08.25.06 Rejuveniles and Lifespans
How long do you expect to live? When you imagine your death—at 30 in a fiery car wreck or at 90 in a comfy bed surrounded by adoring grandchildren—does this change how you live your life now?
Most people I suspect don’t give much thought to their eventual death. It’s upsetting. At the same time, our general expectation of how long we have left to live is a powerful influence on the choices we make and how we see ourselves. When we feel time is short, we tend to stop circling around and plop down in the available chair.
All of which helps explain one of the big “whys” of the rejuvenile phenomenon: Why are so many adults now acting like kids, whereas adults of 30 years ago leapt into fully adult roles the first chance they got?
I’m asked this question a lot, and mostly I talk about the role of the media in shaping identity and our response to an uncertain and anxious world. But one big factor that’s easy to forget is lengthening lifespans. Adults today can expect o live a full 30 years longer than they could a hundred years ago. Notwithstanding an anvil from the sky, environmental collapse or nuclear catastrophe, our lives appear to keep getting longer. Futurists quoted in a story on rejuveniles by Orange County Register reporter Jane Haas this week said some of today’s babies will live to be 125.
With the endpoint so far off in the distance, it’s no wonder so many of us are choosing to stay in formation and reject pressures to plunge into the permanent. Our increased lifespans have led developmental psychologists to rethink textbook lifestage categories, proposing that adulthood doesn’t even begin until 40 and that people between 55-75 are best described as “middle aged.” According to this new developmental thinking, you’re not “elderly” until you hit 95.
Then again, perhaps such projections are too academic to have any real effect. What do you think? When do you expect to die? Are you more of a rejuvenile because death seems so far off?
Posted at 10:28 am in 2 Comments
The modern lifespan thing is actually not as drastic a statistic as it seems. The biggest thing that improved mean life expectancy was lowering infant mortality. People 100 years ago who survived infancy were looking to live to around 70 or at least well past their 40’s.
125 is a highly dubious projection, given the health and eating habits of americans.
I doubt the rejuvenile phenomenon is a result of longer life expectancy.
Posted by Mike on 08/25 at 10:56 AM
No, I think that people are embracing a second childhood because the terrain of adulthood in the Third Millenium is a scary freaking place, and death is as real and palpable as the images burnt in our brains by the TV news on 9/11/2001 and 8/29/2005. (Hurricane Katrina is the second date for those for whom that date is not burnt into their cerebrums.)
The world is a more dangerous, scary place than it ever has been. Who the hell wants to be an ADULT now? People are looking for comfort wherever they can find it. What’s more comfortable than eating cereal out of a box on Saturday Morning in your footies at ungodly-o-clock? What’s more comfortable than a chocolate cupcake with rainbow jimmies? What’s more comfortable than a pair of Vans’ Off-The-Wall skater shoes, jam shorts and a faded old Led Zep T-Shirt?
We are becoming Rejuvenile because we crave what we lost as adults, and what recent history has taken from us. We are becoming Rejuvenile because death indeed lives on our shoulders now. For all of us, not just for Don Juan and Carlos Castaneda.
I am a geek, so much so that my identity online is “Ms. Geek” So many of the current Rejuvenile trends can be traced back to geek/nerd/Otaku tastemaker roots. And before this, to the Fandom that helped make Star Trek an institution and Sci-Fi reading material for a whole generation. Geeks and Otaku and Fannish Folk have always been the disaffected, the ones for whom the “mundane world” seemed colorless and a living tomb. None of us wanted to grow up because dammit, the grown-up world was screwed up. That’s what it seemed like from the perspective of someone whose formative years were bookended by Vietnam and the rise of Reagan. And the truth of the matter is that aside from a brief shining moment of Clintonian optimism as the dot-com boom galloped and freedom seemed to be on the move in places like Russia and Eastern Europe, it’s gotten worse and worse and worse.
People don’t leave Mom and Dad’s house because they want to stay there forever, unless you are an Italian male. People live under Mom and Dad’s roof here in the States because they can’t afford to strike out on their own.
People collect comics and lunchboxes and toys because it’s a cheaper thing to collect than antiques and Expressionist paintings. The Rejuvenile lifestyle is not cheap-cheap unless you do things yourself and resist the temptation to blow money on that DVD box set or that Parks Sabers Luke Skywalker replica lightsabre, but it’s a more econo lifestyle than others. Bling bling? Ka-ching. It’s indulgences that people with lowered expectations and living with the reality of downward mobility can afford.
We know we’re mortal. We know it will all be over someday. We dread the end but we dread the period before the end the most: the “assisted living facilities” and worse; the very real possibility of dirt poverty at one’s twilight years, of cat food in a Single Room Occupancy hotel room. We know we’re going to die and we know we are probably going to have a crappy old age. So why not postpone it all? Why not just cut out the boring, drudgy “adult” years and be a kid until our bodies don’t allow us to anymore?
There is a dark reality to which the Rejuvenile lifestyle is a reaction. Does that mean it’s dysfunctional? I’d say that people could choose worse and more maladaptive coping mechanisms than this.
The words of Tom Waits, in a song that could be an anthem for the Rejuvenile Nation, say it better than I ever could. Follow the link.
Posted by Michelle Klein-Hass on 08/25 at 09:35 PM