Wednesday 13 December 2017

Katie Byrne: Are we all in a state of arrested development?

Features writer Katie Byrne
Features writer Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

I visited a streetwear shop during a trip to Barcelona last week. There was rails of subversive T-shirts, rows of limited-edition trainers and 1990s hip-hop blaring from the speakers. It was the type of shop that puts a swagger in your step upon entry.

I was doing my best to look, you know, down with it, when the shop assistant came over. "Can I help you?" she asked.

"No thanks," I replied as I nodded my head along to the music, showcasing my deep appreciation for the boom-bap basslines of early hip-hop. "I'm cool."

Apparently I wasn't, though. Five minutes later she was back by my side as I scrutinised a pink jumper by Supreme Being and imagined wearing it at Dekmantel festival.

She looked at the jumper and then back at me. "For your daughter?" she asked. I left shortly afterwards.

I was a little shocked that this shop assistant thought I looked old enough to have a teenage daughter. I was even more shocked that she didn't understand that this is the age of arrested development. There's an entire generation spending more time sourcing Stüssy hoodies than they are conducting price comparisons of electricity providers. At least that's my excuse...

Future hunters and consulting firms call it the 'Peter Pan' market - an industry in which adult colouring books and summer camps for grown-ups are thriving.

Even toy companies are targeting adult customers with Smartphone-controlled battle tanks and the likes. Unsurprisingly, Korea is the strongest market.

Yet this is more than a trend. The collective regression to childhood started long before Moschino began selling Happy Meal shoulder bags to the 'kidult' market.

It happened years before we started drinking smoothies out of jam jars and eating dinky winky cupcakes topped with every possible variation of buttercream. The juvenilisation of culture even pre-dates the use of cat-crying Emojis to convey complicated emotional states, and cutesy pseudo-neologisms that make us all sound like we're in a locker room talking about the boys we, like, totes fancy.

From a psychological perspective, developmental delays and childhood regression occurs when we experience trauma, even when we don't acknowledge it. It's easy to forget that we're in the aftermath of a global recession and living in a world that can't hold its centre.

The air feels portentous and heavy and people are retreating to a fantasy land that has no sharp edges or nasty shocks. Yay! A unicorn Emoji!

Besides, the milestones of adulthood no longer exist. It's harder to move out of home, let alone get a mortgage. The life-long career and full-time pensionable job is dying a death and people of all ages are wondering what they'd like to be when they grow up.

We're having children later - and only with the assistance of our parents, who have stepped in as full-time childminders. As for marriage? Well, you have to negotiate the modern dating arena and the bizarre cultural phenomenon of 'ghosting' first. At least actual children have the emotional intelligence to say: "I'm not speaking to you anymore!"

We're living longer too: the 30s really is the new 20s, just as the 40s is the new 30s and so forth. Therefore it's perfectly acceptable to take make-up advice from 18-year-old Kylie Jenner - sure we're practically the same age.

Psychologists also note that we regress to childhood when we suddenly have an authoritarian figure in our lives. The Nanny State is acting in loco parentis on this one.

Ireland recently ranked fourth in a survey of European Nanny States that looked at laws regarding the sale of cigarettes, alcohol and food.

Elsewhere, there are 'trigger warnings' in universities lest the syllabus content gives you a 'no' feeling and public awareness campaigns from the HSE telling us how to wash our handies.

Personal responsibility has been absolved. Besides, you can just outsource it by hiring a life coach to help you meet your goals or a financial coach to help you do your sums.

The screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich; Adaptation) recently noted that "Movies that were historically for children are now the movies adults line up to see".

Meanwhile, Young Adult (YA) fiction is now as popular with adultescents as it is with adolescents.

Is it any surprise in a culture where it's increasingly difficult to progress to adulthood? Human behaviour is largely a social construct and when we are treated like children, we tend to act accordingly.

Playtime is fun just as nostalgia is reassuring. As the saying goes: "It's never too late to have a happy childhood."

Still, there's a difference between ­embracing your inner child and escaping from reality. I'll let you know when I get there.

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