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Childish fun

Caution, what follows is pretty reactionary. But seriously, people. Grow up.

This Salon article about the puerile trend of playing elementary school sports as an adult is precisely why I hate when journalists invoke "fun" -- they tend to use "fun" to beat out the last remnants of intellect left in their readership and leave them malleable and imbecilic, ready to do whatever infantilizing thing is recommended to them. "Fun" equals "I'm sick of being critical" and "Go along, get along." But here's how Christopher Noxon evokes it to justify adult regression into childishness.

Remember fun? That's that engrossing, anarchic thing that began seeping out of most professional sports around the time of free agent drafts, merchandise tie-ins and doping scandals, the thing that comes so naturally to kids and that adults lost sight of the moment recreation became all about competition, self-improvement and status-accrual. After all, no matter how much money and meaning we invest in our tennis serve or whether the Patriots make the playoffs, we all know that none of it actually matters. All sports are ultimately ridiculous. The beauty of kid games is how they make a mockery of all attempts to take any of this shit too seriously.

You wouldn't want to take anything in life seriously, would you? That would make you silly and boring and old. Don't be a big stupid-head, all like boring and dumb and stuff. Come play kickball instead! And then we can watch Scooby-Doo! And maybe we can have some Scooter Pies for supper and top that off with a big glass of Hawaiian Punch!

One of the things about adulthood is that you have the rational capability to enjoy doing something that is also socially productive, and it is not necessary to pacify you with harmless preoccupations to keep you out of harm's way. You can be entrusted to keep yourself busy in your own way, and the expectation that you contribute something actually supplies the meaningful fulfillment that comes from helping the species. (This is what achieving what Marx somewhat cryptically calls species being is all about -- doing meaningful work, etc.) But consumer society would prefer that we all be children, entirely engrossed with frivolous distractions and preternaturally afraid of rational thought or skepticism or even the thought the work can be rewarding. The problem with adults is that they think. If adults can be led to believe they should act like children, they'll stop thinking and start shopping. Just as culture lionizes youthfulness as a moral value, it encourages us to fetishize our own childhood, because we can be induced to make purchase after purchase trying to recapture the one thing that is without question forever lost. But youth is not a moral state, and adults surrender childish things because the challenges of adult life yield exponentially greater rewards. But perhaps this most recent generation of shopping-mad, attention-starved juvenile wannabes is so accustomed to shallow instantaneous pleasures, that they can't be made to take an interest in anything sophisticated. They are so used to self-mythologizing and identity as public performance and "reality" as something created by TV cameras that they can't imagine anything more fascinating then reliving their own experience, even if that means eating Alpha Bits and playing four square.

Noxon may not like it, but status-accrual is recreation for most adults, and that's not because they have fled from childhood but because they've embraced it -- its shallowness, its acquisitiveness, its playground hierarchies. The luxury to play at childhood as an adult is an especially conspicuous signifier of the frivolousness Veblen identified as the leisure class's chief source of distinction. And it isn't a matter of taste; I'm not trying to impose some hierarchy on leisure activities. Playing tennis is different from playing kickball, because tennis is an activity you adopt as an adult and invest mental energy in mastering -- it allows you to grow, it makes living the next day relevant. Kickball is surrendering to the notion that your best day came somewhere around your eighth birthday. The alarming issue here is the unwillingness to go beyond the narrow horizons of nostalgia. It's probably good that these leagues of kickball players bring people together who are usually isolated, at home watching Nick at Nite or whatever, but to choose to relive the glories of fifth grade rather than discover and indulge new interests, to read Harry Potter books and get together with other fun-loving profligates on the flight from maturity to play tag rather than challenge yourself to make something or give something back to the world is kind of pathetic.


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