos were a “transformative toy for me that unleashed my imagination around the realization that I could build ANYTHING.” (Thanks to reader Brian Vartabedian for the link)
12.06.06 Pirates & Penguins
The recent success of the CGI movie Happy Feet proves at least three things: 1) that director George Miller has finally atoned for following the miraculous Babe with its druggy disgrace of a sequel, 2) that mash-up pop is now officially not even remotely cool, 3) that penguins have joined pirates as pop culture mascots of the moment.
Anyone else notice the recent pirate n’ penguin proliferation? They’re everywhere. Go to Disneyland expecting a meeting with Mickey, Donald & company and you’re instead marauded by packs of rum-swilling scallywags. Turn on PBS or Animal Planet and you’ll enjoy a deep catalog of wildlife films featuring waddling arctic birds. Ever since Johnny Depp channeled Keith Richards in Pirates of the Caribbean and French naturalists mined anthropomorphism for gold in March of the Penguins, pirates and penguins are the hottest thing in the non-copyrightable kid media universe.
It’s worth noting any time a character breaks out of kid media in such a dramatic way. It’s especially worth noting when the zeitgeist is simultaneously infiltrated by icons that represent such diametrically opposed characteristics. Think about it. When pirates are the most popular costume on Halloween, when the movie about dancing penguins is preceded by previews for a movie about surfing penguins, when “talk like a pirate day” becomes a national media event, when Original Penguin becomes the hottest retro brand is sportswear… it means something. It means these characters have gotten under our skin. They speak to us.
And what do they say? Two different things entirely.
Pirates, of course, are lawless, drunken, slovenly, wily, individualistic, brutal, unhygienic, rootless, venal, greedy, foolhardy and anti-authoritarian. They are what we’d be if we severed all ties with families and bosses and forces of civility. They venture forth, they overdo, they revel and rebel. Their popularity speaks to an intensifying desire to buck against forces of regularity and restraint. We want to unshackle our inner wench or rascal, get drunk at the office party, vomit on the boss’ shoes and make off with the buried doubloons. They are our id, our hidden libertarian, our inner rock star.
Penguins are something else. They’re communal, lovable, affectionate, noble, habitual, faceless, dutiful, familial and predictable. They are what we’d be if we gave over entirely to the rule of the crowd. They nurture their young, follow the pack, huddle together against the merciless cold. Our inner penguin urges us to carpool the neighbor’s kids to soccer practice, follow mom’s advice and vote for the candidate with the best plan to mend the social safety net. They are our super ego, our progressive-democrat, our inner social worker.
So which are you, pirate or penguin?
As a father of three who spends much of his time shuttling around in a minivan with more cup holders than horsepower, I fall squarely into the penguin pack. But as is so often the case in such polarizing red state-blue state comparisons, I’m purple. Among my favorite CDs for the grueling commute to school: Captain Bogg and Salty, a kiddie rock act that specializes in, yes – pirate songs.
Quick, Dreamworks, greenlight that treatment about a band of pirate penguins!
11.25.06 Crank it up, junior
Two huge events in the rejuvenile music world, or at least in the small but burgeoning ‘burgh of kids music that aims to be as exciting and inventive as music made for adults…
Firstly, a gang of smart and dedicated kiddie music connoisseurs has tabulated the first annual Fids and Kamily Music Poll, a critical survey of kid music that aims to do for the genre what the Pazz and Jop poll does for more mainstream adult music. Topping the list this year is Justin Roberts’ rightfully acclaimed “Meltdown” with appearances by Dan Zanes, the Sippy Cups and Captain Bogg & Salty. The lovely and amazing Amy Davis (keeper of the indispensable The Lovely Mrs Davis Tells You What to Think) asked me to write a little essay-cum-rant to accompany the poll; I got all contrarian and took the opportunity to sound a note of cynicism. Hope I didn’t stink up the party.
