Double Exposure (7): Free-Range Children
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: Codebreaking

brawny

“The domestic beast has been bred to special purpose; the tame animal is a wild thing brought to heel. The feral creature, by contrast, is a domesticated animal living without the intercession of man, beyond the bounds of our species’ habitus.” So writes Matthew Battles in an early HiLobrow.com post. Several advertisements in middlebrow periodicals recently suggest that this schema might be applicable not only to dogs and dingos, but to children — as represented, that is, by the MBM.

A pride of feral "Gen X" youth depicted in 1990

Americans born between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s — i.e., the Revivalist Generation and the Social Darwikians — were, in their youth, collectively labeled “Generation Y,” by a middlebrow media (MBM) eager to distinguish them from the more obdurate and recalcitrant so-called Generation X. [Above: a pride of feral "Gen X" youth.]

A herd of domesticated "Gen Y" youth, circa 1998

If members of “Generation X” (actually younger OGXers and older Reconstructionists) had gone feral, and were therefore of no use to society, there remained some hope for their juniors — who’ve been portrayed with great admiration, by the MBM, as a Greatest Generation-like cohort of content, hard-working, well-adjusted, easy-to-teach-and-train citizens: i.e., as domesticated beasts. [Above: a herd of domesticated "Gen Y" youth.]

oxiclean

And what of the latest crop of young Americans? Those children born — like my own — between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s? How are they being portrayed by the MBM? The domestication of children has gone too far, one now learns from MBM magazine stories and op-eds, in Dangerous Books for Boys and Girls, on mommy blogs and from NPR. What’s required are alternadads and slacker moms, who will not helicopter parent but instead let kids be kids. Which is just what the kids shown in the three advertisements displayed in this post are being.

clorox

Not that today’s children should be permitted to go feral, like the so-called Gen Xers were! No, we’ve learned our lesson. Alternadads are not absentee dads; slacker moms may not helicopter parent, but neither do they neglect their children. Somewhere between feral and domesticated is the sweet spot. Following Battles’ schema, let’s call today’s children (as depicted by the MBM) tame. Or even: free-range. Like chickens allowed to exit their cages once in a while by Burger King’s suppliers. Whom we might as well call… parents.

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Joshua Glenn is an author, publisher, and semiotic analyst. He is co-author (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) of THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY, co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, and co-author (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen) of the family activities guide UNBORED and three forthcoming spinoffs, including UNBORED Games. He is editor of HILOBROW and publisher of the Radium Age science fiction imprint HiLoBooks. Also: Glenn manages a secretive online community known as the Hermenautic Circle; he is founding editor of the e-book club Save the Adventure; and he's a frequent co-host of Boing Boing's podcast GWEEK. In the ’00s, Glenn was an editor, columnist, and blogger for the Boston Globe's IDEAS section, he co-founded the international semiotics website SEMIONAUT, and contributed to CABINET, SLATE, and elsewhere. In the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT, worked as a dotcom and magazine editor, and contributed to THE BAFFLER, FEED, and elsewhere. His publishing company is King Mixer, LLC; and his semiotic analysis consultancy is Semiovox LLC. He lives in Boston with his wife and children.