We are witnessing the rise of the child-adult state
October 10, 2016
When I was a young boy, I couldn’t wait to grow up. Oh, sure, I liked being a kid. Heck, I had virtually no responsibilities, and lots of toys. Then again, there was all that pointless homework to do. But the world of adults just seemed so much cooler. They could drive. They had money. They got to stay up late. They could watch anything they wanted on TV, and could have anything their hearts desired. Right? And no one told them what to do.
Or at least that’s how I saw it.
Then again, I admit that I was a bit of an oddball as a kid. You see, I wasn’t rebellious. I was pretty straight-laced. I worked hard in school. I even buttoned the top button on my shirt until I was in my teens. I didn’t swear. I didn’t drink, or do drugs. And I admired most of the adults in my life… the intelligent and reasonable ones anyway. I respected and trusted my parents without question, and never (well, hardly ever) felt that they were unfair or unreasonable. Like I said, I was a bit of an oddball.
If I was punished, I knew it was because I deserved it. Of course, I would never have openly admitted it, but deep down inside I always knew when I had crossed that line into improper behaviour, and that I should have known better. It’s just that sometimes uncontrollable impulses dictate a kid’s actions, and I was just as guilty of following my wanton impulses as the next kid. But I rarely, if ever, felt that my parents weren’t justified in withholding my allowance, or grounding me, or confining me to my room. No matter how much I might have grumbled about it.
Mind you, to this day I still think my mom went too far when she threw out my stack of DC and Marvel superhero comics just because I pilfered a dirty magazine from a variety store. Because that was a punishment that has lasted a lifetime. I mean, do you have any idea how much those comic books would be worth today?! They’d be worth a fortune, that’s how much!
But I do digress.
Besides my parents, I also respected my teachers. Oh sure, some of them really were kid-hating control freaks who would later serve as “what not to do” examples when I myself became a teacher later on in life. But to me, many of the good ones were not merely my academic instructors, but were my personal role models, and even mentors. My grade 6 teacher, Ross Caldwell, encouraged my music, and probably single-handedly had the most influence on my adult life. And my grade 7 teacher, Lorne McEvoy, demonstrated a strength of character and integrity that left a lasting impression on me, as to how one should aspire to act as an adult.
Through their guidance, council, and example, my parents and teachers, and countless other adults, helped establish my early belief that the world was filled with good, honest, intelligent adults who deserved the name we kids used to describe them… “grown ups”. Because that’s what they were. Of course, they’d once been kids, but as a result of their years, their life experiences, and something inside them that one might call “character”, they’d each matured into an adult worthy of the proud title “grown up”.
So I couldn’t wait to grow up to be just like them, and to shake off all the silliness and limitations of childhood. Sure, I liked being a kid at the time, but like I said, I was different. I honestly longed to live in a world of people who thought about what they said, who said what they meant, and who had a strong moral compass… though it would take me years to master those honourable traits.
Okay, I admit that it’s quite possible that I may have given some adults more credit than they deserved. But I wasn’t naive enough to believe that all adults were paragons of virtue and maturity. Many of my friends had one, or more, alcoholic parent. And some of them came from broken or abusive homes. Though, when you’re a kid, you just figure that’s their parents’ problem. If only I’d known the truth back then, I might have been a little more sympathetic to the challenges those friends faced.
And then there were the goofy adults who acted like perpetual children. Those adults were actually kinda fun to be around. I mean, who wouldn’t like an uncle who enjoyed fart jokes, laughed at the 3 Stooges, and let you stay up late whenever he babysat? After all, we figured he only acted like that so we’d like him. I mean, he was an adult, so he no doubt got serious and acted responsibly when we weren’t around, right?
To me, most adults knew the score. They knew how far they could go with being silly before they needed to reign it in and declare, “okay, that’s enough, time to settle down, wash up, and go to bed”. Every party has a pooper, and even the coolest adults would eventually don their “grown up” caps and start acting mature again. But that was okay with me, because I admired them. Those kinds of adults, after all, were just doing their jobs… they were taking care of us kids, while still being fun. They were looking after us and keeping us safe. They were the drivers in life, while we curled up on life’s backseat and watched the early years of our lives roll by without a care in the world. Adults took on the burden of all that responsibility, and uncomplainingly accepted their roles as our providers and protectors with dignity and integrity. The good ones, anyway.
In my world, real adults didn’t swear. They didn’t lie. They didn’t say bad things about others, especially if those others were different from us. They were true to their word, and respected authority. They paid their bills and taxes. They showed respect for others, and didn’t spread rumours. They were fair. They were dependable, and could be relied on to do what they said. To me, the world of adults was (mostly) a place of high ideals and trustworthiness. And I couldn’t wait to join their ranks, and leave childhood behind.
Sure, growing up in a working town, I was very aware that many of my friends didn’t share my faith in adults. In fact, to them, adults were the enemy. Adults, they asserted in no uncertain terms, were unfair and often brutal liars and power-hungry control freaks who did whatever suited their purposes, and didn’t give a damn about their kids. While these kids might not have had clean clothes, much food to eat, or even a warm dry house to live in, the adults in their lives typically found the money for new cars, and booze. And, to these kids, teachers were no different and no more worthy of admiration or respect than were their parents.
These kids hated school, and everything it represented. Many of them even hated the teachers that I admired, and no amount of convincing on my part could persuade them otherwise. Essentially, they hated all authority, and rebelled against it at every turn. To them, the “establishment” (as my generation called it back then) was as crooked as a snake’s trail.
And, these kids swore. They swore a lot! Their words boiled over with venom, and spite, and a viciousness that I couldn’t relate to. I often wondered why they irrationally hated so many things, and so many people. I mean, they were kids, right? What was there to be so angry about?
Often, adults say that kids who come from abusive or dysfunctional homes tend to “grow up too soon”. I think they say that because those adults see the sadness and despair in the eyes of those kids, and mistake those emotions for maturity. But I think they’re wrong. I see those kids as resenting the adults who deprived them of their childhood. And, while I personally couldn’t wait to become an adult, those abandoned kids can’t wait until they’re old enough to tell all the adults in their lives to go screw themselves, while they go about trying to reclaim their lost childhood, albeit in their now grown up bodies.
And it’s not just abused kids who refuse to mature, or who’ve been denied the opportunity to mature. Kids with few grown up role models often fall into this category too. As do spoiled kids who’s every whim and want is catered to by one or more doting parents or caregivers, and who grow to feel that the world revolves around their every selfish desire. It would appear that a few exemplary role models, some character-building childhood struggles, and a bit of healthy self-denial and sacrifice, are essential for a successful maturing process. Denied of supportive adults, and enough challenging life lessons, a person can become locked in a state of perpetual narcissistic childhood.
This adolescent deprivation has led to what experts now recognize as a large generation of essentially grown up kids… people who live in adult bodies and carry on adult activities, but who possess the minds, spirits, and immature willfulness of children. It’s called Immature Personality Disorder (think Beck Bennett’s man-baby sketches on SNL). To most people who have matured normally, these “kidults” (as a recent TV commercial calls them) can be a perplexing and frustrating group of people to deal with. Because, although they may look like responsible grown ups, they act and react immaturely and irrationally, with all the cranky petulance, unreasonableness, and self-indulgence of children. They are a difficult group to work and socialize with, because they cling to unfounded and emotionally-charged opinions, and stubbornly refuse to listen to facts and reason.
And this kidult condition is not as rare as you might think. In fact, you can find people like this almost everywhere. Millennials even have a name for acting mature and responsible… they refer to it as “adulting“, and they smugly claim to be neither good at it, nor even moderately interested in it. Because it’s all too boring for them. As the Church Lady might say, “Well now, aren’t they special?”
But this phenomenon is not a new thing. We’ve seen evidence of it for years. Advertisers appealing to the “kid in each of us” to make sales. They do this by catering to our wants, not to our needs. They use bright primary colours in their ads. They pump up the volume. They trigger adolescent impulses by using commercial jingles that sound like childish ditties, not unlike the nursery rhyme tunes we sang as kids. In fact, many pop songs are also like this. Just listen to any song by Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Maroon Five, and others. The underlying melodies running through their hits are like those simple jump-rope tunes we sang as kids on the playground. In fact, today’s fashions and music have all the maturity of cotton candy, caramel corn, and pb&j sandwiches. It’s all meant to appeal to a kid-like sensibility, with its lack of self-control.
And just look at today’s young fashion models and entertainers, and how child-like they appear. The high forehead, full pouty lips and oversized front teeth, widely-spaced bright eyes, the tiny upturned nose and small tight chin, the long lanky legs, waif-like figure, and face framed in bushy hair to make it appear smaller. Consider trend-setting personalities like Elle Fanning, Sarah Hyland, Gigi Hadid, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Felicity Jones, Zooey Deschanel, and countless other female stars who are in their 20s (or even older), but who are styled and made-up to look like young teenage girls. In fact, in Europe there are many controversial fashion models who are barely in their teens, some even younger. And those American “Little Miss” beauty pageants make no apologies about this questionable child-baiting. It’s all aimed at appealing to youthful fantasies and desires.
Why? Because it sells. Madison Avenue recognizes that a part of many of us (some more than others) has never grown up, and can be easily manipulated in order to suck cash from our wallets and purses. As a result, we’re bombarded with a deluge of “adult” toys and trinkets that we don’t need, but that we’re made to want desperately. We buy bold new fashions to make us look younger, and expensive sleek cars to make us go faster. We buy massive pickup trucks or noisy motorcycles to make us feel tougher, and frivolous electronic gizmos to keep ourselves amused. We take our precious little princesses and pirates to Disney World, when it’s really we who want to relive our youths in Fantasyland. We buy guns because we want to continue playing some childhood game of cowboys & Indians, cops & robbers, or GI-Joe and Rambo. Just witness the popularity of paintball and laser-tag parks. Even the latest movies are based on the cartoon and comic book characters we grew up with. In fact, adult comic books, or “graphic novels” as they’re now called, have become a mainstream literary form. We’re essentially living in a world frozen in a state of perpetual childhood.
Today’s advertising for adults in magazines, on TV, and online is no different from any of those loud and annoying kid commercials that pop up on TV right after Halloween. Ads that shamelessly push colourful beaded jewelry and sparkly clothes, sugary sweets and treats, aggressive and boisterous games, toy guns, and macho or sexy action figures. And it’s the adults who buy this crap for their kids… because it’s the kind of junk they would have wanted for themselves when they were kids… and still do. Truth is, there’s a huge demographic of adults out there who never truly grew up, and who still respond to provocative images, videos, and messages just like they did when they were kids. Advertisers know this, and are unapologetically and lucratively tapping into this “grown-up kids with bucket-loads of money” market.
Okay, that’s all well and fine. If this phenomenon of a generation of aging Peter Pans and Tinkerbells was confined to just the purchases they make, then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. After all, it’s their money, and they’re entitled to indulge their puerile desires as they wish. But, unfortunately, there’s far more to it than just marketers appealing to the wanton, stubborn, greedy kid in all of us. In fact, it may actually threaten our future… a future that we assumed would be safely and securely in the hands of responsible grown ups. Because it soon may not be.
You see, Donald Trump is one of those self-centred child-adults (again, think Beck Bennett’s man-baby character), and he is trying to harness that widespread “kidult” demographic for his own political, power-hungry, and ego-boosting aspirations.
Throughout his campaign for the presidency, Trump has stood at the podium acting like – and trying to appeal to – the spiteful, suspicious, adult-hating kid inside millions of kindred supporters. Immature people who hate anyone they consider part of the controlling establishment they content is forcing them to act like responsible adults. People who never outgrew their adolescent troublemaker tendencies, and who now find themselves with a strong leader who apparently thinks and speaks just as brashly as they do – a man who defends their angry, rebellious views, and who assures them that he wants the same things they want, and thus claims to “speak for America”. Yeah, right!
Trump is cleverly reaching out to these people in a manner more familiar to the young than to any 70 year old fuddy (I’m sure he’s been coached on this). Instead of running expensive TV ads, like a social-media groupie he’s been stoking the nation’s collective outrage with cheap sound-bite Tweets, distancing himself as his opponents react to his vile lies and insinuations, even as his followers draw their energy from his inflammatory words. If challenged, he denies responsibility, saying it was only a joke, or that he was misunderstood. In that way, he’s cleverly employing the tactics of cowardly Internet trolls, by attacking his opponents with caustic words and cruel invective in order to further stir up the raving hatred that fuels his campaign. It’s the same technique used by mean-girl teens to destroy the character and reputations of their rivals and enemies.