As the sort of pop geek who pores over annual critic polls to find out what the cool kids are listening to as I replay the same few Wilco and Sufjan records over and over, Fids and Kamily represents a milestone, methinks, the announcement of a bonafide genre, one worth taking seriously and one ready for the attention of a much wider audience…
Which makes it all the timelier that the New York Times has swooped in this Sunday with a smart and funny feature about the ascendance of quality kids music and the tension between hipster parents using music to extend their own adolescence and those make and listen to music that excites adults as much as the sippy cup set. Freelancer Tammy LaGorce did a very nice job capturing the scene at this perilous point, quoting a number of bigwigs in the kid music world, including a Woodstock, NY record producer who cited this very blog, repeating my suggestion that the surest way to turn your kid Republican is to dress him up in a Sex Pistols T-shirt.
All in all, a good day to be a fan of music about sharing and bugs. Don’t bogart the earplugs; this is gonna get loud.
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11.08.06 Snackage (formerly Party favors)
We hear that rumbly in your tumbly; may we recommend a tasty sample plate of briefs and shorts and such? Dig in:
• First of two big events on the rejuvenile calendar this weekend: the World Adult Kickball Association holds its Leader’s Cup in San Diego, CA. This will be the first big kickball competition ever held on the West Coast; looking forward to seeing how our teams fare against Kick Asphalt, the badass D.C. crew that has been basically unbeatable in East Coast tournament play. I’ll be on hand Friday night to sign books, soak up the kickball glory and cheer on the locals…
• Meanwhile in Toronto, the World Rock Paper Scissors Society hosts its annual championship tournament on Saturday. I’m told by WRPS honcho Graham Walker that a record number of players signed up this year. They’ll employ RPS stratagems like the Crecendo and the Scissor Sandwich in their quest to bag the $7,000 first prize. Remember: tense players throw rock.
Balls, not bombs. That’s the slogan appearing on a fetching new line of apparel featuring a cartoon of George W. holding a red playground ball.
The Rejuvenile book group on the Weeds message boards is sharing some great stories about play in the workplace, favorite kidgames and other examples of rejuvenile behavior. (One member shared this amazing site for superhero supplies.) It’s not to late to join the discussion…
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11.01.06 Plushies, Furries and Adult Babies
Unphased by grown women in Hello Hitty hoodies? Bored by news of $50,000 rock paper scissor championships? Are you, in short, utterly unshocked by the rejuvenile phenom?
Then step aboard this Wonka steamship and keep your hands and feet inside as we travel into a dark and forbidding tunnel, toward a rejuvenile outpost populated by adults who assume the identities of giant stuffed animals, men who have torrid affairs with stuffed animals and grownups who derive exquisite sexual pleasure lolling around in jumbo sized diapers.
The following passage was written to be included in the final pages of the last chapter of Rejuvenile. I cut it at the last minute, partly because it didn’t adequately capture the complexity of these people and communities, but mostly because this stuff is so reflexively icky that I didn’t want to send half my readers running for the showers just before I attempted a sober-minded summing up and celebration of the rejuvenile phenomenon.
Herewith then, a deleted scene:
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time casually glossing over mention of a subculture of people who enjoy having sex dressed as cartoon animals. I know I’m opening a can of worms – because once I’ve mentioned Furries, I’m pretty much obligated to move on to the topic of Plushies, people whose intense-bordering-on-impure attachment to stuffed animals sometimes results in the creation of “strategically-placed-holes” or “strategically-placed-appendages” (known in Plushies circles by the helpful acronyms SPH’s and SPA’s). And once I’ve covered Plushies, it’s only natural to discuss Adult Babies, those grownups who derive sexual pleasure from on being swaddled in jumbo-sized diapers.
Here we’ve reached the furthest reaches of the rejuvenile universe, a place so far removed from a traditional understanding of adulthood that it is hard to know how any of it relates to the larger rejuvenile phenomenon. First of all, it’s probably unfair to lump these proclivities together, or even to define them as essentially kid-centric or sexual. Many Furries, for instance, believe that they are in fact animals trapped in the bodies of humans. Dressing up becomes a way to reconnect with their anthropomorphic selves. “A Furry typically thinks of himself (and let’s face it, he’s typically male) as though his ‘real’ self is an ocelot-centaur, or a silver-furred wolf, or what have you,” says a software designer from Oregon who keeps tabs on the Furry community. “Some Furries talk about totem animals, or animal spirit guides, or being gazelles in previous lives. Some just sit around and wish with all their might that they had paws and a tail.”
