perpetually liminal: are we refusing to grow up? what does this mean?
Many of the texts i’m reading these days are talking about the move from childhood to adulthood and the liminal/transitional stage in-between. Although the concept of “teenager” is relatively new (created during the American depression to keep younger people out of the workforce), most societies have a transition period between childhood and adulthood. Of course, girls’ transition has been historically marked by menstruation while boys tend to go through some ritual of moving into adulthood. In almost all these texts, adulthood is seen as a desirable state to be in, full of all sorts of privileges. It is assumed that children want to move into adulthood and that part of the liminal stage is about taking on adult privileges (sex, drinking, …) while still having childhood responsibilities (a.k.a. few). In most societies, the key to the transitional phase is the removal from the core community to a separate one and then a return…
Contemporary American society has really stretched the liminal stage to include mandatory high school and socially required college. Rather than moving into adulthood at menstruation/male strength periods, we have another 10 years to wait before we are deemed adults. We don’t even leave home until 18 even though menstruation has dropped to 12 and below. With the liminal stage stretched out, there’s a drastic increase in participating in adult behaviors with childhood responsibilities.
I started thinking about Burning Man (yes, i bought tickets this week) and how, in many ways, it is a celebration of this liminality. We all go to the desert to act like some peculiar combination of adults and children, represented in the imagination by romping around, making ourselves all messy, sex & insobriety, building large Lego-esque projects, having little responsibility. I was also thinking about rave culture. On one hand, we are all trying to take on privileges of adulthood – sex & insobriety, lack of curfew – while working hard to look like small children – big painted eyes and phat pants that create the impression of child-like proportions, bright colors, pacifiers.
I’m kinda torn in resolving all of this. In many ways, i feel like half of my generation doesn’t want to grow up while half is working hard to do so. How much of this has to do with our inability to inherit certain other privileges of adulthood (power, money) and our lack of interest in dealing with adult responsibilities that are getting increasingly harder like money and health? As adults live longer, there is more pressure to remove youth from the workforce, from any position where they can compete. How much is this fucking with the dynamics? How much is the generational divisions and the efforts to legally regulate young people (both now and in their futures by faulting them for their youth) part of adults’ need to maintain power at risk of losing it to a larger liminal generation?
When the idea of teenagers was created during the depression, schooling became mandatory. In some senses, this was ideal because it meant that a larger portion of the population was prepared for the future. But over time, a high school diploma no longer served as a ticket to a better life. And then it was college. And then it was graduate school. What next? And what about the fact that we no longer have a construct of “success” for working class kids? By removing unions and life-long well-paying factory gigs and government jobs with pensions, we’ve turned “success” into a game that can only be acquired through pre-existing privilege or a lottery (becoming a “star”). This really marginalizes a huge chunk of today’s youth culture. What if you aren’t really meant to be college bound? What then? The service economy is not exactly appealing. No wonder drugs are continuously rising both because using them lets you escape and dealing them provides a way out.
It seems to me that we’re running full speed into a crisis stemming from a build-up of pushing off moving into adulthood, increasing doubt about the opportunities of adulthood and the complete failure to provide necessary support structures for the population. I’m not sure i have my head entirely yet…
Am i crazy? Can we really have a stable society without a feasible success route for non-knowledge workers? Can we really function with adulthood being pushed off into the mid/late 20s?