The latest marketer to cash in on the trend of adults wanting to remain children is a museum.
The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), that venerable icon to the natural sciences, is now offering special sleepover parties—for adults only. That’s right, for a mere $375 a person ($325 for members), you can snuggle up in jammies in your sleeping bag on a cot provided by the museum under the enormous blue whale in the Hall of Ocean Life with 149 people you never met before. I don’t know if they’re serving cookies and milk or ‘Smores and hot chocolate, but I understand that lights out is about 1:42 am. BTW, the museum has offered sleepovers for families for about eight years.
Now, the adult meaning of sleepover is much different from when the term is applied to children. For adults, a sleepover means having sex, usually for the first time or early in a relationship. For kids through their late teens, by contrast, it means making popcorn, watching movies, talking through the night and having mom make pancakes or French toast in the morning.
Which do you think the American Natural History museum’s resembles? There is no way the museum trustees, the insurance companies or the police are going to allow condoned sex, nor do I think many adult couples who attend the sleepover are going to want to engage in conjugal relations in full sight and earshot of everyone else trying to sleep on a cot. There may be some hidden hanky-panky among the mastodons or in a bathroom stall, but the point of the AMNH sleepover is not sex. It is therefore not an adult sleepover, at least not in conventional or traditional terms.
What is it then? Well you get a chance to see the exhibits—just like a regular visit or a special event such as a singles night or members day. You get to hear guest lecturers– just like a regular visit or a special event . You get the run of the place pretty much to yourself, which is not like the wall-to-wall masses of chattering humanity of a regular visit, but very much like a special museum event.
The only thing that differentiates the sleepover from other museum events then is the sleepover itself. The big sell point for an adult event is something for children.
In other words, a major American museum is appealing to those adults who want to do something from their childhood—have a sleepover. The museum’s marketing department is trying to cash in on the growing number of adults who collect My Little Pony dolls, play with Legos, like to go to Disney theme parks, read comic books and juvenile fiction like Harry Potter or spend a lot of time playing shoot-‘em-up video games. And judging from the stories we see in the mass media, their number is growing by leaps and bounds. You can see just how much infantilization of American adults has progressed when you peruse the growing number of movies dedicated to adults preserving the life they led as children: “Harold & Kumar” movies, “Neighbors,” “The Internship,” “Old School,” “Big,” “Grandma’s Boy,” “Ted,” “The Wedding Crashers,” “Billy Madison,” “You, Me and Dupree,” “Dodgeball,””Step Brothers,” “The 40-year-old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” all three “Hangovers,” the “Jackass” movies, “Bridesmaids,” “Hall Pass” and “Identity Thief” start the long list of movies that glorify not growing up.
Going to the museum is a pretty adult thing to do, unless it’s a children’s museum or the museum has decided to focus an exhibit on a child’s level of discourse. And keep in mind that the purpose of children’s museums or children’s exhibits is to guide children in learning how appreciate the adult experience that is museum-going. So how does a palace dedicated to the scientific education of all ages attract the fast-growing segment of adults who don’t want to grow up? AMNH has come up with the brilliant solution by combining the very adult pleasure of looking at scientific specimens and analyzing information about the natural world with the child’s treat of having a sleepover.
While we should all retain a child’s sense of wonder and curiosity, I believe that at a certain point, it’s time, as Saul of Tarsus said, to put away childish things. His full quote, according to the King James version of the Christian Bible is “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.”
The infantilization of American adults is a clear and present danger for representational democracy because adults who constantly participate in child-like activities are not practicing their adult thinking and emotional skills. I believe that mass marketers like infantilized adults because they make more docile and credulous consumers. But I for one would much rather have those who think like adults make decisions in the real world.