05.30.06 Rejuvenile Shame Game
The online rental service apartments.com has found a way to milk the shame of young adults who still live with their parents in an entertaining if cringe-inducing promotion aimed at finding the most “freedom-worthy adultescent.”
In a perverse rejuvenile twist on the old “Queen for a Day” shtick, the company is offering $20,000 to the young adult with the most pathetic tale of adultescent woe. Last year’s winner was a 22-year-old woman who shared a bunk bed with her 16-year-old sister. This year the finalists include a 24-year-old woman whose autistic brother blasts Barbara Striesand 12 hours a day. But my favorite has got to be Amber, a 24-year-old Floridian whose parents are comic book freaks – she’s being crowded out of her house by heaps of Captain America action figures.
It’s true that many adults who live at home live in a state of constant embarrassment. While I was interviewing people for the book, so many sources requested anonymity that I began to feel like I was writing about a shameful sexual habit or a top-secret military operation. I can understand the frustration of not being able to get out from under the roof of one’s parents, but I don’t think most adultescents have anything to be so embarrassed about.
The fact is that growing up is just plain more expensive than it was for generations past. Many young adults would be only too happy to “grow up”; they just can’t afford it. And to make matters worse, they’re made to feel like over-indulged hangers-on by elders who are insulated from entry-level tumult. And while it’s easy to characterize adults who live at home as moochers resented by their parents, study after study has found that most parents are happy to spend a few extra years with their kids and that adults often come out more secure and independent than if they were heaved out on their own the moment they turned 18.
So enough with the shame game. How about twenty grand for a well-adjusted adultescent and his welcoming parents?
05.24.06 Children’s nostalgia for childhood
Young adults who make a public display of their love of cupcakes or cartoons may be the most visible rejuveniles, but this is not, I’ve discovered, simply a fad among Gen Xers or Boomers clinging to their fast-fading youth. The impulse cuts across generations; it’s shared by retirees who hoard Disney collectibles and model train sets and card-carrying members of the AARP who join together for extreme sport holidays or pajama parties. And most curiously, the impulse is also found in teens and children.
High school punks who proudly (if ironically) wear Care Bears or Strawberry Shortcake T-shirts are rejuvenile; so are teen boys who maintain a love of kiddie comic books or pre-teen video games like Mario Brothers. Which begs the question: what are kids doing feeling nostalgic for childhood? Some are self-consciously bucking against peers who can’t seem to ditch childish things fast enough (a process known in the toy industry as KGOY—“Kids grow older younger”). Others may be motivated by the same impulses that drive adult rejuveniles – the need to reconnect with some more basic part of themselves.
Parenting expert Alfie Kohn offers a few more reasons. In his terrific book Unconditional Parenting, he writes about how disturbed he was to discover that his nine-year-old daughter was watching programs on TV meant for preschoolers (he doesn’t cite the show specifically, but my guess is he’s got a Teletubby fan in the house). Sitting with her while she watched, he realized that she wasn’t regressing as much as relaxing and mastering:
That same process is doubtless at work with adults who return to entertainment or leisure that’s “below their level.” On the one hand, such juvenile stuff gives us a much-needed breather; at the same time, it offers us an opportunity to analyze, predict and get outside experiences that otherwise suck us in.
05.23.06 Underwear for the Not Underage
It’s just plain weird to see a grown man in Underoos, the “underwear that’s fun to wear” favored by kids of the ‘70s and ‘80s. But it shouldn’t be surprising that Fruit of the Loom recently re-introduced Underoos in adult sizes, or that there’s been a run on “little boy underwear” among the fashion-conscious. After all, what we wear beneath our outer-wear is perhaps a truer expression of what really matters to us than what we present to the world. And more and more, what really matters to men is less about bunchy boxers than skivvies printed with fire trucks and superheroes.
Canadian underwear maker Ginch Gonch is doing a booming business in briefs printed with bright primary colors, high contrast piping and prints of everything from popsicles to frankfurters. The company has a perky, homoerotic ad campaign and a motto that cuts right to the quick: “live like a kid.” Others in the underwear biz, including Go Softwear, Unico and Fresh Pair have picked up on the trend, selling $50-a-pop briefs with cartoon prints and kid-style details. “This may not be something people are talking about – but they’re absolutely buying it,” an apparel expert told the website Brand Channel.
