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March 19, 2014 7:48 AM   Subscribe

"But in a consumer culture committed to prolonging adolescence at all costs, the boundaries demarcating child and adult experience have blurred to the point that it’s no longer obvious just who is imitating whom. The American state of play is terminally confused. Much of it feels grimly compulsory, and carries with it a whiff of preemptive failure to achieve the target level of revelry." Mandatory fun, the drudgery of child's play, and the American trend toward rejuveniliaztion are among the topics touched on in "Play, Dammit."
posted by MonkeyToes (73 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Whoever wrote this article needs to go out and play.
posted by Kokopuff at 8:00 AM on March 19 [7 favorites]


Ha, I was just about to post this.

The cultivation of leisure should be a joyful pastime, not a grim competitionist duty.

As with all things I blame capitalism and Protestant work ethics.
posted by The Whelk at 8:04 AM on March 19 [13 favorites]


The article does a really bad job defining what it means by play, and the author seems pretty willing to lump everything and anything under that banner without much rhyme or reason. Miley Cyrus is entertainment, not play. Same goes for game shows, which might be play for the participants, but are mostly entertainment.

For the things that I think she is correct in calling play (RPGs, kickball, etc.), her descriptions ring completely false to me despite being in precisely the demographic she's talking about. I don't feel the compulsion she seems to assume is there, and she doesn't really offer any demonstration that her claim is right. It just winds up feeling like a fairly contrived analysis of a reality that's mostly of the author's own devising.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:07 AM on March 19 [13 favorites]


I feel it's pulling in too many things but the focus on childcare is spot on to describing a certain type of parental anexity and over-compensating. Some of the other offshoot points are just distracting cul dul sacs.
posted by The Whelk at 8:09 AM on March 19


Well, that article is some weapons-grade overthinking. The tl;dr version is "The things you think are fun are not as much fun as the things I think are fun."

I like going to Dave & Buster's.
posted by jbickers at 8:09 AM on March 19 [8 favorites]


Instead of exchanging small talk about football, rejuveniles seem to ask, why not play paintball and Chinese checkers and refer to each other by absurd nicknames?

Seriously, why not? What's inherently mature about football?
posted by Iridic at 8:15 AM on March 19 [31 favorites]


the focus on childcare is spot on to describing a certain type of parental anexity and over-compensating

It reminded me a lot of what Jennifer Senior talks about in "All Joy and No Fun."

The "terminal confusion" over play mentioned in the Baffler article also resonated with me after hearing a recent interview that talked about the definition of leisure as it is commonly understood and as time researchers use it:
At first I thought, well, I'm just too busy to track my time. And, you know, then [the time researcher] gave me this little template to try to describe what I was doing. ... And I think one of the most amazing things is I had taken my daughter to a ballet class, and on the way back the car broke down, and we were waiting for a tow truck on the side of the road to come for two hours. And he highlighted that, and he called that leisure time. And I said you are crazy.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:21 AM on March 19 [9 favorites]


When the young-adult pop-culture sensations of the moment oscillate between the grisly rigors of Call of Duty and The Hunger Games, it’s clear that a perverse imp of destruction lurks at the heart of the supposedly carefree franchises of American amusement.

This doesn't even appear to be in English.

But to the overall point, I have only belatedly learned to noth as I've grown older. When someone asks "What are you doing?" it's actually acceptable to reply "Nothing."
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:25 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


I get biz-zay consistently and thoroughly.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:27 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Super-serious adult things like professional sales teams had incentives involving point systems, varying commission rates on different items, and badge-like bonuses for selling high-profit-margin combinations of items x number of times long before the word "gamification" was invented. I think that much of what are promulgated as gamification techniques actually originated in those sorts of mature and somber pasttimes in the first place and were introduced into games, perhaps with more automation and refinement.

