Kid Stuff

Steve Savage's most recent post touches on how his media choices, for a guy in his fifties, are atypical for the demographic. His claim is that some of us seem self-conscious of how our tastes need to fit some demographic profile — that even in this day and age, it still feels weird for guys in their fifties who make really good bank to be interested in, y'know, kid stuff. I've always found this attitude mystifying, but I get where it comes from. It's an artifact of something we're trying to outgrow.

For the longest time, there was this sense that certain interests and activities were supposed to correlate with, among other things, age. When you grew up, you stopped reading comic books, because there were allegedly "better" things out there to enjoy once you were old enough to appreciate them.

I had to scratch that one out by the time I myself grew up. And not just because there were counter-examples galore — e.g., tons of people reading comics as adults, and not simply as some hipster goof or because they were trying to break into the field, but in a sincere and devoted and curious way. It was also because a fair number of the things being offered as substitutes simply weren't what they were cracked up to be.

Now, don't misinterpret this. I'm not making an argument for X-Men over The Eternal Husband. I am making an argument for, say, Watchmen or Y: The Last Man over the latest piece of overblown high-profile book-award fodder. (I need to write down another essay I have in mind about why at this point any prominent book award is for me more of a danger sign than an accolade.) I'm saying, pop culture earnestly enjoyed is a better win for people than middlebrow pretensions or fake highbrow-dom. What happens when the former shades over into the latter is for another essay, but I think the basic idea stands.

Thing is, this attitude of "you'll outgrow it someday" is still prevalent, because, as Steve points out, we have this unchallenged assumptions of what grownups are supposed to do. Just as for far too long, we have had these unchallenged assumptions of what grown men are supposed to do, or what grown women are supposed to do. And now that those assumptions are finally being challenged, and many of them are toppling over like larches with the blight, it's taking some time and effort to replace them, and it's spurring resistance from people who have a lot invested in fulfilling their image of what a man (or woman) is supposed to be.

The whole way we talk about what we like and why is getting reassessed, and I think that's a net boon for reasons beyond sincerity of taste. When we shut up and listen to the other person about what they like and why, instead of second-guessing or dismissing them ("oh, they'll grow out of it"), we learn something about them that simply isn't possible by way of a prejudicial category. Guys aren't "supposed" to like Princess Jellyfish or Revolutionary Girl Utena or Sailor Moon, the same way girls aren't "supposed" to be interested in science and math and engineering. None of these things are grounded in anything but, as Steve suggests, a form of marketing — a way to assume things about the audience that are just true enough to make a buck from them, and to hell with the rest.

One area where I see a lot of this kind of nonsense thinking is the pseudo-sociology that passes for discussion about video games — that anyone who plays them with a degree of enthusiasm higher than whatever arbitrary level is deemed acceptable (which in some people is zero) has A Problem, or is Not Mature. It's yet another incarnation of a thing I see time and again, where people confuse symptoms with issues, and where some easy and tangible scapegoat is dragged into the town square and gibbeted up for all to jeer at. The only reason we still get suspicious of games is because they're the New Weird Thing, the way cinema was also the New Weird Thing once upon a time — so much so that at first people weren't even sure if movies were constitutionally-protected free speech.

I know I've said this before, but here we go again: Our society is in the process of shaking off ideas about maturity, adulthood, and socialization that favored putting up a good front over building connections to others, pretending strength instead of confronting vulnerabilities, ignoring how toughness and tenderness needed to be things everyone could have access to. The stuff we read and watch and listen to are only the smallest part of that, but we still have these lingering suppositions about what they think they say about us. And what we think they say about us is not very accurate.

Tags: media  society  sociology 

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2018/10/11 20:00.

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