When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:11
A recent podcast of “View From My Sofa” nearly had me falling off the elliptical while listening to it at the gym. The humorist, actor, and noted intellectual Stephen Fry was being interviewed, ostensibly about his television viewing habits and favorite TV shows. In the midst of his many thoughts, he suddenly he took a verbal right turn to make a general observation that none of us are actually living in a grown up culture. Instead, we are all, and Fry includes himself in this generalization, infantilized.
Wait, what? How dare he. I’m a grown man after all, with a mortgage even. Speak for yourself, Stephen.
Fry offers two brief examples to buttress his thesis: (1) how commonplace it is now to see grown men get together and go to the theater and watch action movies; and (2) the number of adults who continue to consume “kid” foods, such as milkshakes, long after one’s childhood years.
“We no longer put away all childish things,” Fry observes. “Some people might even say that’s a good thing, too;” meaning that maybe it’s not such a bad idea to hold onto those things which offer us comfort.
He finished this particular strand by offering an analogy to what he sees is the virtue of adults occasionally acting childlike, though not childish: Fry posits that the small distance between joy and tears, as represented by a young child’s narrow worldview, is what adults thankfully step away from as they grow older and develop mature thinking patterns. It’s fine to enjoy something that’s geared more to young people… so long as one does it with an understanding that all other facets of one’s life are still monitored and maintained: obligations, relationships, etc. You are still an adult so you therefore have to behave like one.
“Ah,” I think to myself, while wearing my Dunder Mifflin t-shirt and still churning away on the elliptical. “He’s giving me a pass then.”
Or is he?
As long readers here know all too well, I’m the last person who will ever cop to acting my age. Gorgeous is an authentic example of a spouse who warily steps out in public each time with her significant other, never quite knowing the antics she’ll be forced to witness (i.e.: oh, and I suppose you’d suppress the urge to comment when the name tag on the supermarket cashier actually said Paige Turner?).
I suspect Stephen Fry isn’t really getting at behavior so much as he is the interests and activities adults choose to make. On that score, I’m hardly in the mold of those in the Greatest Generation.
My dad, a product of the Great Depression and himself a returning World War II vet, had no discernible outward interest in anything other than what would be described as “grown up” activities. He read at least two newspapers every day, three on Sundays; he liked to take walks; browse in department stores; and watch PBS mysteries. Late in life he collected antique coin banks, which he gleefully gave away to his grandkids and also the children and grandchildren of his friends. He held no emotional attachments to very much from his upbringing or his formative years. He never romanced the past, save the occasional Benny Goodman melody or an old black-and-white film he’d happened upon while changing channels.
What Dad would make of my own interests as an adult, I can only imagine. He would scoff at my continued interest in pop music and in buying CD’s and vinyl, especially those occasional special “anniversary” editions which now cost a fortune. He would also raise an eyebrow at how I buy new and used books online when the public library’s collection is free to use. That I’m paying for a handful of streaming services and also paying for cable tv offerings would be a complete and utter anathema to him. I’m also pretty sure he would object to the fact that we own two cars, one of which is financed, while I’m mostly retired and Gorgeous works from home.
But is any of that infantilized behavior? I suspect not.. I do offer the very plausible likelihood that it’s indicative of people who are comfortably middle class in their spending habits; not penny-pinching, though also not excessively squandering either. All of it, including our Amazon Prime membership for good measure, makes us — along with everyone else in our economic group– a composite Madison Avenue analyst’s wet dream.
I don’t think I actually tick any of Stephen Fry’s boxes in displaying non-grown up traits. For instance, I am not a part of any male posse flocking to blockbuster movies, nor am I particularly a fan of kid food. Gorgeous I’m certain would point to my devotion to the cloying but nevertheless — in my opinion– quite hilarious “Young Sheldon” sitcom, as further evidence that my sense of humor has never advanced beyond eighth grade (she’s wrong; it’s college freshman).
In fact television viewing, which was the impetus for Fry’s rhetorical right turn to begin with, remains a stimulator for my generation’s collective personality trait. Laugh-In, SNL, Monty Python, All In The Family, Only Fools and Horses (UK), etc., made us impressionable to cultural phenomena. Later generations were surely influenced by MTV, reality shows, and of course the internet. And on and on it goes.
Lest you feel defensive by anything I’ve written here today, please don’t. We’re all allowed a guilty pleasure or two now and then. I’ll even share one of my pudding cups with you.
Until next time…