In related kiddie fashion news, retailers are now selling foot-attached pajamas in adult sizes – I bought a pair at Target a few years ago, and have since run across an online retailer that is entirely devoted to cashmere and flannel footies. I’d hoped that donning toddler sleepwear would instantly transport me back to a state of stuffed animal-like coziness, but the truth is they left me itchy and claustrophobic. For me anyway, footies are for kids.
05.22.06 Come Out & Play
I recently finished work on a magazine piece in which I traveled around the country going head-to-head with the most dedicated adult players of five choice kid games. I played tag in Kansas City, Mo., kickball in Norfolk, Va., rock paper scissors in Las Vegas, minigolf in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and a “watergun assassination tournament” in L.A. By the end, I was both humiliated and exhilarated and left with a profound new appreciation of the value of kid games for adults.
The experience also left me to wonder if the mysterious mass reclamation of kid games over the past few years would ever coalesce into something more unified. What if the tag players met the kickballers and the minigolfers? I began daydreaming about a national conference on kid games, a massive playdate for adults from all over to share their favorite pastimes and mix it up together.
Seems I’m not the only one daydreaming. Details are still sketchy, but a group of play enthusiasts has announced a three-day event in New York City to be called the Come Out & Play Festival. The festival isn’t geared toward kid games per se; the lineup so far favors more conceptual, technology-assisted street games like PacManhattan, I Love Bees and Conqwest. Organizers say they want to help promote the natural evolution of streetgames like stickball and scavenger hunts, games that transform cities into gameboards and “combine the virtual and real.”
Count me jazzed. Come Out & Play promises to be an amazing opportunity to sample a new form of gameplay with a group of highly creative playful adults. Four months and counting…
05.19.06 Dolls for the Eldery
OK, this is just sad. Japanese toy giant Tomy has begun marketing a talking doll to the so-far underdeveloped market of lonely old ladies. Tomy’s big-eyed, button-nosed dollie feels like a small infant when cradled and comes with a tuft of tawny hair, a pink nightie, and a sound chip that says “I love you.” The objects of all this undying affection: women over the age of 60.
Toy executives say the doll is one of many new toys created in response to the rapidly falling birth rates in Japan; with the juvenile market shrinking, the toy industry is going after older consumers. “We’re redefining the definition of toys,” the president of toy company Takara told the BBC. “We go for teenagers, we go for people in their twenties and thirties, we go for housewives, families and for older people too.”
I’m all for the adult rediscovery of toys, but here’s where my boosterism is drowned by waves of discomfort. Tomy executives claim the dolls are bought by elderly women who “think the dolls are actual grandsons and granddaughters.” Something might have gotten lost in the translation, or this could just be marketing hyperbole, but it’s scary any way you parse it. Toys can be fun, invigorating, stress-relieving and creativity-enhancing when rediscovered by adults, but I think we can all agree they shouldn’t be substitutes for flesh-and-blood relations.
Beyond that, I’ve got a major problem with any toy – or for that matter, any form of entertainment – that plays so fast and loose with the phrase “I love you.” This is one of the main rationales behind the strict No Barney Rule at my house. Apparently, kids don’t seem to take offense when Barney prattles on about how much he loves them, but I swear every time he opens that furry mouth of his and utters yet another unearned intimacy, I’d like to kick him in his big purple nether-regions.
05.16.06 Play therapy, Jersey style
Can’t say I’ve ever thought of New Jersey as a particularly playful place – I’m more likely to think of thugs or casinos than clowns or carnivals. The Jersey Shore Alliance seeks to correct that perception with a million-dollar marketing blitz aimed squarely at the rejuvenile market.
The Jersey Shore: Your Play Therapy! is a web-based campaign that promotes the region as a “therapeutic environment where people can pack in all the playtime they need.” On a website that includes a nifty online game of skeeball, the Jersey boosters proclaim, “People are meant to play. We have an inherent need for fun and excitement. But most people don’t take the time to play enough. This causes problems. Like stress. Boredom. Insomnia. And chronic crankiness.”
Agreed. I’m not entirely convinced, however, that a long weekend in Red Bank or Ashbury Park would fulfill the playful impulses of cranky, stressed-out adults. My guess is that rejuveniles are more likely to get their kicks at Disneyworld (armed with Rita Aero’s Walt Disneyworld for Adults), a baseball fantasy camp or toy convention. My own pick for the ultimate rejuvenile vacation spot is Tyler Place, a homey resort in northern Vermont that offers adults all the joys of summer camp (Arts and crafts! Mountain biking!) without the ubiquitous bullies and insufferable sing-alongs that made summer camp such a dicey proposition as a kid.
