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Teenage Dream: How the YA Movement Is Inspiring Us Old People

“She had been a teenager once, and she knew that, despite the apparent contradictions, a person’s teenage years lasted well into their fifties.”
― Derek Landy, Mortal Coil

I am old. I don’t say that because I am upset by the aging process, I understand the concept of time moving forward, but still, it always surprises me that I could be this age, 41. Especially when I realize that I am no longer an influential member of society (not young enough to start or follow trends, not old enough to Baby Boom my way into changing the way people age).

Nope, I’m stuck in this weird netherworld of perpetual mind youth, whereby my head is firmly planted back in the 80s and 90s (when my own teenage years began and ended) while my body has decided that now is a good time to break down permanently and cause me to be as physically parted from my youth as possible.
It’s depressing to say the least…But still, there’s such a strong desire to retain those few horribly beautiful years that it has become almost a fetish for me.

And I’m not alone.

In the last few years, how many adults have stumbled embarrassingly into the children’s book section to snag a tome by John Green (The Fault In the Stars) or Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) or Rachel Cohn and David Levtihan (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist)?

How many of us would rather watch movies that depict that crazy, insane time in our lives when the future was filled with promise and wonder rather than sit through a more respectable adult choice like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?

Think about it.

Adulthood is a lie and we bought into it. We left our youth for the belief that being adult is far more awesome than being a teen. You can drink, buy cigarettes, stay out all night if you want, and for a while we did all those things. We became that mythical adult creature that we so desperately wanted to believe in.
Of course, our grasp on that creature lessened as adulthood called to us with its siren song, “Sign up for credit cards, buy a new car, rent or own your very own domicile…forget about your hopes and dreams”.

Is it any wonder why the teen genre is seriously starting to appeal to people my age?

The dystopian future depicted by authors like Collins, Veronica Roth (Insurgent), James Dashner (The Maze Runner), Neal Shusterman (Unwind) or Scott Westerfeld (The Uglies) are popular with people my age because those dark futures are seen as a metaphor for adulthood. The young fight. The old merely stand by and watch horror happen. And for some of us there is still a strong pull to retain that fighting instinct. We see these characters as an extension of ourselves, our younger selves, and in some ways, through reading these books (or watching the movies), we are reclaiming that part inside of us that remains hidden: our fearlessness.
Being young is all about being fearless and irresponsible and it’s tough to give that up. To love that period of time as an adult (and yes, even the bad parts of it) is to rebel against the crowd. As Judith Martin (Miss Manners) once said:

“The invention of the teenager was a mistake. Once you identify a period of life in which people get to stay out late but don’t have to pay taxes – naturally, no one wants to live any other way.”

And we don’t.

My generation (Gen X) has always been a bit of a weirdo. Our rebellion was televised, packaged and sold to the masses for the whole of the 90s and we didn’t mind a bit. After-all, we were pop culture babies who incorporated books, movies and TV into our personal mythology so being co-opted by powerful adults who wanted to sell our experiences back to us in the form of bad entertainment (think Hackers) was just par for the course.

We also thought our reign would never end, until it did and we were replaced by a more compliant generation of children who marketed their own version of youth, a take-over which made my generation a bit nauseous…and yet strangely attracted to it (yes I’m taking about the Britney Spears years and I’m not apologizing for the fact that I enjoyed it).

But I digress.

The rise of YA literature (and their subsequent transformation into blockbuster films) is not so much the direct result of teens flocking to the subject matter as it is the adults who find comfort in them. Sure, adult fare like 50 Shades of Grey might have broken all kinds of selling records, but remember, we are talking about fan-fiction derived from the Twilight series, which adults also bought by the droves, and the underlying message of 50 Shades is that somewhere, deep down inside, we want the intensity of our teen hormones back…and maybe tied up and spanked.

And while these youthful distractions may sate our internal needs to relive a particular moment in time, they also tempt us. I have friends who have dropped out of adulthood recently, and while I can’t prove that they were seduced by their reading habits (they are completely in love with Harry Potter and re-read them constantly) they have, however, sold most of their belongings, re-vamped an old travel trailer and set off to see the US. When asked how they will survive without jobs they replied in a typical teenage way, “I’ll make and sell stuff at craft fairs or start a blog”.

You have to love it.

So perhaps all of this teen stuff really isn’t for teens after-all. The progenitors of this YA movement are really people my age (give or take a few years) who have created these worlds and are reflections of their own desires. So naturally, one could assume that subconsciously these writers and showrunners and directors are all giving us old people a chance to embrace our hidden youth, that part of us who, upon waking up on their 41st birthday, wonder what the fuck just happened to them.

And maybe that’s what is needed. A revolution of us aging folks dropping out of society in order to follow Dave Matthews around on tour or Instagram our way across Route 66 or hell, even start a weekly cocktail party where everyone gets dressed up Mad Men-style and drinks enough Martinis to forget about mortgage payments for a while.

Rebellion can take many forms and if this surge in popularity for teen-centric entertainment is any indication, we adults have had enough, and in the eternal words of Twisted Sister:

“WE’RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT…ANYMORE”

So watch out world, we oldies are about to take back the world…you know, right after we finish doing the laundry and going to the grocery store.

Addendum:

If you are interested in starting a path of youth reclamation, I have included a list of my top 10 favorite YA books and movies to help you on your way.

Books (in no certain order):

1. Sleeping Freshman Never Lie– David Lubar

2. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist– Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

3. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children– Ransom Riggs

4. Whip It– Shauna Cross

5. Wolf Boy– Evan Kuhlman

6. Hairstyles of the Damned– Joe Meno

7. The Hunger Games series– Suzanne Collins

8. Paper Towns– John Green

9. The Perks of Being A Wallflower– Stephen Chbosky

10. Monster– Walter Dean Myers

11. (I know I said 10 but dammit, I will not cut the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling)

Movies (in no particular order):

1. Easy A

2. Kids

3. Submarine

4. 10 Things I Hate About You 

5. Empire Records 

6. Juno 

7. Dazed and Confused 

8. Heathers 

9. Pump Up The Volume 

 

10. The Sure Thing 

(Yes, I know there’s no John Hughes films listed but those are a given…it’s not like you don’t have them memorized by now).

Also, just because they are insanely funny and interesting, check out:

1. X Saves the Day: How Generation X Got the Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking– Jeff Gordinier

2. Lost in America (a film by Albert Brooks)

You’ll be glad that you did.

 

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