Adult enthusiasm for kickball, cupcakes, cartoons reflects seismic social change. Adults are now putting off marriage longer than ever (the average age of women at their first marriage was 25.3 in 2003, a historic high; for men it was 26.9); they are waiting longer to become parents (middle and upper classes are deferring childbirth ten to twenty years later than their parents); and living with their parents far longer than ever (38 percent of single adults aged twenty to thirty-four live with their parents). Meanwhile, the few remaining rites of passage that historically set adults on a new course in their life are fading or losing their meaning altogether. For some, this erosion of clear boundaries has created confusion and uncertainty. But for rejuveniles, it means a sudden lifting of sanctions that would otherwise discourage a sudden impulse to collect Japanese manga, indulge a love of Scooby-Doo, or develop a Necco Wafer habit.
It should be clear that this is not simply a Gen-X phenomenon. While the ranks of the rejuvenile are heavy with adults hanging on to juvenile pursuits into their thirties and forties, evidence of what British sociologist Frank Furedi calls “a self-conscious regression” is plentiful among adults in midlife and beyond and even among teenagers. Rejuveniles are young and old, male and female, American, European, and Japanese.
The fact is that today, adults who scoff at superhero movies, MTV, or the latest movie from Pixar risk coming off as snobbish, uptight, or—worst of all? out of touch. Some rejuveniles admit that their attraction to kid stuff is at least partially driven by a desire to stay young in a culture that equates being young with being cool and being old with being irrelevant. It’s a troubling notion, one that all rejuveniles at one point or another must come to terms with—that a lifelong barrage of media attention aimed at youth has created a cultural tractor beam, drawing older consumers back into the target market. By so lavishly fixating on youth, the market presents those who are no longer young with a stark choice: buy in or be forgotten.
The label rejuvenile, then, isn’t meant to be entirely celebratory, or for that matter pejorative. It’s value-neutral. Rejuveniles are geniuses, mavericks, oddballs, and crackpots. They can be lost souls whose taste for childish things is creepy at best. But they are also people whose refusal to give up cherished qualities of childhood has bettered themselves and the world.
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