Thursday, April 05, 2007

Privileging Perpetual Adolescence

This is an older post (by Michael at "twoblowhards") that I just stumbled on that addresses how the U.S. seems to privilege teen culture over all else.

Today, we take the importance of adolescence and teenagehood for granted. What's new these days, it seems to me, is the all-pervasiveness of teen taste and teen culture. The Boomers are probably responsible for this. The people who were once the very first generation of adolescents in all history to be a target-market -- who were made to feel special and catered-to culturally, whose narcissism ran rampant, and who learned to identify themselves as adolescent and proud of it -- are now running the country's cultural life. The culture is now being guided (to the extent it can be said to be guided at all) by people who know what it's like to be a ravished-by-commerce teen. They know what a teen wants, and how to sell to him or her.

After all, the adults who rode the teen-market wave in the '50s hadn't themselves had the experience of being a teenaged target-market. These culture entrepreneurs were pioneers, blundering their way in the dark. The people now in charge of popular culture, on the other hand, aren't pioneers. They're settlers, cultivators of an already-plowed field. Scary to think that today's teens will be even more expert at exploiting, er, serving the next generation of teens, isn't it?

These days -- what with our sentimentality about children, the PC educations we subject kids to, and the inescapability of media culture -- kids are stretching their adolescence out ever longer. Many move home to the parents' place after school; others enter into slumber-party-type living arrangments with other people their age. Few of them seem to know that there might be another phase of life (ie., "adulthood") to grow into. I find it a matter of cultural interest that many of these eternal-adolescents also have no interest in anything cultural that isn't based in the electronic media. Coincidence...?

Another consequence of these developments, it seems to me, is what's become of adulthood. Adulthood now looks sad. Having been crowded off the stage, adulthood mills about disconsolate and lost. Given that we now live in a country whose central values are adolescent, we've lost track of even the best adult values -- wit, grace, perspective, depth, suaveness, conviction, knowledge. In any sane civilization, these would all be regarded as virtues. In our country these days, such virtues often seem the marks of losers and failures. They seem kinda ... sad. Boring. Square. Adulthood? Get outta the way. Go sit quietly in the corner with your copy of Modern Maturity.

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