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About ten years ago an acquaintance of mine introduced me to the term “adultolescence.” As he was recently divorced, had no children, and was not wanting for anything monetarily, he basked in reliving adolescent tendencies of embracing pop culture, faddish consumerism, and other trivialities as a middle-aged man. In short, he was clinging to the priorities of a teenager instead of adopting the wisdom and social responsibility of adulthood.

To be fair, few of us are above abstaining from entertainment and insignificant diversions; what is troubling is the merit these petty pastimes garner in our personal lives and in our larger society, and particularly among adults who should know better and do better.”

I’ve seen Adultolescence upclose and personal folks, and it is inane and vapid as it sounds.  The relentless pursuit of pop culture relics, pictures, and autographs is now a life choice for some people.  Trying to buy your way to happiness is almost as unsuccessful as trying to find your happiness and self worth in others, both are indelibly Pyrrhic pursuits away from the realities and sad truths that come with grappling with life as an adult.  Both end in tears, as the real tragedy lies in the folly of an uncritical, unexamined, consumerist driven life or the bitter hollowness that springs from pursuing people that satisfy your immediate desires at the cost of an authentic relationship.  The unhappy reality is that despite the temporary validation, it does nothing to mitigate the real problem of being existentially alone in the world, but now without the support and care of an genuine soulmate and fellow traveller on life’s weary path.

I digress, the focus of the article is on the first example – the consumptive orgy that is ‘nerd culture’.

Adultolescence is a scary phenomena, retreating away from adult social realities and revelling in base conspicuous consumption.  Pop culture is okay as a interest in one’s life, less so when it becomes your life.

“Conan O’Brien’s old late night show featured a segment with a puppet called Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Triumph would attend events, speak to people, and insult them. In 2002, Triumph spoke to adults camped out in line to purchase movie tickets to the upcoming Star Wars film. He clearly mocked the adults who were spending hours on the sidewalk – many dressed up as their favorite characters and possessing their favorite Star Wars toys – for acting like children. Now, as Comic-Con has morphed into a pop culture juggernaut, cosplay, gaming, toy-collecting, and entertainment fanaticism are accepted forms of adult behavior. Moreover, the internet and its chat rooms, message boards, forums, and social media have enabled the fixation on any subset of pop culture. It has normalized the obsession over any trivial television show, film, musician, performer, athlete, or star anyone could imagine. And this fanatical fandom is not just part of nerd culture; it is part of all culture.

What also comes with nerd culture and all of these other media-driven obsessions and fascinations is rampant consumerism. There is a prioritization of vacuous content over crucial societal issues, but there is also an environmental catastrophe of over-production and consumption of frivolous, useless items and endless technological gadgetry, the life-cycles of which contribute to resource depletion, pollution, environmental deterioration, and tremendous waste at a time when we now clearly recognize the disastrous effects of our throw-away society. It used to be that just Hollywood was so insular and myopic. The entertainment industry had no perspective and few moral values, but now nerd culture (among others) has spread that myopia about entertainment, and that vapidity, consumerism, materialism, and narcissism to everyone.

I’ve recently spent some time teaching elementary-aged children. The books they read, the social studies and science lessons they learn, still try to teach the morals we all learned as children – lessons like: it’s not what you have it’s who you are, be a good person, be kind to others, strive to help others before yourself, do no harm, do not waste, do not pollute, treat all others as you treat yourself, everyone is of equal value, etc. When I was school-aged, lessons like those are why most kids aspired to be firemen, teachers, nurses and doctors. Most of us valued service and professions that, at least in theory, were for the benefit of the common good.

Now too many of our adults are enraptured with themselves and their immediate superficial gratifications. We don’t live up to any of those deeper societal and global values. We’ve lost all perspective. The nerd culture enables this stunted personal and social development. The prioritization of entertainment media, social media, and celebrity is the major component of nerd culture and is far too prevalent throughout society, to the detriment of our social structure, our communities, and our environment. It is perhaps why so many children now aspire to be “youtubers,” why a misogynist former “reality” show personality is now President of the United States, why it may not be surprising that a man such as Chris Hardwick – whose adult life revolves around inane priorities – may not possess a healthy perspective on females or relationships, and why this essay will likely capture a larger audience than anything else I normally write about science, health, social issues, or the environment.

Retreating from reality is bad.  Retreating from reality by engaging in the consumptive processes that make life shitty in the first place, is far worse.

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