For example state and county agricultural fairs were where every single little thing anyone makes in domestic life or farm life was turned into a competition with an array of awards for different narrow sub-categories of achievement, with the most exceptional competitors given a blue ribbon that's actually the model for the badge icons in some video games...
posted by XMLicious at 8:28 AM on March 19 [8 favorites]


You can also skip the rather alarmist Baffler copy and just watch that Portlandia where they play hide and seek
posted by clvrmnky at 8:31 AM on March 19 [4 favorites]


I need to reread that, because I don't think I got the point at all, but I guess I don't understand what's new about any of this. So the hipsters play kickball and dodgeball, and that seems a little goofy to me, because the job of hipsters is to seem goofy to people like me. But their grandparents were probably in a bowling league and had a weekly poker or bridge or mahjong game, and they were Greatest Generation types who define adulthood for the ages. How is that different? Because cupcakes? I don't think I get it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:34 AM on March 19 [23 favorites]


I want to go look at my old Bafflers from the nineties and see if the writing was like this and my tastes have just changed, because it seems like an oddly empty piece to me.

I think the basic hypothesis is very Baffler/Adorno, and worth exploring - the way "play" gets recuperated as labor and labor disguised as "play", and why the intensification of both those trends is happening now. I think that's classic Baffler material, since they've always been interested in business-speak and how it gets turned into "common sense" in mass media.

And I think there's a bold hypothesis about how to be lurking under there - something along the lines of "it is possible to have a self which is not primarily created by the exigencies of popular culture and capitalism, and this kind of self is the most desirable kind to have".

But I think it would benefit from focusing on just one or two things in more depth - gamification or parenting or the economic/labor ideas buried in World of Warcraft, etc.
posted by Frowner at 8:39 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


By my understanding the US military has a literal system of points that reflect experience and gaining enough of these points is required to go up a level in rank. This gives the player the ability to control more individuals and eventually units.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:44 AM on March 19 [12 favorites]


(I also think the "why are former-hipster 40-somethings playing kickball" is an uninteresting derail in the piece. First, because it's a generational lament of people just a bit older than me - folks who are not sure How To Be Old but are indubitably No Longer Young - and second because it's very difficult to parse out people's rationale for, like, playing kickball. I think it would be very possible to look at something like a NYT style section article about Kickball The Font Of Childlike Play For Rich White People and talk about how the media frames this stuff - that would be the "culture and common sense" angle. Or you could talk about someone's blog if they were constantly rabbiting on about the youthfulness, joy and ensuing disruptive corporate success they enjoyed because of playing kickball with their wealthy white creative class peers. But I think it's really difficult to get into the whole "I am looking at this amorphous mass of humans and assuming their individual motivations". You can certainly look at an amorphous mass of humans and talk about the effects of their actions - if teams of wealthy white creative class 40-somethings are taking over all the park buildings every Saturday for their joyous romping and displacing actual working class children, that's a real thing. (Note that I'm making this all up - I myself have only the most nebulous memories of playing kickball as a kid, even.)
posted by Frowner at 8:45 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


As others have noted, it's sort of all over the place and paints with a brush so large that it might be a broom.

Despite name dropping Huizinga, the above article is strangely ahistorical. Play always has connections to larger ideas of culture, economy and politics. XMLicious hits the nail on the head... the only difference of Gamification and previous rules-based incentive programs is the conscious decision to sell gamification as fun and playful (often it is neither). I guess that's sort of what the author is getting at?

But it goes on to blame a vague caricature of a "hipster parent" that the author wants to grind an axe against, and then branches off to attack Dave and Busters (the last gasp of arcades, and while perhaps depressing, not exactly the devil incarnate), and Miley Cyrus (who actually DOES seem to occasionally be using her super star status to play with the idea of celebrity, despite the lack of credit she gets for it), and a single passage in a single psychologist's parenting book (if the author so chooses they can go into any used book store, head to the psychology section, and flip to a random page in a random book to find other material worth mocking).

Given the title and the topic I was excited, and expected something 3 times as long. Instead I got a grouchy op-ed that would do The Washington Times proud. On preview, what Frowner said.

