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!
07.14.06 Big Pajamas and a Bigger Tent
The anti-rejuvenile rant of back-to-basics Christian Ingrid Schlueter has yielded some terrific feedback on HuffingtonPost. Two of those comments particularly got me thinking about the complex blend of ideals and neuroses at play in the rejuvenile impulse.
A reader who goes by the handle Seasalt raises a crucial point: that childlike adults are often far more productive and creative than more traditional, serious-minded grown-ups:
To which I naturally respond, Hallelujah! We rejuveniles are right to defend ourselves against the harrumphing codgers of the world, even if our protestations aren’t likely to change the minds of absolutists who believe at a basic, pre-rational level that kids should be kids and adults should be adults (or to quote the bumper sticker: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”) In the end, our happiness is our best revenge.
Another message came from a remarkable reader named Lil’ Vickie whose tastes for childlike things extends far beyond the occasional stress-relieving game of Lego or paint ball. Here’s what she had to say:
A transgender adult baby back-to-basics Christian? The mind reels. Still, the rejuvenile tent is a big one indeed. And Lil’ Vicky is right to point out the crucial distinction between childlike wonder and openness and childish impatience and intolerance – I deal with that difference at length in the last chapter of Rejuvenile. While I’m not a Christian and have a bit of evolving to do before I appreciate the appeal of adult babyhood, I’m pretty sure Lil’ Vicky has a better grasp on the essence of Jesus’ teachings than the aggrieved Christians so worked up over the book…
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.