By Isaac Butler
America today has the longest adolescence of any society in the history of the world!
Freda, my now-late therapist, was fond of aphorisms. She had a loose colleciton of them, little sayings she had made up, little statements that summed up her view of the world. And one thing that view contained was that it was about time we all grew the fuck up.
It's odd though, because she was also obsessed with the idea of development, with the idea of people embracing constant change, of working towards growth, of living with the tension between being and becoming. At no point in our lives are these aspects of our existence more foregrounded than during adolescence. We try on different identities and call our peers posers for doing the same, we shed groups of friends or are cast out of them and find new others to compliment our new selves, our relationships with our parents, our bodies, our communities, our Gods, these all change, regardless of whether we rebel or go deeper into our fixed identities.
Our adolescence feels particularly fraught these days. Something, we know, must be wrong. People aren't "acting like adults" at an early enough age. Teenagers themselves are a problem, either too dumb or too hooked on video games or too sexual or not sexual enough or too religious or not religious enough or lazy or too hard working or something. Something is wrong and whatever it is, it's the fault of those younger than us.
Obviously I'm skeptical of all of this. I think the unmoored quality of so many in their twenties can be traced not to their immaturity but the crumbling of the assurances that protected their parents coupled with crippling, paralyizing debt. I'm not sure it's a bad thing that it takes us awhile to get our shit together and commit to a specific life. And I think we find that liminal time when the world cracks open and abrupt change is not only possible but a significant force in our lives to be frightening to consider and to reconsider.
We've gone through so many selves to get to who we are today. This week, we'll be looking at a few of those selves, along with some pieces about how our culture portrays this time and the people who inhabit it. Hope you enjoy.