My Own Private Neverland

When J. M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan, the story of a boy who refused to grow up and lived in a place called "Neverland," he was writing fiction to amuse children. And so, Barrie might be surprised to learn that an increasing number of young "adults" have decided to model themselves after Peter Pan. Only, they're not bothering with the "first star to the left and straight on till morning" part; they're turning cities like New York and London into their own Neverlands. A recent article in the New York Times chronicled the emergence of a new cultural trend. Known variously as "Peterpandemonium" or "Rejuveniles," it's characterized by "grown-ups who cultivate juvenile tastes in products and entertainment." For instance, Target sells underpants depicting Scooby-Doo and Spongebob Squarepants in adult sizes. If that's not enough, there's also "fuzzy pajamas with attached feet." If pajamas and undergarments aren't enough for your inner child, there are always toys. As American Greetings, the maker of the Strawberry Shortcake doll, says in its ads, "Who knew you and your daughter would have the same best friend?" Seriously. As a marketer told the Times, "[the] consumer wants Care Bears in their life . . . And not just to share with their children." "Peterpandemonium" extends beyond the mall. A surprisingly large part of the audience for children's television shows like the Teletubbies are "young adults." And more people between the ages of 18 and 49 watch the Cartoon Network than watch CNN. And I'm not making that up. To Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent in England, this trend represents what he calls "the self-conscious cultivation of immaturity." For many young people, he says, there's "nothing attractive about [being an adult] anymore." Furedi rightly criticizes the influence of the media, which equates youth with relevance, and maturity with obsolescence. The media, more than any other institution of our society, has been shaped by the "youth culture" of the 1960s. This youth culture valued play and self-fulfillment over the everyday obligations that are the stuff of adulthood. As a result, according to Brian Page, a professor of anthropology at the University of Miami, "play has become the primary purpose and value in many adult lives. It now borders on the sacred." Page adds that "from a historical standpoint, that's entirely backward." It may be backward, but it explains Furedi's findings. If play is life's "primary purpose and value," is it any wonder that so many young people cultivate immaturity? Now denying that play is life's primary purpose doesn't mean that play isn't a good thing. Our ability to laugh and be amused is the result of our being created in the image of God. We laugh because we, unlike the rest of creation, see the relationship between different things. When we play, we sometimes experience what C. S. Lewis called "joy," the sense that there is something greater than ourselves that calls out to us. This kind of play requires wonder, not the refusal to grow up or to create a new Neverland. And most of all, it understands the difference between "being like a child" and being just plain childish.
For Further Reading and Information
Frank Furedi, "The children who won't grow up," Spiked, 29 July 2003. Matt Kaufman, "The Virtues of Vacation," Boundless, 7 August 2003. The September 2003 issue of American Demographics includes articles about "how Gen Y's youthful traits will evolve as the cohort crosses the portal of adulthood." (You must be a subscriber to access articles.) C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (Harvest, 1975). Dr. Armand Nicholi, Jr., The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life (Free Press, 2002). Mark Gauvreau Judge, If It Ain't Got That Swing: The Rebirth of a Grown-Up Culture (Spence, 2000). Richard Winter, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment (InterVarsity, 2002).


Chuck Colson



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