When I wrote a book about adults who cultivate childlike tastes or mindsets -- from candy connoisseurs and comic book obsessives to thrirtysomething skate rats and twentysomethings who happily live at home -- I never thought I'd be drafted into the culture war. Rejuvenile is about people of all ideological stripes, from a Disney obsessive who's active in the Republican party to a socialist play
activist in Scotland.
But I suppose it was inevitable that Rejuvenile would stir up some righteous indignation in the crankier corners of our wide and fractious land.
Well the pot's been stirred, friends.
Meet Ingrid Schlueter, back-to-basics Christian and capital-A angry adult. A recent blog entry on the glories of adult kickball elicited the following response from Ms. Schlueter, producer and co-host of a radio program out of Milwaukee, WI called "Crosstalk": "After reading your site for the last twenty minutes I feel like I'm going to vomit. Adults in Underoos and footy pajamas, adults watching Teletubbies? What this country needs is a really major economic crash, the kind where people are on the sidewalk selling pencils and their children have nothing to eat... Thank God some young people are adult enough to drop the SpongeBob videos and defend our country. I doubt if they're sucking pacifiers in Iraq."
Ms. Schlueter went on to comment further on her blog, taking a break from her usual survey of how the modern world is infecting the modern church (among her concerns: church-based Starbucks, "laughing" ministries and yoga) to take further aim at Rejuvenile, saying I am "promoting the newly defined adulthood that means you really never ever have to grow up."
Well golly. I suspected the book might elicit some anger from traditional family advocates, but back-to-basics Christians? How is it that I keep getting mixed up with this crowd? (See this story for a
primer on my last adventure among aggrieved Christians)... It's just so bizarre. How so? Let me count the ways.
1) Ms. Schlueter wants to vomit? Like actually upchuck? As icky as this sounds, the same sort of reflexive physical revulsion is common among many social critics featured in the book - from Robert Bly on the left to Marcel Dansei on the right. It's a largely emotional, reactionary response - something about adults wearing fuzzy pajamas or eating red velvet cupcakes simply offends them to the core. And while I'm as creeped out as the next guy by grown men in superhero Underoos, I do think it's worth asking: why exactly do we find this stuff so objectionable? Some of this stuff is dumb, beneath our capacities, infantilizing, all that. But some of it is just silly. Could it be that they get us riled up not because of their inherent vileness but because they're simply out of step with mostly arbitrary cultural age norms we've never really taken a hard look at? As ridiculous as this stuff may often appear, might there be some value in hanging on to some things that has always given us pleasure?
2) Do our children really need to go hungry and sell pencils on the street for Ms. Schlueter to be happy? As loony as this sounds, her call for economic collapse as a mass exercise in maturity reveals a crucial difference between traditional adults and rejuveniles. In the traditional view, adulthood is a deadly serious, pull-up-your-bootstraps trial endured by the strong and avoided by the feeble. Rejuveniles act out an opposite view, behaving as if adulthood is not only about meeting obligations and doing your duty but also about learning new things and having more fun. To them, suffering is
3) No, there's not a lot of pacifier-sucking going on in Iraq these days. (There is, however, a kickball team - go figure.) There's also a whole lot of childishness, from the magical thinking of our swashbuckling leaders to the pathological rigidity of our enemies. It's a horror show on all counts, and one that I have no illusions will be solved by anything to do with SpongeBob. I suppose I should be glad that Ms. Schlueter saw fit to call Rejuvenile "horrifyingly accurate" and "a book that defines the modern church." And while I'm clearly sympathetic to many of the people I write about, it deserves repeating that Rejuvenile isn't meant to be entirely celebratory. We're talking about a broad range of people. Some are lost souls burying themselves in childish stuff to escape complicated adult realities. But many more are adults who juggle adult responsibilities, ponder tough questions and still maintain a core essence of childlike play.
I wouldn't dare enter a Biblical debate with the likes of Ms. Schlueter, but I seem to recall something from my parochial school days about "unless we become as a little child we could not see nor enter the kingdom of God"? On this point, Jesus and rejuveniles agree wholeheartedly.