It seems that youth is no longer wasted on the young. In recent years, many social scientists (as well as Jay-Z) have claimed that thirty is the new twenty. Whereas one at twenty used to be considered an adult, now one at twenty is relatively still a child. So, what makes an adult these days? Are there any rites of passage in Western culture in the twenty-first century?
You can make your very own poisonous, despicable man.
Begin by keeping him a boy for as long as you can,
And when the voice in his head says that everything’s wrong,
Let him think we’d be convinced but only with the right song.
— Cex, “The Wayback Machine”
I first heard it expressed that forty was the new thirty a few years ago just after two of my colleagues had broken the forty-mark. The further encroachment of youth on adulthood (or vice versa, depending on which way you want to view it) is seemingly evident everywhere. From movies, to videogames, to music, we are not aging — culturally — the way our parents have. “Adults” in their thirties unashamedly play and discuss videogames, obsessively. The theme itself is apparent in pop culture (See recent cinematic hits like The Forty-Year-Old Virgin or The Last Kiss, for examples). As the main character in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club so directly put it, “I’m a thirty-year-old boy.”
I am often asked if I am comfortable with my age, and I must say that I am more comfortable at thirty-six than I was at twenty-six, but if thirty is the new twenty, then Jay-Z and I are both twenty-six. He claimed last album to have graduated from throwback jerseys to button-ups (because he was “thirty-plus”), but I don’t even own a pair of dress shoes, much less a suit. We might not know what makes the man, but it sure ain’t the clothes.
Sure, all of my friends (most of whom, it must be noted, are younger than I am) are getting married, buying houses, having kids (or at least talking about it), etc., but the old rites of passage (e.g., marriage, childbirth, etc.) do not adults make. Perhaps they never did, but the illusion was strong, and now there seems to be no one consciously interested in maintaining that illusion. We need new rules or no rules. Right now there’s a rupture in our cultural development that begins in the late-teens and continues often into the early forties.
Sometimes I feel like adult. Sometimes I don’t.