One thing that I've been thinking about researching (but wasn't mentioned in the article) is the economy that's sprung up around fan produced content related to digital games: modifications, server hosting, machinima and Let's Plays which generate thousands of dollars a month. It's a fascinating topic of study (let's hope my thesis adviser agrees).
posted by codacorolla at 8:46 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


I think the author of that piece needs to pull a stick out of somewhere.

jeesh.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:46 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


I went into this thinking it would be about the latest trend of gamification of everything, and team-building "fun" mandatory activities at work - ways in which American capitalism is trying to disguise taking more of our time for less money, by trying to pretend that it's rewarding on some other level (or worse, mandating that you look like you're having fun, like at Pret a Manger). But I think it's more saying that things people choose to do for fun aren't actually fun?
posted by Mchelly at 8:46 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


And, on the topic of social sports leagues, I think that there's definitely SOMETHING interesting there. Like the economics and commodifcation of play. Maybe look at the way that social sports fill a gap left by atomized workplaces, and social networks mediated through technocratic late capitalism, and how this gap is then leveraged by social sports companies to make big profits? Instead we get some sneering comments about how people who like to play sports with other people refuse to grow up.
posted by codacorolla at 8:49 AM on March 19 [4 favorites]


entropicamericana: "I get biz-zay consistently and thoroughly."

So you're proactive?
posted by Chrysostom at 9:05 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


"If this is what it means to play—to relish strange musical instruments, to sip rose juleps, to listen to birds singing in the early morning—then count me among the frolicsome."

Yeah, it doesn't. Stop whining and get on the floor with your kids.
posted by billiebee at 9:10 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


The cultivation of leisure should be a joyful pastime, not a grim competitionist duty.

There's a scene in Last of the Mohicans where a meeting of all of the area settlers and natives are called together for a big serious meeting where it's announced that war is breaking out between the British and the French, and everyone takes a moment to nod before going back to playing lacrosse with grim intensity.

Play is something that humans do, not just children, and it is sometimes taken seriously, and othertimes not. It is an integral part of human socialization and a cornerstone of culture.

I mean, for reals - all of the great ancient civilizations: Egypt, Sumeria, India, Shang Empire, the Teotihuacans, Classical Greece - they all had boardgames that were played by adults. We know, because the board and pieces were highly prized, and made of durable material like stone, ivory, gold and bronze, and buried as grave goods. There are Babylonian tablets describing the rules of boardgames. One of the few Aztec codexes still in existence has a patolli game board on it, and there are depictions of Hindu gods playing chaupar - games for some cultures were considered a religious ritual. (Now that's some serious, there.)

Chess, majong, cards and backgammon, among others, have always had a class of professionals who play games for their trade, players who and gain material wealth and status through play and refining their understanding of the game beyond mere gambling. Is it still play?

Hot-rodders apply engineering and fabrication skills to achieve a measurable goal at the racetrack. Is it still work?

The article is flawed from its inception - it does not examine or understand its own assumptions.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:15 AM on March 19 [18 favorites]


the relentless impositions of complex role-playing games

Okay, so, the rules for some of them can be kind of complicated, but I'm somehow after that picturing the author as someone who, as a child, did not understand the point of playing Let's Pretend. I mean, the whole point was immersion. Therefore, if you are playing Let's Pretend and you are going to go seize the orc stronghold, and you are an adult who is actually capable of adult levels of strategy, of course that process is considerably more involved than it was when you were eight, and it is that much more awesome for it.

But I also don't know where this "rejuveniles" thing comes in, in that context, because the majority of the people I know who play such things have been at it quite consistently since adolescence. Ditto the board game players. I'm assuming the kick ball people are among those who have just recently figured out that we didn't all give up all the things we liked when we got our driver's licenses and started making out with people. (Wait until they learn you can play Let's Pretend games that actually include the making out.)
posted by Sequence at 9:17 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


I cannot for the life of me figure out what she is going on about.
posted by kyrademon at 9:22 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


Chrysostum: So you're proactive?

Isn't 'proactive' just one of those words stupid people use to make people think they're smart?

I'm fired, aren't I?
posted by lodurr at 9:26 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


I'm interested in what the will be the effects of billions of advertising dollars going to encouraging 20,30 and 40 year olds to idolize adolescence. Who wouldn't want their customers to to succumb to a message that asked them to regress to their most irresponsible period? If they can get an adult with an income to make spending decisions like a teenager, then they have a sucker who is all the more happy that the marketer has chosen them as their mark.
posted by bdc34 at 9:27 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


Play is something that humans do, not just children, and it is sometimes taken seriously, and othertimes not. It is an integral part of human socialization and a cornerstone of culture.

