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

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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MORE SEMIOSIS at HILOBROW: Towards a Cultural Codex | CODE-X series | DOUBLE EXPOSURE Series | CECI EST UNE PIPE series | Star Wars Semiotics | Icon Game | Meet the Semionauts | Show Me the Molecule | Science Fantasy | Inscribed Upon the Body | The Abductive Method | Enter the Samurai | Semionauts at Work | Roland Barthes | Gilles Deleuze | Félix Guattari | Jacques Lacan | Mikhail Bakhtin | Umberto Eco

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Joshua Glenn is a cultural and brand semiotician, and co-principal of the agency SEMIOVOX LLC. He is editor and publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age sci-fi paperback imprint HILOBOOKS. He is author of (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY (2008) and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY (2011), and editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY (2007) and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (2012). With Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone, Josh produced the popular family activities guides UNBORED (2012), UNBORED GAMES (2014), and UNBORED ADVENTURE (2015), not to mention two UNBORED activity kits from MindWare. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons.