July 25, 2006
“Rejuveniles” reinvent meaning of adulthood
By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES, July 25, Reuters - Mom is at a pajama party.
Dad is organizing a rock, paper, scissors tournament. Will they
ever grow up and start behaving like adults or are they part of
a new breed of "rejuveniles?"
Playful adults -- those who refuse to give up fun just
because they have a mortgage -- are redefining what it means to
be a grown-up in the 21st century, says writer Chris Noxon.
"Once upon a time boys and girls grew up and set aside
childish things. Nowadays adults buy cars marketed to consumers
half their age, dress in schoolyard fashions and play with
their children in ways adults of previous generations would
have found ridiculous.
"Most have busy lives and adult responsibilities. They are
not stunted adolescents. They are something new: rejuveniles,"
Noxon's book "Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes, and
the Reinvention of the American Grown Up" explores a world of
skateboarding moms, judges who visit Disneyland at least once a
month -- without kids -- and "playalong parents" who have as
much (and sometimes more) fun than their kids at watergun
tournaments, tag and dodgeball.
Cars like the VW Beetle and the Lego-shaped Honda Element
have gone cute, macaroni and cheese is back on the menu, and
the "Hello Kitty" cartoon cat grins on everything from toasters
Noxon, 37, discovered his own rejuvenile tendencies a few
years ago. "I had a couple of kids, a minivan, a mortgage and a
pretty high-stressed job but I didn't really feel like an
adult," the Los Angeles writer told Reuters.
Asking around, he found plenty of people who felt the same.
"So many of the people I talked to said there were huge parts
of them that felt pretty childlike, or childish. I felt I had
stumbled into a fairly dramatic shift in our understanding of
what adulthood is," he said.
In two years of research, Noxon found that half of the
people who visit Disneyworld are adults without kids, making
the theme park the most popular adult vacation destination in
the world, and more 18-34-year-olds watch Cartoon Network than
CNN or any other cable news channel.
Noxon says the trend is not confined to the United States.
In Britain, rejuveniles are called "grups" or "kidults" and in
Japan a thriving kid culture provides a stark contrast between
adult playtime and the serious job of work.
Noxon attributes much of the trend to the fact that people
are having children later, living longer and have more
disposable income. But youth culture along with the so-called
age of anxiety have also played a part.
"There are definitely people I talked to who admitted that
what they were doing was an attempt to stay relevant. When you
are surrounded by so much that tells you that youth is what
sizzles, when you fall out of that sweet spot, there is a sense
that you have to buy in or be forgotten," he said.
"There is a tremendous sense of uncertainty nowadays and I
think a lot of people tend to retreat back to a more childlike
place. There is no center anymore, the company man is a man of
the past. There is a sense that it is all up for grabs."
For Noxon, the term rejuvenile is value neutral, but he is
careful to distinguish between child-like and childish, calling
popstar Michael Jackson "the poster boy for the rejuvenile gone
Yet his book has touched a raw nerve among what Noxon calls
"harrumphing codgers" who see the rejuvenile as a threat not
just to the social order and their behavior as irresponsible
Ingrid Schlueter, a Christian writer and radio talk show
host in Wisconsin said she felt like vomiting after reading the
book's Web site.
"Adults in Underoos and footy pajamas, adults watching
'Teletubbies'? What this country needs is a really major
economic crash, the kind where people are on the sidewalk
selling pencils and their children have nothing to eat. Thank
God some young people are adult enough to drop the 'Sponge Bob'
videos and defend our country," Schlueter wrote in a blog.
Noxon counters that it is possible to "lead a happy and
healthy life that includes charity and kickball, G-8 summit
position papers and midnight cupcakes."
Children also have a lot to teach adults.
"They are better at learning languages, better at
make-believe, and better at saying what's on their minds when
it is on their minds. These are things that are uniquely suited
to helping us deal with change," he said.