Where have all the rebels gone?

Blogger Jason Kottke writes about the differing approaches to "being an adult." In his post, he establishes two kinds of adults:

A: Those who have set aside their childish ways
B: Those who rebel against the lack of freedom of childhood.

“Basically opposite approaches,” he writes. “Responsible adulthood and irresponsible adulthood.”

Kottke continues:

The A people feel that being an adult means eating healthfully, being financially responsible, dressing to meet the expectations of others, flossing regularly, servicing your vehicle regularly, etc.

Folks who take the B approach feel that adulthood means that you can eat candy for breakfast, drink too much, fail to keep careful track of your finances, stay up late, play hours of video games a day, skip dental cleanings for three years, order the steak instead of the salad, etc.

The division between these two types of people has been something that has interested (and frustrated) me for a while, but I don’t entirely agree with Kottke’s distinctions.

I am constantly asking myself where all the rebels have gone.

I cannot understand what causes the adolescent hellion, the teenage idealist, and the twenty-something non-conformist to suddenly accept, embrace and surrender to the traditions and mores of modern society. I marvel at people who are my age - former activists, dreamers, militants, and all-around challengers of authority - who have become so thoroughly invested in cultural, religious, familial, and societal conformity. They have chosen to adhere to the expectations of appearance, accept the etiquette of the masses, follow in the footsteps of previous generations, and possess an overall concern with the opinions and values of the majority.

In short, they have begun to resemble the conservative, staid, judgmental, risk-free nature of the parents they once found objectionable at best.  

Have they forgotten the vows made as teenagers and young adults?

Have they chosen to ignore the disdain that they once felt for the rigidity and formality of the adult world?

Have they failed to remember the anthems of their youth?

I think so, and it makes me crazy. I thought that I would be a member of the generation that would tip conformity and convention on its head. I have been disappointed. The majority of people who are my age seem to have eased themselves into the stream of the compliance and traditionalism. This is why clever websites like My Parents Were Awesome are able to exist - as totems to the rebels these people once were. As the website says:

Before the fanny packs and Andrea Bocelli concerts, your parents (and grandparents) were once free-wheeling, fashion-forward, and super awesome.

I agree, but look at the majority of them now. Free-wheeling? Super awesome? That’s starting to become a harder and harder thing to say about many people my age. I see them giving up on the dreams of their youth, forgoing art and passion completely for cubicles and corporate culture. They are joining their father's companies, doing work that they do not love, and finding value in corner offices and career ladders rather than joyful exuberance and personal expression. 

It has made me so sad to watch. 

I tend to lean towards non-conformity. I always have. I challenge conventional wisdom whenever possible. I question the most basic rituals and procedures of society.

  • I almost always dress for comfort and personal preference rather than the expectations of others.
  • I refuse to wear any item of clothing (save sneakers) that that is adorned with a designer label.
  • I stopped wearing ties (long before Obama), finding them to be little more than decorated nooses with no discernible purpose.
  • I don’t drink coffee or tea, and I drink very little alcohol.
  • I still write embarrassing comments in the Memo sections of my checks when presenting them to friends as payment.
  • I tell revealing, embarrassing, occasionally shocking stories about myself on stage that many people advise me against.
  • I've read the Harry Potter series and Stephen King's The Dark Tower series three times each. 
  • When I guy shakes my hand with excessive force, I whine like a little girl, asking him why he’s so mean and trying to make him feel stupid.
  • I play music exceedingly loud in my car when I am alone.
  • When asked to indicate my position on a form at work, I write "Upright."
  • I often propose unconventional, radical, and occasionally (albeit arguably) offensive ideas on this blog and elsewhere.
  • I go to 7-11 in pajamas and slippers if I need something late at night.
  • I'm looking for people willing to play tackle football with me. 
  • When someone knocks on a locked bathroom door, I respond by shouting Monty Python quotes.
  • I still play video games with my friends from time to time (and would do so more often if I had the time).
  • I've been known to stay up way too late and wake up way too early. Often.
  • I punched someone more recently than anyone I know.
  • I think that dessert can be a part of breakfast, and I long for the day when I am still hungry enough to enjoy a slice of pie after my eggs and toast.
  • I eat ice cream for breakfast at least once a year just because I can.

If you were to ask my friends, they would likely identify me as one of Kottke’s type B adults.

Yet in many ways, I am very much one of Kottke's type A adults as well. 

  • I floss daily.
  • I like to think that I am financially responsible.
  • I may not eat as well as I should, but I try, and I work out at the gym almost daily.
  • I have my car serviced every 3000-5000 miles. 

The distinctions that Kottke makes - responsible versus irresponsible - are not quite accurate when describing these two forms of adults, but they are close.

I believe that a type B adult - the kind who does not conform to society’s expectations and challenges convention - can still be responsible when it comes to taking care of him or herself. Despite my desire to tip the world on its head, I don’t want my teeth to fall out, my house to be foreclosed upon, and my heart to explode at the age of 50. I would argue that a person can reject the traditional construct of adulthood while still maintaining a healthy, financially independent lifestyle.

One does not need to live in sloth and destitution in order to be - as someone recently described me - “interesting but difficult.”

Or as another person described me last year:

"Different, in a good way, but sometimes in not so good a way." 

A person can reject the trappings of adulthood and still floss regularly.

I wish more would. In both regards.