It’s been dubbed a Peter Pandemic: adults determined to remain kids

AMY CAMERON August 2 2004


It’s been dubbed a Peter Pandemic: adults determined to remain kids

AMY CAMERON August 2 2004




It’s been dubbed a Peter Pandemic: adults determined to remain kids

HERE IS MY CONFESSION. Sometimes, late at night, I put on the tiny, sparkling T-shirt I wore to clubs when I was 21 and dance to Salt-N-Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sex. Occasionally, when I’m supposed to be working, I play The Sims computer game for hours—starting fights between lovers, buying new outfits for the gay couple and killing off characters by drowning them in swimming pools. I buy clothes in the teen departments of the Bay and Winners. I have a child’s pink plastic microphone in my shower. On weekends I’m

out until 2 a.m. with friends at the local pub.

I’m 32. Am I too old for this?

Over the past few years, researchers, marketing firms, gaming companies and social trend experts have paid more attention to what’s been dubbed a Peter Pandemic. You know, people in their 30s, 40s and even 50s who, to all intents and purposes, refuse to grow up. We’ve seen the extreme cases—the 35-year-old rollerblader wearing a belly shirt that reveals the enormous dragon tattoo on her butt cleavage; the father in his 50s who gets together with his pals once a year to drop LSD; the 44-year-old who spends hours sewing tiny sheets and duvets for her new dollhouse. But there are tamer examples, too. Men who spend Friday nights playing Grand Theft Auto III, or women out on “girls night” doing body shots off the hot young bartender.

In the dystopia conjured up by Margaret Atwood in Oryx and Crake, a new breed of perfect people die, without pain or illness, as soon as they turn 30. Today’s reality is perhaps even stranger: many people simply stop maturing intellectually or emotionally after they turn the big 3-0.

These “kidults” or “adultescents,” as the marketing industry calls them, now have an enormous impact on the economy. Music, film, books, games, clothing, even furniture are pitched with these Dorian Gray professionals in mind. There’s Diet Pepsi’s “forever young” campaign, for example, or the lite-beer-heavy-taste ads for paunchy professionals who want to guzzle like the lads they once were without getting bigger love handles. The Italian Web site caters directly to the new breed of overgrown teenagers with its motto, “Never stop playing.” Harry Potter

now comes with adult-friendly covers, while narcissistic heroines like Bridget Jones become pop icons. And the recent film Raising Helen, a disappointing effort starring Kate Hudson, revolves around a party girl in crisis. When her sister dies, leaving Hudson’s character the custody of her three children, she’s forced to choose between her fun and frivolous lifestyle and the heavy chains of responsibility (naturally, she blows the parenting bit—at first).

And things you’d expect to hold little interest for anyone over 25 are hauling in the oldies. At a showing in Toronto last month of the film Mean Girls, a smart teen comedy about nasty high-schoolers in competition with one another, the theatre was filled with groups of adult women. Not a teen in sight. The teen-dominated prime-time soap The O.C., meanwhile, is a huge hit with all ages.

The popularity of sitcoms about people

IT’S NOW up to us

to decide when we want to mature. Turning 25 or getting that first job no longer transforms us.

who’ve rejected all things serious, a.k.a. adulthood, also underlines this change in the traditional social fabric. Seinfeld. Cheers. Friends. It was fun while it lasted, but eventually the characters we loved had to change. Friends had babies and bought homes outside (gasp!) Manhattan. Buffy the Vampire Slayer grew up. Hell, even Frasier—after a son, a divorce, and a breakdown—finally accepted his adulthood. Once the characters accepted some responsibility, the shows had to

end. Growing up, these comedies seem to say, is a major drag, not worth watching.

As traditional markers for maturity disappear, parents and grandparents flounder while academics scratch their heads. Roderic Beaujot, a sociology professor at the University of Western Ontario in London, struggled with defining “youth” while researching his recent paper “Delayed Life Transitions: Trends and Implications.” Ultimately, he extended the age of adolescence to 34. “When you first talk about what age to use, it’s kind of a joke,” says Beaujot. “There’s no clear demarcation anymore. When I was a youth of the ’60s, however, the saying was never trust anyone over 30.”

The forever-young ethos is largely a product of the economy, Beaujot contends. People need more skills today to get cushy jobs with salaries hefty enough to support a family. As a result, young adults spend more time investing in themselves before, as the good professor puts it, “investing in reproduction—there’s been a loss of human movement towards responsibility.” In his research, Beaujot found that only six to eight per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 24 say they don’t expect to have kids, but because people now give themselves a narrower time window in which to do so, approximately twice that number will end up without children.

The threat of infertility is not enough to dampen the spirits of perpetual kids. “I can always adopt,” they say, and so they put off making babies until their careers are established and women have had enough fun to last them 20 years or so. Marriage, once the bastion of adulthood, no longer means the same thing. We were told in our formative years that “girls just wanna have fun,” and that it’s important to “party like it’s 1999,” and so many young marrieds continue to drink heavily, drop ecstasy and dance all night long. Meanwhile, we no longer have to wear suits and skirts to work—creative companies prefer creative types, so we yank on leg warmers and rugby

shirts and ride our scooters to the office.

Why would we want to grow up?

Despite my predilection for computer games and ’80s dance music, I consider myself to be mature (even though I cringe as I type the word). My extended teenage years died a quick, painful death when I signed the mortgage papers for my first house. Suddenly, I was an adult. I had responsibilities beyond paying rent and feeding my cat. I had to mow the lawn to appease the neighbours, fix the toilet to address the needs of my roommates and fight raccoons off the garbage. I owned something that was worth more money than I’d ever imagined. I was terrified. I wanted to crawl onto my mother’s lap and weep.

After a month of sheer panic, I discovered something surprising. I loved the responsi-

bility. Owning a home was actually liberating. I found myself uttering the words, “I’m investing in me,” while refinishing floors and installing a dryer. I could do whatever I wanted within my four walls. I could paper the bathroom in orange and fuchsia plaid. I could smash a hole in the dining room wall. If this was what adulthood was all about, bring it on.

Friends have had similar epiphanies. “I grew up once I had my first baby,” says a 32year-old chef and mother of two. “It wasn’t getting married or buying our house. It was once I took responsibility for another living being.” Another girlfriend says her “adult moment” happened when she tried on a tank top that was too small. “I looked at my jelly belly hanging out over my jeans and thought, ‘I’m too old for this.’ ” A close male

friend insists he’ll grow up once his Game Boy Advance breaks.

As technology moves ever faster, traditions break down. Growing up is one of them. It’s now up to us to decide when we want to become adults. Turning 25, or getting our first job, no longer transforms us. Getting married doesn’t mean settling down. And as long as there are beauty products out there to blast cellulite, remove unwanted hair or replace lost locks, and smooth wrinkles, at least a few of us will be drinking to get drunk at the fountain of youth.

In my grown-up opinion, that’s OK. Kidults are great entertainment. Now back to The Sims... lil

Amy Cameron is a Toronto-based writer who just completed her first book, Playing With Matches: Women’s Misadventures in Dating