Yeah, it really felt like the author started from some arbitrary historical point where it was assumed her assumptions about games and play were totally correct, and began to explain how we've failed to live up to that. Except that arbitrary historical point didn't happen and the assumptions are incorrect.

I mean, I understand that it's an opinion piece but if you're going to be claiming things were X and should be Y, you gotta get that X right otherwise the only justification for the "why" is "because I think it would be better." In which case, well, who the hell are you outside of a person that doesn't have a grasp on the topic they picked to write about?
posted by griphus at 9:28 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


And, on the topic of social sports leagues, I think that there's definitely SOMETHING interesting there. Like the economics and commodifcation of play. Maybe look at the way that social sports fill a gap left by atomized workplaces, and social networks mediated through technocratic late capitalism, and how this gap is then leveraged by social sports companies to make big profits? Instead we get some sneering comments about how people who like to play sports with other people refuse to grow up.
Ok, so does anyone else remember the whole Bowling Alone thing? That was a book that came out in 2000, based on an essay that came out in 1995, which had a whole theory about how America was falling to pieces because people were too disengaged and individualistic. The big symbol of this was that Americans weren't joining bowling leagues anymore. Instead they were bowling alone. So 15 years ago we get a panic that the youth of today suck because they aren't joining social sports leagues, and now we get another panic that they suck because they are.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:29 AM on March 19 [25 favorites]


Slap*Happy: My last workplace had/has a "fun committee." I.e., a bureaucratic institution tasked with making sure that there was a certain amount of zaniness in the workplace. This involved monthly awards given for "being more human" (i.e., being zanier, funnier, somethinger) than other people around the office.

So, no, not flawed from inception, at least from my point of view -- rather, quite perceptive.
posted by lodurr at 9:29 AM on March 19


(... and seriously, do folks around here actually not remember Heather Havrilesky?)
posted by lodurr at 9:36 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Is this something I would not have to have fun to understand?
posted by Kitteh at 9:40 AM on March 19 [4 favorites]


So, no, not flawed from inception, at least from my point of view -- rather, quite perceptive.

Perceptive...if it had talked about anything like what you talked about, but it didn't. It talked about basically everything else under the sun, but not organizational attempts to co-opt and force fun on people. There's probably an article about that out there, but all Heather Havrilesky has written is the title.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:49 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Smarm detected.
posted by belarius at 9:52 AM on March 19


I think Heather is not the person who needs to learn how to have fun. Y'all could start out by reading the article from a non-literalist stick-up-your-butts perspective. For example, consider the possibility that she's being sarcastic.
posted by lodurr at 9:54 AM on March 19


> "(... and seriously, do folks around here actually not remember Heather Havrilesky?)"

I recognized the name. That doesn't mean I had any idea what she was talking about here.

Sarcastic about what, exactly?
posted by kyrademon at 10:10 AM on March 19


Ha, this reminds me of a time I was at the park and there was a mom following her five year old around the playscape making sure he did every single activity. And if he balked, she would exclaim "CLIMB! CLIMB! SLIDE NOW!" Poor kid, I was feeling stressed out just watching them.

There was another time at the library where a (different) mom was making her child finish a puzzle. This time it was a loud "ARRANGE! ARRANGE!" every time his attention wandered off.

Now my husband and I can't help yelling ARRANGE! and CLIMB! at each other. Our kid is going to be so confused.
posted by wilky at 10:13 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


I generally like Havrilesky, but I'm sometimes unable to follow her when she goes into "late capitalism" mode. It might make sense if you're familiar with the tropes and conversant in the terminology, but it's fairly hard to follow when it's presented in a format like this one, where every paragraph refers to a different phenomenon to build an argument. There are just too many shortcuts, too many links the reader is supposed to make.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:24 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


just watch that Portlandia where they play hide and seek

Isn't this kind of the overarching theme of Portlandia, though? The unbearable lightness of being a hipster? Almost every sketch is based around something that is supposedly fun but actually a total chore.
posted by Sara C. at 10:34 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


And what could sound more enticing than dorveille, a period of relaxing wakefulness in the middle of the night, during which people smoked or wrote or reflected but rarely left their beds?

I am so glad I can now say I'm engaged in dorveille instead of "lazing about in bed for hours at a time and not feeling bad about it." Other than that, I have no idea what she's trying to say.
posted by sfkiddo at 10:36 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


I also think the "why are former-hipster 40-somethings playing kickball" is an uninteresting derail in the piece.

Are hipster 40-somethings playing kickball, though? This seems like a weird form of hyperbole to me (in the article, not at you, Frowner). I remember seeing 20-somethings playing kickball in Williamsburg a decade ago. Now there's quite clearly a different generation of hipsters on the scene with a totally different aesthetic that AFAIK does not center around the idea of twee adorkability at all.

And the "rejuvenile" thing has gone fully mainstream; at this point the trappings of it (cupcakes, fake mustaches, ironic children's games) are almost square.

I also noticed a marked lack of twee in the most recent Wes Anderson movie.

Have we finally reached Cute Overload?
posted by Sara C. at 10:40 AM on March 19


The people who play kickball in DC are mostly bros. Our hipsters have moved on to bocce.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:42 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Our hipsters have moved on to bocce.

People moved away from bowls and bocce? Heathens! Barbarians! How else does one pass the time between outings of paintball and trying to manage 48 people in a bid to prevent some horrible zerg of a hundred or so unwashed Conglomerites from taking the last Sovereignty tech plant on the continent?
posted by Slackermagee at 10:54 AM on March 19


Lawn Bowling Together (And Why That is Actually a Bad Thing, Which Conveniently Supports Your Preconceived Notions About Youth, Leisure and Acceptable Behavior, and Will At Least Get Me 30 Minutes On The Diane Rehm Show At Worst and If I'm Being Optimistic A Cushy Lecture Circuit Through TED).

I think I might need to work on the title a little bit.
posted by codacorolla at 10:57 AM on March 19 [13 favorites]


Our hipsters have moved on to bocce.

That's pretty much the same as Petanque, right? That game is awesome. My friends and I invented a holiday about 15 years back called Drunktaugustfest, where Petanque is played and we drink a makeshift sangria made of wine and anything in the fridge that seems like it would taste good with wine. Haven't done it in a while on account of we all have children and live in different places now, but there's nothing hipster about petanque. It's usually played by old people I thought.
posted by Hoopo at 10:59 AM on March 19


Seriously, why not? What's inherently mature about football?

I don't know, but apparently it's in The Rules of Adulthood.

My parents to this day shake their heads and tut-tut because I would rather play games on my computer than sit in front of the TV watching football like an adult.

Occasionally they ask me "Are you still playing those video games?" Because I have a child now.
posted by Fleebnork at 11:01 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Grow up already and build a ship in a bottle or a model train set!
posted by Hoopo at 11:03 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


I long for the day I'm old enough to build a ship in a bottle and have it be normal old man eccentricity as opposed to something weird for a 30 year old to do.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:05 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


and there was a mom following her five year old around the playscape making sure he did every single activity. And if he balked, she would exclaim "CLIMB! CLIMB! SLIDE NOW!"

I have a clear memory of my first night of college, and the Fun Fest held for all freshmen, no exceptions. I took one look at this mandatory fun, decided it was bullshit, and sneaked out. Compulsory fun is not spontaneous joy from the inside out; it's someone else's agenda, benefiting whoever's running the show, and whatever it is that's at stake, it's not about whether the participants have fun.

"CLIMB! CLIMB! SLIDE NOW!" may get a kid moving, but it's also there to salve mom's (for a given value of American middle-class/UMC mother) conscience, to mitigate the fear of not providing and enforcing a teachable moment when she suspects that every moment has something at stake. There is no time for fun without learning. Fun has to be pegged to standards and consequences: "Hunger Games" is a perfect example of how pointless, spontaneous, creative enjoyment generated by kids (the old game of playing shoot 'em up in the woods) has been remade under the eye of authority. The tributes die; those who run the show profit. There is no fun here. There is surveillance, and there is anxiety, and there are "monthly awards given for 'being more human' (i.e., being zanier, funnier, somethinger) than other people around the office." Spontaneous, self-enriching joy -- let alone true leisure -- shall not happen. You WILL have fun.

