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Delivering the Bafta Annual Television Lecture, Stephen Fry laments the infantilisation of British television, including favourites like Doctor Who:
Fry, who hosts QI, said that the programmes were "like a chicken nugget. Every now and again we all like it … But if you are an adult you want something surprising, savoury, sharp, unusual, cosmopolitan, alien, challenging, complex, ambiguous, possibly even slightly disturbing and wrong. "You want to try those things, because that's what being adult means."
Fry said he was not arguing that all television should be pompous, academic or intellectual. "But they ought to surprise and to astonish and to make us feel perhaps the possibility there is a world outside that we know nothing of to provoke us, to provoke in the best sense of the word, sometimes in the worst sense," he said. "To surprise us, to outrage us."In other news, Japanese neuroscientists have found that monkeys enjoy watching television, or at least that viewing video of performing circus animals stimulates the pleasure centres in the monkeys' frontal lobes.
More evidence of neoteny being a characteristic of evolutionary advancement: as coping the modern world requires more flexibility, immaturity levels in adults are rising. Which sounds alarming, until you consider that "maturity" (and the nebulous "wisdom" that comes with it) is a sclerotic set-in-one's-ways inflexibility and resistance to change, which no longer cuts it:
"The psychological neoteny effect of formal education is an accidental by-product -- the main role of education is to increase general, abstract intelligence and prepare for economic activity," he explained. "But formal education requires a child-like stance of receptivity to new learning, and cognitive flexibility."
"When formal education continues into the early twenties," he continued, "it probably, to an extent, counteracts the attainment of psychological maturity, which would otherwise occur at about this age.
While the human mind responds to new information over the course of any individuals lifetime, Charlton argues that past physical environments were more stable and allowed for a state of psychological maturity. In hunter-gatherer societies, that maturity was probably achieved during a persons late teens or early twenties, he said.
By contrast, many modern adults fail to attain this maturity, and such failure is common and indeed characteristic of highly educated and, on the whole, effective and socially valuable people," he said.Some of the symptoms of neoteny include novelty-seeking, which ties in with the possibility of a "neophilia gene" previously mentioned here. In fact, if there was a genetic mutation that caused neophilia, the abovementioned article suggests that, in today's environment, it would be strongly selected for.
A Spiked article on the epiphenomenon of people putting off "growing up"; from twenty- and thirty-somethings dressing as candy-raver kids, collecting stuffed toys and retro playthings and reliving an idealised second-time-around adolescence at institutions like "School Disco", to "boomerang kids" moving back in with their aging parents.
The reinterpretation of personal commitment as a risk represents a health warning to anyone foolish enough to desire passionate engagement. The equation of love with risk is fuelled by a tendency to accommodate to the problems experienced by adults in their relationships. One pragmatic response to this state of affairs is to declare that the expectations that we have of intimate relationships is unrealistic. 'Be careful, you may get hurt' is a message that reflects the temper of our times. The anxieties that surround relationships have encouraged many adults to avoid or at least to postpone thinking about making a commitment to others.
Meanwhile, those who do move out of home are largely choosing to live alone, rather than in de-facto relationships:
The rise of the singleton appears to be a global phenomenon, impacting on industrial societies throughout the world. Back in 1950, about three per cent of the population of Europe and North America lived alone. Since that time, virtually every industrial country has seen a massive rise in the number of single-person households. In Britain, seven million adults live alone - three times as many as 40 years ago. The 2002 edition of Social Trends estimated that by 2020, one-person households will constitute 40 percent of the total number of households.
(I lived with my parents (in
Ferntree Gully the outer darkness) until my mid-20s, using the money I saved to buy music gear, CDs imported books and other extravagances. Then I fled the suburbs, and (other than a brief stint in a sharehouse), have been living by myself. I have yet to meet anyone I fancy enough to want to live with (let alone buy real estate with). I guess this trend means that I'm not weird, just ahead of the curve.)
Some are saying that "extended adolescence" lasts until one turns 35; though if you're over that age, fear not, as you have another 10 years of "middlescence". (And once the hip GenX "middlescents" reach 45, they'll surely come up with another term for 45-to-55s who spend their lives at play.) And TV shows and movies are idealising being young or young-at-heart; being grown-up (at least in a sincere sense) is unhip.
Though is that really so pathological? Should people move out of home at 18, get married and have children in their early 20s, get a serious job, wear their hair at an appropriate length and spend their money on paying off the 5-bedroom suburban dream home as God/Nature/John Howard intended, rather than on PlayStations and backpacking trips to Thailand and Hello Kitty knickknacks and iPods and CDs and Cooper Minis and futurephones and ironic Dangerfield argyle jumpers? Or is the traditional definition of adulthood itself unnatural, a construct of the Industrial Revolution/the Victorian Era/the Calvinist work ethic?
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