Aaron R. Davis
I spend a lot of my free time these days on Tumblr, the latest social networking fad site. Mostly, it’s just sharing pictures. But, like a lot of social networking fads, it’s also unusually revealing.
If there’s one thing that Tumblr has revealed to me, it’s a terrible fear of growing up among today’s teenagers. Being a huge Disney fan, I follow a lot of Tumblr blogs that are Disney-related. And I end up running into a lot of people between 15 and 22 who just come across as terrified of growing up and letting go of their childhoods. Is this fear really so prevalent among the young?
If there is, I kind of blame my generation. We tend to be navel-gazers. We’re fascinated with ourselves and the way we were brought up. We love our toys and have problems getting rid of them. If they were sold in a garage sale the weekend we were out of town, we can be obsessive about them. We let toymakers sell us our childhoods back, and get touchy when Hot Topic sells our childhood to kids who “weren’t there” when The Goonies originally came out. We define ourselves by our pop culture loves. Not all of us have adjusted well and, on the surface, a lot of us look like we never grew up.
But here’s the thing: there’s a big difference between collecting toys and being immature. There’s a vastness between loving comic books and being illiterate.
On Disney Tumblrs, it looks like kids today love Peter Pan above all other Disney movies. I see a lot of Peter Pan stuff. And Peter Pan sentiments. They seem to really want to relate to a character that never grew up. They see him as a hero. There’s a line from a Jonas Brothers song that goes “Peter Pan and Wendy turned out fine.” I see that quoted endlessly.
The thing about that sentiment is: no, Peter Pan and Wendy really didn’t turn out fine. These kids seem to be laboring under the idea that Pan and Wendy got together and never grew up. But that doesn’t happen in the Disney movie at all. (And, frankly, I’m not a fan of that movie, anyway.) If you read JM Barrie, Peter Pan is kind of a tragedy. It’s about a boy who is so terrified of the idea of being an adult that he retreats into an imaginary world of fairies, pirates and mermaids. That alone is practically an allegory for insanity.
Barrie’s celebration of childhood actually reveals almost crippling fears of social interaction and responsibility and adult relationships. Pan is a tragedy because he’ll never love anyone, he’ll never move beyond this callow boy who is only worried about filling his immediate needs. He’s selfish and forgetful. Hell, Walt Disney hated him so much he turned him into an adolescent, defeating the purpose of the entire story.
Peter Pan is not someone to emulate or want to be.
Why do you think Wendy leaves to grow up? Because being a well-rounded adult is better than being Peter Pan.
The other lament, and this comes from all over the Internet, is when people see something that’s different from when they were a kid and say “I feel like part of my childhood just died.”
It’s called growing up. You should look into it sometime.
I want to puke whenever I see or hear that phrase.
You childhood is supposed to die. You’re supposed to grow and change. These are the natural processes of your life. You can’t be nine years old forever, and trying to be is pretty sad.
But as you grow up, you find ways to assimilate the things you like into an ever-changing life.
I think a lot of our problems come from the discord between the demands and responsibilities of adult life, and the strong desire to always be young and free of responsibility and to escape. So it makes change harder and harder to deal with if you’re the kind of person who runs from responsibility instead of just dealing with it. I understand because I’m often guilty of this, too.
What makes me sad is having experienced a lot of the problems that come from being afraid of responsibility but having to be responsible, and seeing others fall into this trap.
Someone who’s a Tumblr friend had a big blowout the other day with another user over the movie Avatar. My friend loved the movie; the other person had a lot of criticisms. And my friend just exploded. Instead of considering that there might be someone out there in the world who didn’t think Avatar was very good, and understanding that that fact doesn’t undermine or destroy or make any less his love for the movie, he went off about how the critic couldn’t appreciate a movie like Avatar because his inner child was dead.
I think it’s that fear of growing up that leads people to say something stupid like that. For my friend, it wasn’t a matter of taste, or a disagreement over what they both look for in a film, or an acknowledgment that people experience things differently, or an unimportant difference of opinion. He seemed to see it as an attack on his connection with his youthful feelings and his ability to enjoy things on the level of a child. Instead of “I disagree” it became “I’m sorry you have no heart because you have no connection with the child you used to be.”
There’s too much of that in this generation. And for the record, the critic wasn’t attacking my friend for liking it. He just felt it was too long and overly-familiar. His criticisms were about the movie itself, and my friend took it personally.
Look, nobody says you have to stop being a Disney fan to be a grown-up, and if they do, fuck them. You get to decide what adulthood is about. I think it’s important to be able to connect with your childhood feelings and loves. I still have action figures, I have Star Wars calendars, I have a Mickey Mouse watch and sometimes I love the Muppets more than members of my own family.
But I hate the sentiment that just because something’s different from when you were a child, experiencing something for the first time, that means your childhood is now dead.
YOUR CHILDHOOD STILL HAPPENED.
The only thing that can “kill” or “rape” your childhood memories is you devaluing them because you hated The Phantom Menace or because Frank Oz doesn’t work with the Muppets anymore or because Andy is a college kid in Toy Story 3 or DC Comics has ruined the continuity you loved.
I’m not saying you have to be happy with these things. You like them, or you don’t. Or you don’t mind them. You adjust to them, or you ignore them. You don’t spend 27 years of your life whining about the Ewoks.
Acting like your memories somehow never happened or a piece of your soul has died because someone didn’t like a movie you loved or because something’s different from when you were a kid or because you’re depressed that people expect you to be able to act like an adult … these are truly immature attitudes.
Like the things you like because you like them. But you have to grow up, too.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.