This “big kid” leader promises that, when he gets into power, he’ll put an end to the controlling and corrupt “adult” monopoly. To get his way, this big tough kid uses the tools of any garden-variety childhood hooligan, including bad language, crude humour, rudeness, bragging, disrespect, vulgarity, and blatant lies. And his followers absolutely love him for it, because he reassures them that thinking and acting on their more primal and childish impulses is totally acceptable. Through his actions, words, and tantrums, Trump implies that, like them, he too has come from a dysfunctional background, so they figure this makes him one of them. In Donald Trump they have found themselves a big, orange saviour. He’s their new Peter Pan.
And this new Peter Pan promises to destroy crooked Captain Hillary – I mean Captain Hook – on their behalf, so that the kids can take over the island, and finally run things their way.
It would all be quite comical, and perhaps a bit sad, were it not so serious and ominous. Because we must ask ourselves… in today’s volatile global climate, do we really want the USA to turn into Never-Never Land? Do we really want a nation run by Peter Pan and his lost boys (and girls)?
On the other hand, you might think this is all just nonsense, and question whether this is something that you really need to be concerned about?
I mean, even if it’s true, we traditionally cut kids some slack for their immature behaviour, don’t we? We know that, in any crowd of adolescents, there will always be a few class clowns, cheats, potty mouths, braggarts, bullies, liars, schemers, perverts, racists, sadists, misogynists, and vengeful thugs. And sure, occasionally, there will come along one particularly troubled and wayward youth who will alarmingly exhibit all of these depraved characteristics. But we have faith – or at least blind hope – that most of these troubled young people, even the extreme ones, will outgrow their negative and destructive ways over time, and will eventually mature into respectable and responsible adults prepared to fit into civil society. And we shake our heads sadly at the ones who never learn to outgrow these nastier childhood traits, because we know that they, and the people close to them, are in for a rough ride.
So isn’t there still hope that this won’t happen in Trump’s case? Isn’t it possible that voters will come to their senses before election night? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Since Trump first began his run for the Oval Office, things have only gone from bad to worse. His lies and rhetoric have only gotten more outrageous. And, after the debacle of his “locker room talk” video, and the second presidential debate last Sunday where he skulked and loomed behind Hillary Clinton like some foreboding spectre, all indications are that Trump is now about to roll up his sleeves and step up his crazy act to even more outlandish and repugnant levels. He has warned us that, because the GOP faithful have turned their backs on him, “the shackles are now off”. He truly is an unrepentant lost boy, unfettered and unchained.
How sad and alarming it is to see a grown man-child running for the presidency of the United States of America. Even more so when we see that he has garnered millions of like-minded supporters who not only defend his increasingly inflammatory words and actions, but who actually laud and imitate his antisocial, hateful, racist, and misogynistic views and ideals. *
And the fact that this despicable and ludicrous man is running on the Republican ticket is almost inconceivable. I truly weep for the once noble and respected GOP. It will take them decades to recover, and to put this shameful embarrassment behind them… if it doesn’t destroy them first.
So yes… yes we do need to be concerned about what’s happening. We need to be concerned that the USA may become a global superpower run by a petulant and dictatorial child. We also need to be concerned that a wide-spread child-like mentality has been unleashed on a national scale. And, most of all, we need to be concerned about what kind of role model a man like Donald Trump will be for our young people. I assure you, he won’t be a good one. Maybe we’ll wake up and take notice when “pussy groping” starts occurring with regularity in our primary school playgrounds.
There’s an old saying that goes “America gets the president it deserves”. Think about it.
I’m just sayin’
* We all know that the behaviour of wild boys is often admired by their young peers. Perhaps it’s because these hellions seem to have shaken off the controlling influence of their adult overlords. And such defiance seems cool to us at the time. But this admiration usually only lasts for a short while, as we ourselves mature. Once the backlash of this wanton behaviour is revealed – once we witness the collateral damage and the side effects of this destructive behaviour – we usually turn our backs on these onetime heroes. Or, if we have a good heart, we kindly take them under our wing and attempt to help them learn the errors of their ways. But I’m afraid that a 70 year old self-centred billionaire “kidult” is beyond redemption at this point. Trump is no “grown up” by anyone’s standards, nor is he showing signs of ever acting like a grown up. So take my advice, America – it’s too late for him, so take the necessary steps to save yourselves and your country. The future of your nation is in your hands.
Personal Note: Please America… in the name of all that is holy, please stand up for decency, and do the right thing. Despite what you might think of Hillary Clinton, do not elect Donald Trump into public office! Your fellow countrymen, and your precious children, deserve better than to have a self-confessed degenerate like Trump as their next president.