The Fur-friendly fan who provided this quick primer answered a message I’d posted on an Internet newsgroup looking for adult fans of Hello Kitty. He calls himself Honi, and he certainly qualified. In an e-mail, here’s how he describes his room:
Honi is quick to point out that sex is only a peripheral part of his obsession. There was a time when he, as he puts it, “indulged in Plushie sex,” back when he was spending 18-plus hours a day on the Internet role-playing the part of Dot Warner, a character from a television cartoon called “The Animaniacs.” But these days his love of Hello Kitty is more aspirational than kinky: “It’s not that I’m driven by lust for Hello Kitty herself – it’s that I love the pink dreamy haze that being surrounded by Hello Kitty puts me in. I’d rather be her than have sex with her.”
The same sort of distinction is made by many Adult Babies, more formally known as infantilists but also known as Diaper Lovers. These are adults (again, mostly men – go figure) who enjoy wearing Pampers and Huggies, sucking pacifiers, getting spanked, eating baby food or otherwise being treated like infants. A 20-year-old support group known as Diaper Pail Friends claims some 15,000 members. On the DPF Website you can find advice on such topics as how to lock diaper pins and find adult-sized cribs alongside a manual for would-be mommies (“You may have to discipline his naughty bottom,” the manual advises, “but your firmness must be tempered by warmth and care”). There’s also an online store that stocks hypnosis tapes that will “reduce you to any age of your choice,” and books and videos with titles like “Baby Pants Prisoner” and “Come Home to Mommy” (advertised with this come-hither tagline: “Mommy greets you at the door. She lays you down on the softest, thickest diaper you have ever seen.”)
Adult babies stress that they are not aroused by children – rather, they get off on being treated as children. “I want to be the baby,” says a 28-year-old attorney we’ll call Jim. “I get a thrill out of the sensations of being treated as a child – that’s entirely different than loving a child.”
None of Jim’s friends or family know about his secret stash of baby gear, and he prides himself on living a by-all-appearances normal adult life – he enjoys skiing, reading the Economist and talking politics. But inside, he says, “I have the sexuality of a two year old.” The only person he’s been able to share these feelings with was a woman from college, who on the day they met was dressed in a Disney T-shirt and drank milk from a sippy cup. “We were in diapers together within four weeks,” he says happily.
Jim thinks premature potty training may have had something to do with his sexuality—that, and an unusually close relationship with his mother. (“I was always super coddled and sheltered and protected,” he says. “I cried my eyes out when I left for college.”) But whatever the root cause, he has come to accept his babyish sexuality as a “basic part of me.” And while he’s intensely private about his sexuality, he feels no particular shame about it. “It’s completely harmless,” he says. “It’s just cute. It’s nothing. I’m much less harmful than the average guy. I just get more pleasure out of pooping than most people do.”
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10.30.06 Rejuvenile Book Group
Here’s a chance to join a book group - without ever stepping into a stranger’s living room, drinking bad Merlot or enduring the Deep Thoughts of a frustrated English major…
An online discussion group will begin posting messages about Rejuvenile on Wednesday, November 1. So far a dozen readers have signed up; they plan to argue points, swap their own stories and pick apart my precious narrative thread by thread....
For this (and so much else), I have my wife Jenji to thank. The book group was organized by fans of Jenji’s Showtime series Weeds which wraps up its thrilling second season tonight and which is honestly an incredibly good and funny program, and not just because this season has included not one but THREE product placements for the book. So if nothing else, Rejuvenile has found an audience among stoner premium cable web addicts.
If you’d like to join the fun or read what a gang of surprisingly funny and insightful readers have to say about the book, head over to sho.com, click on WEEDS, enter the message boards; the REJUVENILE BOOK GROUP can be found under the EPISODE 12: PITTSBURGH thread. You’ll have to register with the site, but it’s no big whup.
Or try following this link.
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10.18.06 Oh, this is sleazy
I’m a sometime journalist, which puts me in some ugly company – I’m well aware the job title is shared by the likes of Nancy Grace, Geraldo Rivera and legions of other desperate, clueless hacks…
Over my own 15-odd year course of writing and reporting stories for newspapers and magazines, I’ve probably done a fair amount of hackery myself. And I’m sure I’ve done a few people wrong along the way.
But this week I’ve finally gotten a close-up look at how bad journalism looks from the other side of the notebook. And all I can say is, yuck.