And you'll get down on the floor with your cupcakes and make damn sure of it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:06 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I mostly feel sorry for the writer's kids.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:54 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


*strongly wondering what a pineapple tree is*
posted by glasseyes at 11:56 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


In this piece, there are 5 variants of "seem," 2 of "appear," 2 of "apparently," and 11 of "feel."

I remain unconvinced.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:05 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


I think there's another three or four feet of pole up there someone could shinny up, if someone wants to try pissing from a greater height.
posted by lodurr at 12:07 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Croquet.

With a flamingo and a hedgehog.
posted by bukvich at 12:32 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


moved on to bocce

I would just like to endorse this pastime, which can be played while holding a wine glass.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:36 PM on March 19


Isn't this why we invented arm wrestling?
posted by oceanjesse at 12:42 PM on March 19


Not that this is the reason why people play kickball, but isn't it easier for a greater number of people to play? No huge advantage for upper-arm strength, no batting stances and grips to think about. Since I didn't grow up playing baseball, I'm pretty self-conscious about playing it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:43 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


The article is flawed from its inception - it does not examine or understand its own assumptions.

This is an observation I could make of about 25% of similar pieces online.
posted by emjaybee at 12:44 PM on March 19


Yeah, I think that's a huge part of the appeal of kickball. Whether this manifests as openness to anyone who wants to play or "oh good, a sport I can still play while totally hammered" is, of course, a function of the group playing.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:45 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Isn't this why we invented arm wrestling?

I just recently found out there is a ladies' competitive arm wrestling league (or something of that ilk?) here in Los Angeles.
posted by Sara C. at 1:04 PM on March 19


I want to go look at my old Bafflers from the nineties and see if the writing was like this and my tastes have just changed, because it seems like an oddly empty piece to me.

Ding ding ding! Yes, this is exactly how I've felt about The Baffler ever since it was revived by MIT Press.

When I discovered the magazine back in the '90s (with issue 6) I remember feeling like someone had just turned the lights on for the first time. Their article about Kansas City suburban development, combined with Tom Frank's incandescent rhetoric in his editorial, finally put words to a dissatisfaction I'd been feeling for years. I subscribed and read every word of every issue, and contributed my hard-earned bucks to their fundraisers after the fire damage.

But each issue always had a few annoying articles, too -- hipsters upbraiding other hipsters for not being the right kind of hip, outrage exercises obviously based on selective quoting and language games, you know that sort of thing. On the positive side, though, The Baffler was consistently good about attacking the academic "cult studs" as well as the use of Sixties revolutionary rhetoric to support business interests. (OK, maybe they did worship F.D.R. and midcentury labor relations a little too slavishly, but Rah Rah New Deal Social Welfare Liberal Consensus wasn't exactly a popular theme in the '90s anywhere else...)

Since the revival, it feels like the cult studs are in charge and the shitty-article : brilliant-insight ratio has skewed totally to the sucky side. I was just reading the latest issue, and I finished the very article linked here, and thought "this is fluff that's faking towards a proper Baffler article; how the mighty have fallen!" The good news is that The Baffler's original program has gone mainstream, with Occupy Wall Street, weekly Paul Krugman op-eds, and Tom Frank running Harper's now.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:05 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


I often feel like cult studies pecies on modern anexity and parenting seem to forget that for the majority of Americans, it really is one wrong step away from ruin. Peopple who might have had some safety net now have nothing, you BETTER DAMN WELL make sure EVERY SECOND IS ENRICHING AND TEACHING AND GROWING not only cause of hazy statements about competition and tightly wound parents but also cause having your life ruined by one or two bad shakes is a totally real thing that happens all the time these days.

It's all risk and no reward. I just wonder when people are going to stop trying.
posted by The Whelk at 2:26 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Compulsory fun is not spontaneous joy from the inside out; it's someone else's agenda, benefiting whoever's running the show, and whatever it is that's at stake, it's not about whether the participants have fun.

