By Marcel Danesi University of Toronto Press, 2003 Review by Shelly Marshall, B.S., CSAC on Nov 8th 2004
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
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
Good: Allowed women the right to explore their
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?
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.