Kyle Smith at the New York Post gets a bit provocative for the spooky season with a piece titled, Halloween used to be for kids — now it’s for sad millennials. He previews Kurt Andersen’s new book which, in one section, talks about the devaluation of adulthood in America as demonstrated by young adults who still act like children, dressing up in costumes for Halloween.
Speaking as someone who is only four years younger than Andersen and grew up in pretty much the same culture, some of his premises are a bit questionable. He claims that American adults, “never dressed up in costumes, certainly not as an annual ritual.” He then goes on to describe the current trend of costume parties and parades as having been a product of, “freshly out gay people in San Francisco and New York,” practices which were then picked up by straight adults.
I can assure you that I was nowhere near the epicenters of gay culture during that period and still saw plenty of younger (and occasionally older) adults wearing costumes to work, going to costume parties and doing some of these same things. With that in mind, a few of the broader accusations included here seem a bit off the mark. But Smith goes on to carry that premise over to some broader conclusions about Halloween and adulthood. (Emphasis added)
Halloween is blowing up because childhood is leaking further and further into adult life, and millennials in particular aren’t fully sold on the idea that they’re grown-ups. Candy? Costumes? Silly pranks? These things should gradually start losing interest for you about the time you learn what a 401(k) is. Instead, childish behavior is losing all connotations of being embarrassing.
Video games — sales of which hit an all-time high of $30.6 billion last year — as well as the increasing popularity of cosplay (dressing up in costumes the other 364 days of the year), comic-book conventions, superhero movies and fantasy sports are all symptoms of what Andersen dubs “Kids ‘R’ Us Syndrome”: We’re losing our collective sense of when it’s time to put away childish things.
With all due respect, that part of this argument is nonsensical. As with anything else in life, part of being an adult is accepting the need for moderation in all things and prioritizing your endeavors in a responsible fashion. Going to a Halloween party in costume, playing some video games in your spare time or even going to a comic book convention are all fine activities if you enjoy them. But if you’re spending all your days in a My Little Pony suit, losing your job because you can’t stop playing Final Fantasy or having your wife take the kids and leave you because you blew your rent money on the lastest hard-bound edition of your favorite graphic novel series, well… you’ve clearly got a problem.
With that bit out of the way, Smith moves on to some more substantive criticism. He addresses what he perceives as the problem of millennials growing up in a world where they face too many choices and can’t seem to settle down and get on with the aforementioned business of prioritizing their affairs. This part, in particular, is worthy of discussion.
Getting used to having lots of options leads to a kind of lifetime channel-flicker syndrome — a reluctance, or inability, to pick just one thing. As recently as the 1970s, 80 percent of Americans were married by the time they were 30, but millennials can’t pick a partner to settle down with nor commit to having kids. According to a US Census Bureau report, among those in the 25-34 age range as of 2016, fewer than one-quarter had completed the big four adult benchmarks: living apart from parents and having a job, a spouse and one or more kids.
Being financially attached to one’s folks, or living in Mom’s basement, bolsters a 30-year-old’s illusion that he’s still a kid. As of 2015, only 41 percent of adults aged 25 to 34 were living apart from their parents and without financial assistance from them. That’s down substantially from 51 percent in 2005 and way down from previous generations.
These are some social trends which should be worrisome. You can blame the economy all you wish, but the alarming percentage of adults in their 20s and 30s who are still living with mom and dad is troubling. It probably seems great to not have to worry about all those bothersome bills that come with having a home of your own, but if you’re not taking the money you save and preparing to launch out into the world you’re simply being irresponsible. Similarly, there is something to be said for waiting longer to get married, at least in some cases. But that’s really only true if you’re using that extra time to make yourself financially secure and better prepared for all the expenses that come with caring for a spouse and raising children.
So, have we turned over our country to a new hoard of barbarians who are doomed to destroy the cultural foundation built by the Greatest Generation? No, we haven’t. In this regard, not much has changed except for the specific trappings of how those darned kids are wasting their time and money. My dad’s generation, home from World War II with their slick side-parts, ducktails and buzz cuts were aghast at the hippies they raised. And those flower children were, in turn, no doubt revolted if some of their kids grew up to be Reagan Republicans. We’re continually yelling at the next couple of generations to get off of our collective lawns. And while many young people will stumble along the way (the same as so many of us did), they eventually figure out adulthood and find a way to keep the gears turning.
So go have yourself a Halloween party, dress up in a silly costume, play your video game or whatever it is you prefer. Just try to be sure that you’re saving for a home and family of your own. Get a 401K early and at least make sure you take any matching funds your employer may offer. Save some money for a rainy day because it always rains sooner or later.
Oh, and you can still get off my damn lawn.