I tend to agree. Samuel Johnson once wrote, "Nothing is more hopeless than a scheme of merriment."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:36 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]


Seriously, why not? What's inherently mature about football?

I grew up on the ass end of the American Dream when television came in four flavors of free (seven if you could get the rotator working on the antenna) and your mortgaged home, television, couch, and a beer were the aspirational icons of middle-class masculinity. TV culture was the common culture. It is what we were told to settle for, and why do something badly for fun if it didn't have any practical application to my life or career. Keeping those childish obsessions around was, well childish.

And then the American Dream imploded. The prices of TV, housing, and debt grew faster than wages. The labor middle-class shrunk. College grads traded house-poor for degree-poor. Computing power is about the only thing that actually got cheaper. So fuck that shit. Because while I may "settle" for 45 hours a week in the name of financial stability, the "useless" play from my childhood is cheaper and healthier for me than aspiring to be Homer Simpson.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:51 PM on March 19


Wow. I... wow. I love Heather Havrilesky's work so much - fellow old-timers may remember her from the late, lamented, and utterly brilliant suck.com.

But this article is just so... wrong. I don't know about other countries, but in America, we need MORE play. People need to spend less time watching television and more time doing fun things. Whether it's playing in a kickball league or joining an online zombie-shooting death match.

We work crazy long hours - more every week - and we get the least amount of vacation of any developed nation. Parental leave is practically non-existent. Mandatory overtime. "Flex hours" where you're allowed to stay late but you're not really allowed to show up late. (They say you are, but it's frowned upon.) You have to work through lunch and stay late on Friday but hey, we'll order pizza for the whole team!

Play - doing something for the sheer joy of it - sets your mind free, gives you a better perspective on life. It makes you a better person. It improves your health. It brightens your outlook. How could someone possibly argue against that?

If you don't like a lot of pastimes, fine, don't do them. I'm not personally drawn to practicing a musical instrument, playing kickball, or creating model railroads, but I'm not going to crap on people who dig those things.
posted by ErikaB at 4:24 PM on March 19 [5 favorites]


I think there's another three or four feet of pole up there someone could shinny up, if someone wants to try pissing from a greater height.

How many points is that worth?
posted by misha at 4:54 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


But this article is just so... wrong. I don't know about other countries, but in America, we need MORE play.

... which I took to be precisely the point of the article: more play, fewer regimented schemes of merriment.

I play just fine, thank you, without being dragooned into a fun-committee-mandated happy-hour game of ring-toss after which I must sit down in the evening and finish the work that was interrupted by the fun committee.

Or to slavishly hew to exactly what's presented in the piece, most kids play just fine, without being mushed into right-expressions of joyishness in dad's/mom's most nostalgically-recalled childhood playground activity.
posted by lodurr at 5:27 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


How many points is that worth?

I don't know, it's not my playground.
posted by lodurr at 5:28 PM on March 19


I don't want to hog the thread too much, but it's also worth noting that Huizinga was writing from a perspective of nostalgia. He was pining for his own idealized conception of pre-industrial Europe, and often based his examples (being a historian) off of the ritual play of peasants in this time period. Not without sympathy, it's worthy to note that he was writing in the ascent of European fascism, with its own perversions of play in the form of rituals, and badges and points that went along with it. Reimer's position piece on the particulars is worth reading, if you have university library access.
posted by codacorolla at 6:35 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


The people she talks about in this article sound tense but goodhearted. I think it's sweet that someone would need reassurance from a book to just let her kid scream himself out or that it's OK to play pretend with him. I also think it's adorable that people are giving each other high fives at Dave and Busters. Maybe I'm just a sap.

To me, it sounds like what irks her about how adults are "playing" nowadays is the combination of people trying really hard to be nice and supportive of each other (the high-fives and what not) while simultaneously seeming grim and tense. But I think that the "grim and tense" part isn't really something to get on people's cases about (nobody *wants* to be grim or tense, that's something that life does to you, I think) and the "trying really hard to be nice and supportive" part seems like an improvement over the alternatives.

