World's Oldest Preteens

They're everywhere. They're everywhere.

January 1, 2004

by Ian Shoales

I read an article this fall in the relentlessly adult The New Republic ("Child Actor," Kara Baskin, Oct. 13, 2003), in which the author recalled a recent incident in which a "... youngish woman, packed into sleek black pants and a baby doll T-shirt, nearly mowed me down. She was riding a bright red scooter, and a 'Hello Kitty' backpack was strapped to her back. As my $10 cocktail dribbled down my shirt, she pulled over — not to apologize, but to use her cell phone. 'Mommy will be home soon — only one episode of 'SpongeBob SquarePants' tonight!'"

Later, when the author complained of the incident to some friends, their attention drifted because they, too, were watching "SpongeBob SquarePants." From this and other data, she concludes that a "... generation raised with more creature comforts than any other lacks the purchasing power to acquire ... peace of mind. To get it, they're trying to live their childhoods all over again."

The Child Within

Last August, the New York Times ("I Don't Want to Grow Up!" Christopher Noxon, Aug. 31, 2003) first exposed this alleged phenomenon: "From childless fans of kiddie music to the grown-up readers of 'Harry Potter,' inner children are having fun all over. Whether they are buying cars marketed to consumers half their age, dressing in baby-doll fashions, or bonding over games like Twister and kickball, a new breed of quasi adult is co-opting the culture of children as never before."

The writer even dubs these folks "rejuveniles." He also notes, "The San Francisco advertising firm Odiorne Wilde Narraway & Partners calls the resurgence of retro brands among 18- to 34-year-olds 'Peterpandemonium.' Toymakers now take aim at 'kidults,' defined by the Italian company Kidult Games as 'adults who take care of their kid inside.' Researchers at the MacArthur Foundation are studying 'adultolescents,' those 20- and 30-somethings who live at home and still depend on their parents for emotional and financial support."

Hello Kitty

Nowhere is this trend more apparent than in the odd popularity of Hello Kitty, a Japanese import that began life as a mouthless kitten that appealed mainly to five-year-old girls, but has since found an expanded audience as a decorative addition to adult accessories such as toasters, purses, backpacks, condoms, and even, ahem, marital aids.

I recently came across an ad for a Hello Kitty cell phone cover, promoted as being similar to that used by Geri Halliwell, the former Spice Girl. Of course, being part of the famous girl group that was once the rage among preteen girls might quality her as being the rejuvenilian homecoming queen. But, I also read in a gossip column that she had just broken up with Jerry O'Connell (of Tomcats and Stand By Me fame — perhaps the rejuvenilian prom king?). The reason stated for the breakup was that his sense of humor was "immature."

There's apparently a kind of cultural schizophrenia going on — Geri Halliwell calling Jerry O'Connell "immature" might be the equivalent of the pot calling the kettle a vessel that contains boiling water.

Then, too, if "rejuveniles" joins the ranks of terms such as Preteens, Soccer Moms, Boomers, Gen Y, Tweeners, and all the other random citizenry subsets given random names by marketing types and pollsters, well, it seems a little desperate. I'm not convinced "rejuveniles" even exist as a demographic, frankly. And even if they did, what would you sell them? Things they already have in their attics?

Besides, this compulsive naming of ephemeral demographics might itself be childish. Kind of like having an imaginary friend, if you think about it. But please, don't.

Ian Shoales had an imaginary friend as a child. His name was Bersom. He, not Bersom, lives in San Francisco.