In our quest to live forever and still feel relevant and fulfilled; we older adults are lapsing backwards as much as possible into our own childhood and adolescence. Of course we have dressed the part for decades now; looking 180 degrees different than our more dignified grandparents. Perpetually in sweat pants and blue jeans, barely above the pajama stage in terms of the casualness. It has become an industry geared towards looking young: as we wear the most expensive sneakers, and wear our sports heroes’ replica jerseys.
The social media and the commercials scream this everywhere and we get our marching orders directly from them.
In fact we have Fountains of Youth targets on our backs as demographic stool pigeons. For it seems this infantilization of adulthood is running rampant and taking a stronger hold on the public imagination. Cartoons and non-human creatures become animated presto—right in front of our eyes. Even a sandwich can come to life and attack us as a melodramatic way of capturing what acid reflux can do to us after dining. And while our devices keep morphing and changing—as TVs double as internet downloads and radios–watches double as cameras–wrist watches double as video players–and hot tubs become time machines; there is this one inescapable and certain fact—we are being reeled back to our childhood urges and infatuations.
And the sound we hear is one long, unanimous CHACHINNNG of cash registers!
The evidence is everywhere:
One commercial out now features concord grapes talking together on their vines about all their wonderful ingredients while a haughty merlot grape from France gets mad at hearing this and they have a heated exchange.
We have cartoon tuna fishes try to escape out of our trash bags until some air freshener neutralizes them.
We can’t seriously consider buying wart medicine unless it is cartoonized with some villain that must be neutralized. Our dog’s flea and tick medicine becomes cartoon ninja fighters that wage war in miniature on our pet’s epidermal layer.
Mucus becomes a green cartoon blob with other buddies that torment us like goofy ghosts.
And the only man who can come off looking close to competent and not completely useless and stupid (and yes on the same level as the children) is the cartoon MR. Clean. And in this day and age of special effects, we can now see longitudinal commercial clips of Mr. Clean at various stages of his lifespan as if he were a real person.
We argue with cartoon overly active bladder over having to use the bathroom too much. Our kids future college expenses becomes some kind of weird live in monster that stays room in our house like a weight on our shoulders.
We have ducks vying with elephants who do battle with Geckos for total supremacy of our affections when it comes to subliminally trusting a certain insurance company.
Even when there are no cartoon characters involved the 2 sides of the same coin impulses of childhood and adulthood have become conjoined. Just look at the previous Christmas car commercials if you want ultimate proof of how far this strategy of tapping into our inner child has gotten. The look of complete adoration by mesmerized adults as they stare rapturously with their noses on the show room glass windows at the latest year end model cars that would make the perfect gift for us in time for Christmas!
For we have grown into adults now. Our innocence and wonder at the holiday season has been channeled into deciding that “frankly we are worth it” and deserve a new car as some kind of TOY substitute for Christmas.
Of course the alternative for us baby boomers is not near as pleasant. We have side effect medications and law suit ads dominating our rerun channels (again they have our demographics mapped out as they know our habits intimately). Oldie channels that specialize in “Happy Days” and “Andy Griffith” episodes are now riddled with lawsuit commercials geared for the sole purpose of embarrassing the heck out of us over bladder slings and genital yeast infections.
This is the dark, flipside about getting older isn’t it? The weight loss plans and those darn illnesses that wasn’t our fault. And I swear—if I have to deal with one more marathon re-creation testimonial of a real person actor moving actively about their day all due to some prescription medication (with the perfunctory—“check with your doctor first. Side effects may include dementia and sudden death”)—I think I will lose my humanity and become a hermit.
But beyond the sound marketing strategy of tapping into baby boomer nostalgia and fading youth, I think the appeal to cartoons and talking animal spokesmen is more culturally insidious. Pop culture has become SO accustomed to slamming certain types of people and adulating others that for many of us, a GENDER free and racially free alternative universe is a much more appealing place to retreat to due to the guilt of it all. We run the risk of getting run out of town and not having a leg to stand on if we don’t morph into some kind of gender neutral EMOJI symbol or Japanese Anima character.
I believe it was the kind of romantic, but impossible quest that Michael Jackson was on—to transcend age and gender and race entirely and find a way to be innocent and above such restrictions.
It was also the image that Andy Warhol bravely championed: simply die ones hair and beat aging to the punch—all the while being very elusive to capture age wise.
As anyone knows who reads children’s books, cartoons and talking animals are much more palatable for making friends and developing trusts.
And so we go on—running the gauntlet of advertisers ready to feast on our desires. We’ve gone from CARTOONS on our cereal boxes as kids to now remembering to buy our toe fungus medicine because of some great special effects character.
And thanks to virtual reality and less need for face to face interactions, we can hide more and more behind that air brushed persona that we always wanted to be.
We can train our thumbs and eyes to become more and more geared towards flashier special effects and more lovable cartoon characters in order to make our purchases. And as baby boomers have made respectable careers out of being collectors of ANYTHING that is nostalgic, we can beat out our own kids in collecting the latest Minions and other legitimate collectable for a new movie release.
So at the end of our life span we can look back on our shelves and be surrounded by a lot of precious memories that reminds the people that knew us, that deep down inside, we were really just kids at heart.