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by Marcel Danesi
University of Toronto Press, 2003
Review by Shelly Marshall, B.S., CSAC on Nov 8th 2004

Forever Young

  Beginning with a youthful bang and ending in a whimper, Marcel Danesi's Forever Young, is billed as providing "concrete answers on how the Forever Young Syndrome—can be addressed." The Forever Young Syndrome (FYS), which afflicts many I know, including myself, fascinates, repels, and embraces me with its promises. This book did the same.

Marcel Danesi is a professor of Semiotics and Anthropology  at the University of Toronto. From reading her work, I had hoped to gain perspective and a way out of the FYS that has me and most of the Boomer generation in its grip. So when Chapter One spoke of the manipulative decaying morality and ethics and how musicians and media have taken over the role of village leader, I assumed Danesi had a grasp of the problem, the youthingizing dilemma, and a solution to bestow upon the reader. 

In 'Chapter One, The Fountain of Youth' the authors let us know immediately that the foundation of youth has been contaminated. She begins by telling us that "juvenilization" is pervasive because the marketplace and media dictate morals and ethics in our present day society.  We all know that along with pop music came the ever-present "generation gap" that parents now deal with. What the reader may not have known is that at this point the first books began emerging in the '50s about how to live with your teenager, experts began proselytizing on how to parent them, and we energized a category of development called "adolescence" that hadn't really been there before.

Every paragraph is packed with excellent information on how we have created a false stage of development by keeping humans in a child-like dependent state long past their physical maturation. The author treats us to history and cultural lessons that should create a collective guilt complex after reading and will definitely show that we are at the base of our own problem. Other cultures don't have the same problems as we do with youth because when a child reaches physical maturity, they are held accountable as adults—there is no "gap" because there are no teens.

The ground work is fascinating and on a par with The Nurture Assumption and the conclusions that Judith Rich Harris has espoused. Today, Dansei says, our artificial creation of the  generation gap has led us to shun the wise elder in favor of "experts rather than grandparents."

The reader is treated to information on our media driven narcissism in 'Chapter Two, Looking Like Teenagers.' She tells society that if there is an imbalance today between physical and social maturation, it is because we expect there to be. We created it, we expect it and thus that is what we see. I do agree.

The media and our commercial driven society who target the teenage deep pocket and free time to pursue products and fashion, apparently because they are not held responsible and have the time to be totally self-indulgent, have driven us to imitate them. This is where I begin to question the theories in the book. I agree that because media caters to the youthful look, and that we no longer revere the village elder that an ideal of youthful good looks, health, and vigor are what we strive for—but to say that it is mostly because of commercialism that out society has zeroed in on staying young, seems hardly real. Somehow, it is implied that if we didn't target teens in advertising, we wouldn't be suffering from the FYS. 

I worry about how in touch the author is with what's really going on in society. She mentions her conclusions on some issues that I think are suspect and make me wonder how relevant her other conclusions are. Am I too unforgiving? For example, she says that in the '60s,we wore jeans as a symbol of rebellion against society. The sixties was my hey day and we wore jeans as a symbol of our youth, not rebellion. Our parents wore jeans when they were young (bobbie soxers), what would we be rebelling against? Kids wore jeans and were going to stay young—so we continued to wear them when in past generations we might be in suits and housedresses past the age of 17 or 18. The rebellion was wearing hip-huggers. No one, however shocked at our belly buttons, was going to tell us we couldn't. She mentions that smoking for kids is a sexual activity. What? In all honesty, I began smoking because I wanted to look like an adult. The author talks about faddism as opposed to true fashion and how the media and teens have hijacked true fashion, along with everything else decent in our society, and is at the source of FYS.

There is a good analysis in chapter 2 about the "two-edged sword," the good and the bad of youthingizing of America.

 Bad: Our perverted body images, ashamed of growing old.

 Good: Can revive stale marriages.

 Bad: Devalued family as locus of courtships.

 Good: Getting rid of the puritan restrictions.

 Bad: Looking young, no matter the cost.

 Good: People in the 70's and 80's are not ashamed to date.

 Bad: Media has preyed on the social fear of aging.

 Good: Allowed women the right to explore their sexuality.

 

After we are left envisioning advertising as a part and parcel of our "group-think" we arrive at 'Chapter 3, Talking Like Teens.' At one time, the author tells us, young people were expected to adopt the more mature adult speech patterns and mannerisms. Today, experts and parents are striving to sound 'hip' like their kids. We are given a history lesion in speech, a lesson in slang and its volatileness. The whole chapter on slang was priceless and interesting. This chapter would make a great course on "Slang: it's role in shaping modern culture" but it added little to the premise or promises of getting out of the FYS. 'Chapter 4 Grooving like Teenagers' and 'Chapter 5 Time to Grow Up" summated the wonderful history of teens, pop culture, music, and how TV has helped spread all this. The upshot of advice from Denesi is to get rid of adolescence and reconnect to family values. Great advice. How?

  Now that we've created this developmental stage monster called 'adolescence' how can we reverse it? We've spent 30 years convincing professionals and parents that it exists and tried to tell them how to handle it, now how do we back out? She also suggests it is media's responsibility to start upholding family values and revering the elders in advertising, drama, and other forums. How? These are crucial answers for which she only hints at the questions.

Of greater importance are the questions that Dr. Danesi failed to address. What about pedophilia? Has the juvenilization of our society contributed to the increase in this and if so, what can we do to reverse the trend? What about parent abuse/elder abuse, has the FYS contributed to this and how do we , as a society address it? Men want "younger" women (as seen in beer, car, and cigar commercials, Playboy, proliferation of porno sites, and Sports Illustrated, special edition calendar issues) and older women know that. So in order to compete for their men, older women have to look younger. How do we reach our men and help reverse the trend? How do  we teach them to honor and love the mature woman, the anchor of their lives rather then chase the trophy?

How?

We are told that "psychology" has declared ownership of adolescence and I heartily agree. What we are not told is that "the psychology of men" has declared that young bodies rule. This book is a wonderful read for why teenagers are in the cultural soup they are in today. It doesn't do much for helping me understand how to not want to be young forever.

 

© 2004 Shelly Marshall

 

Shelly Marshall, B.S., CSAC is an Adolescent Chemical Dependency Specialist and Researcher. You can visit her site at www.day-by-day.org