A month or so back I was contacted by a producer for ABC World News Tonight about a story he was putting together on adult kickball. We talked about the World Adult Kickball Association and my own experience in the sport, and then I told him about all the other kidgames featured in the book and on this blog. He was unaware how far the phenomenon went, and so I happily filled him in on skipping, tag, dodgeball, staredown and rock paper scissors. Over the course of the next few weeks, we talked three or four more times as he followed my leads for footage and interviewed the tag players and rock paper scissors people. And then one afternoon in September a crew came to my house for what ended up being an hour-long interview.
The story aired last week… and there it all was, a full five minute World News Tonight feature on kidgames reclaimed by adults. Only one thing was missing: any reference to me or the book. Especially galling was a standup by correspondent Dean Reynolds, in which he said, “In fact any game you may have played at recess as a kid is probably now being played somewhere by adults. There are now staredown leagues for example. There’s an international skipping movement. And even a tag institute.”
That sounded awfully familiar - if I didn’t use those exact words in our interview, I said something very much like it.
When I called the producer the next day, he acknowledged that he “got guidance” from me but that he talked to 50 people and referred to other stories on the topic (though when pressed, he conceded that none of the other stories included all the examples he ended up using). His bureau chief agreed that no wrongdoing was done and that they would not apologize or even acknowledge that a mistake had been made. The best they could muster was to say they were “sorry I feel that way,” which felt even more unsatisfactory since that’s what I tell my wife when she’s got PMS and is raging about the lack of ice cream in the house…
I’ve raised the issue with ABC standards and practices and hope they at least acknowledge that this wasn’t model journalism. I’m told by friends in publishing biz that this sort of thing is happening more and more – reporters hard-up for angles will appropriate someone else’s work, if not their precise wording. While I absolutely recognize I don’t own this story, I think we can all agree it’s at best sloppy and at worst sleazy not to at least cite a source when a reporter cites several examples, follows several leads and even lifts some wording from someone who has spent many years studying a topic....
I’m incredibly grateful the book has gotten all the nice media attention it has – which makes this latest episode seem all the sleazier…
10.04.06 Party Favors (Formerly Niblets)
Thanks so much for stopping by! Grab a goodie bag, stuffed today with an assortment of low-cost, high-fun educational trinkets….
• Bernie De Koven, that reclusive Jedi knight of the rejuvenile world, has a great Podcast in which he monologues about the meaning of fun and games. Most recently, he posted a terrific audio essay on “deeply played games,” which he defines as high-profile, popular games that function as theatrical events and sources for life lessons as much as competitive events. My favorite line comes from a bit about American football: “It’s the brash, energetic, puppy-like play of a young culture, a game of total engagement, barely kept within the bounds of play. It’s highly organized, thinly disguised play fighting.”
• Another day, another viral kickball video. “Alive and Kicking” is a funny short about one man’s induction to the world of high-stakes adult kickball. In a sort of amateur kickball answer to “Dodgeball: A Ture Underdog Story,” the movie includes a championship match against a team of cut-throat rivals and a grizzled old kickball vet. Thanks, Scorekeeper, for the link!
10.04.06 Rejuvenile foodstuffs
The highly entertaining food blog Slashfood has a nice post today about so-called “retro foods” – citing familiar examples like gourmet cupcakes and mac-and-cheese, but also pointing out that many adults now happily and unapologetically snack on Hello Kitty Pop-tarts or chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs.
It’s true that eating often unlocks long-buried childhood sensations. Abba Zabba, candy-covered almonds, alphabet soup – a single taste can unleash all sorts of eerie and sometimes quite wonderful sense memories. My own list is endless, but in honor of my daughter Eliza, who is doing “C week” in kindergarten school right now, here a few of my favorite “C” rejuvenile foods:
We all could probably come up with a substantial menu of favorite retro foods. What’s perhpas surprising, tho, is that so many of us are now not merely reminiscing; we’re reclaiming and reinventing these foods as adult fare. The upscale restaurant Campanile here in L.A. does an successful grilled cheese night on Thursdays; young professionals in Bloomington, Indiana feast on 30 varieties of cereal and gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the new Cereal Barn and Peanut Butter Café; and the lines continue to stretch outside gourmet cupcake bakeries like Magnolia in N.Y and Sprinkles in L.A....
