There’s a somewhat baffling debate going on right now in my other online community (rationalists/lesswrong expats) about the concept of neoteny. prolonged childhood, which detractors claim is evident in the abundance of children’s media and other whimsical pursuits. By this coin, the blurring of children’s and adults’ interests (cupcakes, novelty prints, Marvel everything) is responsible for the immaturity, peter-pannishness, and general adolescent stridency of my generation. And I…don’t understand this viewpoint at all.
The main thing they’re missing, I think, is the idea that personality isn’t a package deal. There’s a significant difference between entertainment/aesthetic geared toward children and actual developmental delay, and I don’t see evidence that one leads to the other. It seems like the people making this argument are reaching for connections among traits they personally dislike in an attempt to pin their distaste on a single profile. And it doesn’t work like that. I’m the first to admit that immaturity, slacktivism, and a general shit-flinging sensibility are significant problems in media right now, but I don’t think that’s caused by ukeleles and cupcakes.
The decoupling of neutral traits from the associations they’ve developed is a good thing, I think. It frees up more people to dabble in interesting aesthetics and hobbies without the baggage of an entire lifestyle. Vintage is a great example: there’s nothing inherently socially regressive about pin curls and full skirts. They were popular in a restrictive time, sure, but not to unpack that association would be an insult to a perfectly lovely style.
And I think the blurring of age distinctions is great. Age categories are fluid and socially constructed, not immutable. I’ve never been a fan of segregating media by age, anyway. Art is art. Why restrict your enjoyment?
I’m all for mix-and-match identities. I don’t think the way you dress or the books you read have to say anything about you other than…you like those things. I know humans pattern-match and profile. It frustrates our lizard brains when we can’t put things into boxes. Given, though, that we’re no longer swinging from trees, I think there’s something to be said for consciously rising above those primitive impulses.
By some standards, I’m hella neotenous. I’m mired in neoteny. I like bright colors and balloons and flowers and omg!hyperbole. I wear Peter Pan collars and saddle shoes. I’m also a pinup, a published author, a student of comparative religion, and a horror fanatic. Someone who didn’t like me might attempt to solidify their distaste by pinning those traits into a “type”, but you’d have a hell of a time with that. People aren’t statistics.