The fact that teenage is the toughest phase of an individual’s life is well established through popular culture and personal experience. It is a time fraught with uncertainties, insecurities and deep, recurring identity crises as one tries to decipher his or her respective place in the world. Keeping this in mind, it is unsurprising that teenagers indulge in and get away with outrageous things. No one is entitled to judge them for it (besides their contemporaries, who of course are only children).
Thankfully, this juncture of indecisiveness and peer judgments is short lived and the clouds of sullen silences and sulky afternoons dissipate quickly. Everyone takes their time to deal with their demons, fight with others (and themselves), grow up and come out on the other side as shining, stunning, ‘perfectly balanced’ adults.
However, my case is slightly trickier as I am having trouble dealing with adulthood. I don’t mean to imply that I throw tantrums at the drop of a hat and be loud and obnoxious every time things don’t go my way (some people will disagree). The situation is a lot less severe with my only peeve being that people have begun to take themselves too seriously and by association look at everything around them superciliously.
As an adult, each one of us is now required to be perennially somber, brooding and intense or otherwise risk being labeled childish and overseen on account of frivolity. The rules of social engagement as adults are even more ridiculous than the silly, boorish standards of ordinary school groups (age is indeed just a number for some people). Ostentation seems to have become a pre-requisite to fit in today. Everyone is pretending to be thinking of and conversing about ‘matters of consequence’ in company of new people (while mostly spewing incorrect facts).
Money, career, politics and superficialities decide whether someone is worthy of conversation; because looking beneath the surface wastes too much of the precious commodities that are our time and effort. The amount, immediacy and reasons for which adults judge can put any teenager to shame.
Recently, a New York University girl accosted me in a party. She seemed pleasant and genuinely interested in making conversation. However her interest was limited to the point where she dawned upon the fact that I was a Delhi student, subsequent to which she quickly transferred to my adjacent friend. The funniest part was that her train of thought seemed to be overtaken with what school and college we went to, what courses we took and what our GPA was. Her imagination was so gripped by scores and numbers that she seemed oblivious to the real people surrounding her. Maybe intelligence is a virtue that has eluded me but I had to work extremely hard to suppress my laughter.
One other strange encounter was with an extremely educated (and well meaning I’m sure) lady who seemed slightly deflated by the fact that I prefer fiction (she specifically enquired). Her preceding warmth was tinged with a hint of chilliness after the revelation. For the remainder of the conversation, I felt like a child who had broken something. I was judged (for talking about Marquez) and it was extremely uncomfortable.
Another awkward evening was a party (Read: PARTAYYY!!) where I was supposed to meet a few old friends (plus their new acquaintances) after a long time, consequent to much wrangling and coordination. I was expecting an evening of fuzziness, laughter, anecdotes and nostalgia. Instead I ended up cowering in a corner-watching strangers perform for each other. The conversations were dominated by brags about people’s respective careers and swapping of phone numbers. I soon realised it was more a workplace networking event than anything else. I escaped as quickly as I could.
So naturally, I think grown-ups suck.
I am not sure whether growing up was one exact moment or an extended phase characterised by gloomy stares and whimsical silences. According to me, it was the time when the word innocence transformed from being a desirable trait and a term with a positive connotation into one that suggested gullibility. I think I prefer gullible, innocent people to the smart, suave ones who are adept at the ways of the world.
I realised this recently when someone made me read Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book called The Little Prince (it teaches valuable things). The book talks about the hypocrisy and stupidity of the grown up world through a simple story that even little children would understand. The person who introduced me to the book is a little like The Little Prince herself and is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met.
She mostly sees the good in everyone surrounding her and has no requirement or proclivity for pretence. Spending time with her is an absolute joy. Our days are interspersed with honest conversations, unplanned walks on sunny days, video games (Little Big Planet), cooking, reading, talking about cartoons, random games of one on one football… the list is way too long. But every single thing is an absolute pleasure because she does not have the fake standards of propriety that everyone else seems to be operating on these days.
She still remembers what it is like to be young, curious and happy; not just what marks we scored and how much money we are going to make. She has not ‘grown up’ as much as some of us, but she sure as hell knows how to live, and without the materialistic support that everyone seems to require while doing that.