Elsewhere on the Slashfoods site, there’s mention of two more faddish rejuvenile food items – frozen yogurt topped with Cap’n Crunch at the new Pink Berry chain, and a new twist on the sno-cone that’s causing culinary conniptions in Tokyo.
What about you? What are the foods that most reliably take you back? Tater Tots, Lucky Charms, Jello, Slurpees?
09.28.06 Counting the Disnoids
One statistic from the book still surprises me: half of the people who attend Disneyworld, Disneyland and the other Disney parks are adults without children. Half!
How do I know this? The notoriously uncooperative Disney publicity juggernaut declined to discuss park attendance with me, and independent trade data on park attendance is hard to come by. So I turned to a reliable, if unusual, source: a Fodor’s guidebook to Disneyworld written specifically for adults and apparently assembled with the cooperation of Disney.
Still, it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around the idea that half the people milling around the shadow of Cinderella’s castle are adults with nary a kid in tow. Even if you factor in those teeming masses of teenagers who qualify as “adults” (defined as any guest over 18).
A travel reporter for USA Today recently told me that Disney officials privately dispute the statistic quoted in the book, putting the percentage closer to a quarter. But they still haven’t released any concrete numbers, so as far as I’m concerned it’s still an open question.
I was at Disneyland over the weekend, and I made it a point to sit and watch the crowd go by – there’s no doubt that adults outnumber kids by far. There was no way to tell how many of these adults had come with kids, but it was clear from their wide-eyed expressions and the way they charged through the crowds that the vast majority of these grown-ups were happily giving themselves over to the Disney magic.
Pictured are snapshots of two pairs of adult Disney fans who I particularly enjoyed, spanning the cultural spectrum from cutting-edge urban hipsters to frumpy Midwesterners – worlds apart culturally, but joined in the common love of the land of Uncle Walt.
Posted at 11:25 am in 1 Comments
09.28.06 Kim & Jason, rejuvenile power couple
I had a nice long chat last week with a true power couple in rejuvenile circles, Kim & Jason Kotecki. Once upon a time, Jason was a struggling cartoonist in Madison, Wisconsin who, in an attempt to woo his kindergarten-teacher girlfriend Kim, drew a strip picturing them as wisecracking kids (thus echoing the origin story of Uglydolls, the phenomenally successful line of rejuvenile dolls that began as doodles created by art student David Hovarth for his girlfriend Sun Min). Today, the Kim & Jason strip is syndicated across the country and Jason is a successful speaker on what he calls “adultitis,” that nasty blend of stress, burnout and habitual thinking commonly confused with “maturity.” Kim is now full-time advocate in the burgeoning Kim & Jason cottage industry – in addition to public appearances, they collaborate on books, comics, e-cards, podcasts and an online store packed with such goodies as rubber duckies, ice cream-scented bath salts and T-shirts printed with the slogan “Adulthood Stinks.”
Their online “Lemonade Stand” also carries artwork and books created by the pair, including a sort of prescriptive answer to Rejuvenile, Escape Adulthood: Eight Secrets from Childhood for the Stressed-Out Grown Up. For an even more user-friendly how-to manual, check out their Escape Plan, a collection of 40 specific exercises designed to “help you safely and effectively treat adultitis.” Feeling a touch of adultitis? Try “drawing a funny picture and hiding it in an unexpected place for someone else to find.” Grumpy and overburdened? Drop everything and “eat or drink something that brings back childhood memories.” (Two words: Swedish fish).
I only wish I’d known about Kim & Jason while researching my book – they’re models for the sort of productive, conscientious adults who’ve made a childlike sense of play and wonder a top adult priority (and indeed an entire business model). And they’ve smartly avoided the naïve trap of celebrating childhood as a single-ingredient recipe for happiness – they appreciate the importance of responsibility and a strong work ethic. But that doesn’t mean they also can’t enjoy the occasional water fight or superhero movie.
The Podcast on which I appear includes some discussion of our shared hatred of Bratz dolls and the glories of the Easy-Bake Oven Gourmet cookbook. I have ambitions to implement the Escape Plan myself and will keep you updated on how that goes…
Posted at 11:13 am in 1 Comments