05.15.06 Eau de Play-Doh
‘What better way to celebrate the 50th birthday than by bottling the scent for adults everywhere to enjoy as a reminder to their youth,” said a Play-Doh mucky-muck.
Ridiculous, of course. But also kind of awesome. After all, high-priced perfumes often advertise overtones of baby powder, bubblegum, marzipan, ice cream or even Band-Aids (exhibit A: Luctor et Emergo, a $165-a-bottle “cult fragrance” often compared to Play-Doh). Play-Doh cologne works the same magic without all the fancy-pants European pretense. And best of all: it’s just $19 a bottle.
News of Play-Doh cologne has prompted a hilarious conversation about the enduring appeal of Play-Doh on the Slashdot message boards; someone even unearthed the original patent application to reveal the closely-guarded recipe. Could it be that the secret appeal of the Play-Doh scent is borax?
05.14.06 March of the ‘Man Babies’
The Orange County Weekly has a cover story about so-called “Man Babies,” adult men who are “held in an internal stasis; they age, but they do not develop as much as repeat.”
Writer Chris Ziegler was inspired to coin this latest neologism (see also: grup, kidult, twixter, and, oh yeah, rejuvenile) after observing dads and their sons at a local mall dressed in identical baggy jeans, floppy T’s and “fat marshmallow tennis shoes.” The story is mostly about how dramatically the adult male dress code has changed from masculine and formal to boyish and casual. Men who a generation ago would have never left the house without a coat and spiffy shoes are now showing up at work in Quicksilver shorts and flip-flops.
Ziegler includes a few chin-strokey remarks from yours truly, along with a terrific interview with a marketing exec at OP, the sportswear manufacturer famous for its laid-back Jeff Spicoli aesthetic. The most faithful OP customers are guys aged 15-24, but the brand also enjoys a loyal following among men over 35 who simply never “grew out” of OP.
I’m not crazy about the “Man Baby” moniker, of course. The men he’s describing don’t seem particularly babyish – more like Man Teens. Beyond that, I wonder why he left women out of the equation – what about all the mall rat moms running around with Forever 21 capris and Hot Topic T’s?
05.12.06 Rejuveniles back in the Times
A few eons ago (August 2003, actually) I wrote a story for the Sunday New York Times about what I called “a new breed of adult.” It was an outlandish idea, but it grew out of an honest attempt to understand a number of strange, surprising cultural currents I felt swirling around me. I wondered about the cross-generational appeal of Harry Potter and SpongeBob SquarePants, the adult rediscovery of games like kickball and minigolf, the sudden popularity of cupcakes as gourmet treats, the number of twenty- and thirtysomethings who still lived at home and the ascendancy of parents (myself included) who played and bonded with their kids in ways that I was certain would have been considered ridiculous a generation ago.
These were not stunted adolescents, I was sure. They were something else: rejuveniles.
It’s especially gratifying, then, that I’m back in the Times this Sunday writing about many of the same ideas, just a few weeks before the book is published. And doubly gratifying to launch this website and blog to continue the conversation.
The Times story isn’t about rejuveniles per se, but it touches on a few central themes – it’s about the blurring of age norms in big-budget Hollywood movies, and how in contrast to the “family” or “kid” movies of yesteryear, today’s would-be blockbusters define a new cultural space, in which traditional notions about age mean little. In an age when more adults than ever flock to the latest from Pixar, X-Men 3 or Superman Returns, filmmakers are now working hard to probe for the child in the adult and the adult in the child.
I had a chance to talk with filmmakers Bryan Singer, M. Night Shyamalan and Jared Hess, who shared their thoughts on what Singer called “the intense pressure of trying to make a film that plays 8-80 but isn’t so soft it alienates the 8-13’s.” We also talked about their own conception of adulthood and what it means that so many grown-ups are now so entranced by movies that on the surface appear designed for kids. I’ll post more of their thoughts here in the coming week.
In the meantime, welcome. I hope you’ll stop by here often and add your comments (or better yet, fill out a questionnaire and post your picture in the Profiles section!). I can’t tell you how excited and gratified I am to share these stories and start what I hope will be a long and lively conversation.