The Rejuvenile Impulse

The Rejuvenile Impulse

Newly-minted terminology, however trendy, typically reflects some
socio-cultural phenomenon — real or imagined. Credit this season goes
to culture voyeur Christopher Noxon for defining one of the newer terms
being slung around by trend spotters from Santa Monica to Madison
Avenue. “Rejuvenile,” explains Noxon, refers to adults who “cultivate
tastes and mindsets” traditionally associated with children. However,
his book Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes and the Reinvention of the American Grown Up
reveals that the Rejuvenile is more akin to the adult who lives like a
self-indulgent teenager, unwilling to detach himself from his
adolescence. It may be interesting marginalia that ‘Boomerangers’ and
their Gen X offspring collect Japanese manga, indulge in a love of
Scooby-Doo, or wear superhero underoos. But more telling is that this
self-conscious regression and outright weirdness reflects the strident
unwillingness of so many to accept long-term responsibility, instead
treating life as a series of passing pleasures – a point that Noxon
bends over backward to (unsuccessfully) disprove.But we don't WANT to grow up!

Noxon does
give a nod to the oft-bemoaned evidence that adults are putting off
marriage much longer. Members of the urban, professional class now
commonly wait until their late-30’s before tying the knot. Even those
who opt for the rare 20-something wedding often defer childbirth for
another decade, waiting until the very last ticks of the biological
clock before attempting to squeeze in that single child with whom they
will eventually share their toys. The reasons for postponing
‘adulthood’ are many, but it often comes down to that Peter Pan-like
desire to maintain the frivolity and carefree spirit of their
privileged childhoods. Other married couples make a conscious decision
to remain forever “childfree” (the preferred euphemism for “childless”)
often out of a desire, at least in part, to continue living as
children. At the same time, kidults (“adults who take care of their kid
inside”) are living with their parents far longer than ever before. If
Noxon’s statistics can be believed, a whopping 38 percent of single
adults aged twenty to thirty-four still live with their parents.

It seems to me that The Weekly Standard’s Joseph Epstein had a point when he referred to rejuvenalia as “perpetual adolescence.” But it was National Review’s Florence King who I think hit the bull’s eye when she called it “arrested development.”

tries overhard to present the ‘findings’ of his anecdotal research with
PC nonjudgmentalism — he claims the term ‘rejuvenile’ is ‘value
neutral’ — but the book is so obviously a paean to youth consumer
culture even if its author can’t help but shake his head at the
extremists in the crowd: the childfree “Disnoid” couple, for example,
that spends one weekend each month roaming different Disney theme park
campuses throughout the world (they say they’re believers in “the
gospel of Disney”), or the thirty-something gal who skips down the
street on her way to the neighborhood whirligig.

didn’t spring up overnight. It has been evolving since the Good Day
Sunshine generation of the late-60s deferred adulthood until the Reagan
years. But this whole rejuvenile culture is now so accelerated in its
advanced stages that the phenomenon deserves to be classified,
analyzed, and critiqued. Though Noxon, like the microbiologist, is
sufficiently adept at analysis and classification, he lacks either the
desire or ability to provide a meaningful critique. Not for Noxon is
pointing a finger at the obvious ill ramifications of a Pee Wee Herman
generation of non-adults that lacks the seriousness to make the kind of
lifelong commitments necessary for fruitful marriage, family and
vocation. The alternative – hopping from job to job and date to date –
may seem fun for a while, but its ultimate destination is a dead end on
a one-way street.

In place of thoughtful critique or insightful
commentary, Noxon provides a sly built-in scoff (an old trick of the
trade) at anyone who doesn’t embrace – or at least tolerate – the
capricious youth-worship culture he chronicles. Social critics like
King and Epstein, who see the rejuvenile impulse as destructive,
regressive, and quite possibly a harbinger of the collapse of Western
Civilization, are pejoratively dubbed ‘Harrumphing Codgers.’ Apparently
it’s ‘way uncool’ to burst the Neverland bubble by pointing out that
these Perpetual Adolescents are too often confused, unfocused and
dependent, ill-prepared to face the basic demands of life as a bona
fide adult, even if the Rejuvenile happens to be, in his professional
life, a rocket scientist. (Yep, Noxon uses rocket scientists to boost
his thesis – they are, predictably, Legoland lovers.)

The right way to be young againOne
popular misconception Rejuvenile promoters like Noxon seem to nurture
is that “maturity” necessarily means chronic dullness, depression,
stress, and an inability to crack a smile. Ah, what balderdash! In
fact, maintaining one’s youthful enthusiasm is one of the great rewards
of having children of your own . Instead of joining an adult kickball
league (that’s where Noxon says he met his wife-to-be) or a Paintball
team, it’s the adult’s chance to “relive” childhood through the playful
lives of his or her children. That’s not to say that the adult returns
to acting with childish impulse as many ‘kidults’ do today; rather, it
means playing wiffle ball with your sons, riding bikes with your
daughters, running Tyco trains in your basement, flying remote-control
airplanes, building Lego spaceships, painting model cars, blowing
bubbles. When you have kids of your own, playtime is essential for the
children and beneficial for the parents, too. Doing all that “fun
stuff” without kids can easily devolve into self-indulgent silliness.
And that is Noxon’s one worry: that rejuveniles may, at some point,
“morph from fun and free-spirited to just plain pathetic.” But really,
Christopher, hasn’t that already happened? One need only point to the
middle-age man who zips to the shops for a fresh pair of footie
pajamas. Sheesh.

Post a comment