The infantilization of the U.S.: more adults are behaving like children today.

Paul Sheldon pointed out to me a recent op/ed piece published in the New York Times by an Oregon high school senior, who tells of the many times in visiting college campuses that she heard the tour guide compare some aspect of the school to Hogwarts, which I understand is the imaginary school for apprentice practitioners of supernatural arts in the Harry Potter children’s books. 

Some examples of what Lauren Edelsen encountered:

  • “…he points to a nearby field and mentions the sport students play there: a flightless version of J. K. Rowling’s Quidditch game — broomsticks and all.” (Middlebury)
  • “…the admissions officer compared the intramural sports competitions there to the Hogwarts House Cup.  The tour guide told me that I wouldn’t be able to see the university’s huge freshman dining hall as it was closed for the day, but to just imagine Hogwarts’s Great Hall in its place.”  (Harvard)
  • “…a tour guide ushered my group past a large, wood-paneled room filled with comfortable chairs and mentioned the Hogwarts feel it was known for.” (Dartmouth)

And on and on about other pretty laughable, if pathetic examples of colleges touting their Potteresque qualities. 

First off, hats off to Lauren for expressing her disappointment that the schools were connecting to children’s literature to sell themselves.  Universities should be creating free-thinking adults, not indulging the passions of childhood.

Now to put the information presented in this article into a broader context, which is the infantilization of American adulthood over the past 40 years.   Infantilization means to make someone into an infant in appearance or behavior, in this case, for adults to retain the habits and predilections of childhood which are in fact made for children.

I’m talking about adults in late 20th century and early 21st century America behaving like children and enjoying the entertainments of their childhood.   Some examples:

  • Disney’s EPCOT Center, a theme park for adults, opened in 1982 and since then the growth in popularity of all theme parks among adults has skyrocketed.  It is absolutely amazing how many adults now go to theme parks for vacation.
  • Around the mid-70s, there began a wave of children’s movies for adults, starting with the “Star Wars” and the Indiana Jones series.  Other children’s movies for adults are the movie versions of situation comedies for children such as “The Brady Bunch.” (But I’m not talking about “The Simpsons,” which like “Gulliver’s Travels” and “Huckleberry Finn,” is an adult entertainment that children can also enjoy.)
  • The hundreds of computer games for adults.
  • Glorified fast-food chains serving alcohol with video and other games for adults, such as Dave & Busters.
  • The intervention of parents into the play lives of their children, e.g., over-organization by parents of all activities of children.

There is also some infantilization in the growth of experts to help us manage our lives such as closet consultants, professional organizers, party planners, life coaches, college selection consultants, etc.  The rise of the “Age of the Expert” results from a variety of social and economic forces, but one of them certainly is this trend of adults behaving like children (looking for an adult to tell them what to do).

Over the next few days/weeks/months/years, I’m going to try to identify and write about other aspects of the “infantilization of adult” trend.

opedge
10 comments on “The infantilization of the U.S.: more adults are behaving like children today.
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  2. Mikael Malone says:

    While I too have noticed the rise of “kids’ activities” for adults, I fail to see how an adult’s hobby could be a negative thing as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone and they’re able to keep their work and play separate. This article seems to just say “these things exist and I think they’re bad” without really giving any reasons as to WHY they’re bad.

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  10. paul sheldon says:

    I agree, but also feel in danger of simply becoming an old grump if I complain too much. Marketing often focuses on our baser motives, and rather successfully it would appear. What would be your approach that would appeal to higher and most sophisticated interests, and yet still be effective?

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