Everyone around me seems to be fixated on presumably cooler things — money, gadgets, cars, sex, clothes, photographs (oh my god, photographs) and similar cosmeticized, yappy, Snappy people. That is precisely the reason why I prefer her easy, cheerful company to any ‘smarter’ person who rants about the virtues of a western education, expects me to be awestruck by the magnificence of their cool / high paying job, exhorts non-fiction or feels that I am stupid and lazy incase I haven’t read why America needs a Green Revolution. I could do without judgment and bloated egos. Adolescence is over, after all.
When I think about the most visible effects (and the reasons) of the callousness of growing up, the first thing that crops up is the elimination of cartoons and anime (I am using cartoons in both contexts for the sake of convenience) from our viewing schedules and discourse. Nothing describes the chasm between childhood delights and acquired pretentious preferences better than the reluctance to acknowledge that cartoons might still be fun.
One possible explanation for the deterioration in their popularity may be that no one has time to watch new (or old) stories anymore because they are too busy building careers and lives (since we are all old and serious now). That would have been marginally understandable.
But this is surely not the case because everyone is subscribing to Netflix in order to chill, posting spoilers for the latest Game Of Thrones episodes with impressive punctuality (and annoying rapidity) every week, awakening the forces of commentators with cool light saber images and thronging to comic conventions in order to play and cosplay. So I am assuming that there is no dearth of free time for all the serious, grown up people. Ultimately, everyone likes to kick back and indulge in a little tomfoolery once in a while. Therefore, the reluctance to watch and talk about cartoons baffles me a little.
An alternate reason may be that cartoons appear childish, immature and pointless for all of us who mean business. They don’t have the veneers that high budget television shows and Hollywood extravaganzas do. We cannot post, Snap and tweet about them. No one is going hysterical about the new season of Naruto: Shippuden like they did about the Sherlock special. So obviously cartoons are not as engaging, immersive and spellbinding as what we are watching nowadays. Cartoons are for children.
The flaw with this reaction is that it comes from the same place as judging people without knowing them comes from — a place of superficiality. And unfortunately, it carries with it the same dangers. We don’t lose anything by not talking to the quiet, awkward stranger in the corner except for an opportunity to make a new, intelligent friend. Similarly, by disregarding the animated form of storytelling we could be losing out on a fantastical world full of the ideas, ethos and skill of some highly talented people. So it might be worth our while to waste a little time talking about animation.
The presumption that cartoons are juvenile and only for little children is as far from the truth as possible. Cartoons are probably the most versatile form of telling stories ever created and this can be seen in the expansive range they cover. Cartoons can be action packed (Cowboy Bebop), philosophical and funny (Naruto), dark and brooding (Elfen Lied, Death Note), downright whimsical (Galactik Football) and invariably absolutely crazy. Cartoons can teach us to laugh at and inspect ourselves critically and mercilessly (South Park).
I have a friend who says he learnt a lot about life and the world through watching South Park while he was in school. Cartoons can have a deep impact on people who sit and watch patiently.
Even the old school cartoons have a charm of their own. I grew up watching Dexter, Tom and Jerry, Avatar, Swat Cats, Scooby Doo, X Men and took part in the Pokémon frenzy for a while (their video games are addictive). They can hold the same amount of sway even now as they did when I first watched them. They are still the same dreamy, madcap worlds with their own perfect rules and amusing idiosyncrasies.
Cartoons are a very easy and efficient way to capture children’s imaginations. By that virtue, they can be used to teach constructive lessons in an extremely entertaining manner.
Cartoons are one of the few inventions that can keep people with even the shortest attention spans riveted for hours and their impact in psychology and psychiatry can be immense.
Cartoons are projections of little children’s imaginations created by imaginative adults. Artistically, the combination can never go wrong.
So I am unsure why they have gone out of fashion. Maybe it happened because it requires patience and a certain amount of politeness to understand and acknowledge the genius of something so subtle and understated. Maybe patience and politeness are disappearing. Maybe we all need to cajole ourselves to cajole those awkward strangers into conversation. We might end up making more of those nice, quiet friends.
Originally published at coherencerepository.wordpress.com on January 20, 2016.