Because our parks and grocery stores and restaurants are currently overrun with parents who coo and coax and applaud and speak some crazy coded language of play, finding dorky ways to get their kids to throw away their trash or quiet down without ever saying “Throw that away” or “Be quiet.” Because telling a kid what to do directly, or explaining that tornados don’t visit Los Angeles and wild bears never attack and eat kids on suburban streets, is not acceptable.

On the one hand, I think it's a good thing to be direct, especially with kids. On the other hand, I think she's painting the idea of ordering kids around in a too-rosy light. When/where I was growing up things were more "get my belt" and less "finding dorky ways to get their kids to...," and that wasn't exactly pleasant or really even useful for anybody (adults probably included).

Alpha Male isn't the only form of valid adulthood out there. You can also be an adult by playing pretend with your kid, and letting things go when he starts getting cranky instead of being Mr. Disciplinarian about it, and futzing around with some ragdoll kit, and maybe later having a friendly game of UNO or Apples to Apples or whatever with your friends (while not at all bothering yourself about football). That all seems perfectly and traditionally adult to me, and not particularly childlike?

When I was a young kid in the late eighties/early nineties, my parents had Skip Bo games going all summer with the neighbors, and they'd be outside on the balcony smoking and playing cards for hours and hours, and I thought it was glamorous and *very* adult. My parents back then weren't so much older than I am now, and even though by this point I'm old enough to realize things like, "the table was probably sticky and covered in bird shit," the memory still has this twinkle of sophistication in my mind's eye. I think that the "play" activities of people in their 30s (give or take) only seem childish from the perspective of people who think they're older/wiser/cooler than that -- from the perspective of kids, anything an adult does is almost by definition going to seem thrillingly adult, including the adults' "play." If that weren't true, we wouldn't have those existentially depressing toys that kids love but that also sort of highlight how full of drudgery adult life is, like those toy vacuum cleaners. From the perspective of the +/- thirtysomethings, I doubt they're getting particularly meta about their choice of past times and are just trying to catch a minute to unwind in a way that's involving but not exhausting.

Actually, during one of my parents' Skip Bo games I decided to wash the dishes and flooded the kitchen (disaster!) -- and I guess that could be twisted into something to back Havrilesky's thesis, like "the five-year-old fails to work while the adults "fail" to play." But that would kind of miss the point about why adults need and want to unwind/relax/play and kids need and want to work/feel useful, I think? I think that adults cling really tightly to any chance they get to play because it's something that they don't get enough of, and kids cling really tightly to any chance they get to make themselves useful because they don't get to feel useful often, either. Anyway, I don't mean to make up something and than argue against it (!). What I'm trying to say is that I think she's missing the reasons why adults might be driven to play -- it's not necessarily because they want to recapture youth, it might very well be because they need a way to relax and escape from their work *right now.*

My point is, a lot of the stuff she's deriding doesn't seem all that childish, actually. It definitely wouldn't seem so to actual children. It just isn't part of some nostalgic fantasy (like Roman baths) or heavy on Alpha Male stereotypes (like the idea of interacting with your kids mainly by telling them to jump and demanding they ask how high) -- but that seems more feature than bug, I think.
posted by rue72 at 8:41 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


College grads traded house-poor for degree-poor. Computing power is about the only thing that actually got cheaper.

Seriously within the week I'm about to have computers deployed on most continents gathering data for me, all for approx. the cost of dinner. The fuck do I want with a house when I can Play with stuff like that?
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:17 PM on March 19


I play just fine, thank you, without being dragooned into a fun-committee-mandated happy-hour game of ring-toss after which I must sit down in the evening and finish the work that was interrupted by the fun committee.

Which, like, I totally get that. Go do your thing! But why crap on everyone who's enjoying a round of ring-toss? People like different things.

Some people like group activities which are highly structured. Other people do not. Why declare one of those things "right" and one of them "SO WRONG I MUST WRITE AN ARTICLE AND WARN THE OTHERS"?
posted by ErikaB at 4:44 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


But why crap on everyone who's enjoying a round of ring-toss? People like different things.

Oh my yes.
posted by lodurr at 6:07 PM on March 20


(In case Gary Cole wasn't helpful: Consider the authority issue.)
posted by lodurr at 4:11 AM on March 21


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