The search for eternal youth ...

December 19, 2003 2:18am
Europe Intelligence Wire

Trina Rea

Most 20 to 35-year-olds can best be described as consumer junkies, hurriedly ringing up spiralling debts, constantly searching for instant gratification, struggling with busy lives and demanding jobs that don't match up to what it says on the label.

They have mortgages they can't afford, overdrafts that the bank keeps extending to ensure one never gets out of debt, and disillusionment with those offering leadership. Is anyone surprised that they just refuse to grow up and are happy to regress back to childhood delights? The phenomenon has grown so significantly that marketers have given this group a name - 'rejuveniles'.

Rejuveniles come in all ages but are mostly under 35 and products of the urban professional classes. They queue all night for the latest Lord of the Rings, they read the Hobbitor Roald Dahl when they're feeling blue, they talk about Knight-Rider, the Incredible Hulk, Superwoman, The Smurfs, Wanderly Wagon, Forty Coats,Zig and Zag as if they were a long lost family.

They try to re-connect with people who remember them in their youth - more than 35million people have looked up old school mates on the website www.classmates.com. A similar Irish website www.schoolfriends.ie has also soared in popularity.

Rejuveniles watch cartoons because it helps transport them to a time when life wassimpler. According to Nielsen Media research, "more adults aged from 18 to 49 watch the Cartoon Network than watch CNN".

They are not stunted childish people who refuse to grow up, rather they simply want torecycle and cultivate childhood experiences, tastes, memories and nostalgia. Puma and Converse runners are no longer confined to the school yard and instead have been seen on everyone from pop stars to comedians. And then there is Harry Potter, whose popularity among adults prompted the British publisher Bloomsbury to release an edition of the books with so-called adult covers. And so a new category of books appeared in publishing magazines -Crossovers: Children's Books for Adults.

Indulging rejuveniles - or kidults, as some are calling them - is big business for toy-makers and marketers. The average age of video game players is now 29, up from 18 in 1990, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

The producers of toys and related merchandise such as Care Bear kitchen utensils, mouse mats, note-books etc are finding that an increasingly large section of their customers are adults revisiting their childhood.

Those in TV land also seem to have caught on to the trend as last week saw the launch of The Bronx Bunny on E4; it's a late-night, adult Sesame Street presented by two life-size grey bunny puppets. This programme, made by those who brought us Zig and Zag, is set to have a cult following among young males.

My friend, just turned 30, recently had a themed party, 'The death of youth'. On arrival I was expecting a coffin and all the various props but instead I was greeted by Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, and a bubble blowing machine. As I entered the hall I fell over various friends playing Twister while others are sitting crossed-legged in front of a large widescreen TV screen discussing the finer points of who was better: The A-Team or Maguiver.

Trough the kitchen window I saw a bouncing castle, a slide and two swings made from tyres and rope. Plastic army soldiers and He-Men guard the stairs, the banisters are acting as support for a homemade tent - all to the music of The Thunderbirds,Sesame Street, The Aristocats etc. It looked like Christmas morning in 1984, 85, 86,87, 88, 89... all combined.

Rsearchers say rejuveniles are simply seeking solace in uneasy times. "Adulthood hasgot nothing attractive about it any more."

However, I nearly feel sorry for the kids nowadays. We, the ruling adult population, have hijacked the great kids' stuff. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings epics have been made for us adults, all of us who read Tolkien's trilogy in the '80s and '90s. The kids can only hope to be brought to the cinema by their enthralled parents or they might even be lucky enough to get a toy Gollum to attract their attention over Christmas. And, in the meantime, Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan have all been released asbig-budget blockbusters.

The line between adult fascination and children's awe has never been finer. Is childhood the new religion?