There is always one kind of cognitive dissonance or another to amaze one, and something that is presently getting to me is the difference between how many adults relate to the commodities of childhood and how they relate to children themselves.
It’s something I’m noticing a lot amongst my peers, twenty-somethings, mostly without children themselves, who have emerged from childhood and are trying to figure out how to relate to it. Around here, there have been various brightly coloured ball pits set up as part of various festivals and events of late. I went into one several months ago, for a reward as soon as I submitted my thesis. And as I was lying there basking in sunlight and nostalgia and, well, coloured balls, I thought to myself how much of this kind of thing was being sold to me, either narratively or commercially. There are cartoon-themed t-shirts in stores aimed at us, and new DVD releases of 90s shows, and we are having endless nostalgia-tastic events and parties and discussions of cultural consumption based in a cool, distanced relationship with childhood.
The distance, is, I think, the point, because I am not seeing a whole heap of engagement with children alongside this preoccupation. This consumption is a way of reincorporating childhood things into our lives in an acceptable manner, while demonstrating that we are no longer a part of childhood itself. And a lot of my peers don’t spend a whole heap of time with children (or at least don’t talk about it), either because they are doing that hip Western twenty-something thing where you don’t interact with your family very much even if you get along with them, or are disconnected from a children-oriented or family-oriented community in some other ways. Children often simply don’t figure at all alongside this preoccupation with childhood, and it feels strange that so many people are taking on board things and experiences culturally attached to children without acknowledging children. It gets a whole lot weirder when people start denigrating children as loud or messy or disgusting or somehow not worthy of social or physical space. If you want to talk loud, messy, and disgusting, children are not the only ones to be looking at, no? The divorce between acceptable and non-acceptable kinds of relating to children and childhood cultural products and experiences is just deeply weird.
I think that attempts to reconnect with or refigure relationships with childhood need to go alongside attempts to relate to children as an indelible part of, erm, childhood.