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Quinn Wilson
Writing 2202
April 8, 2014
Professor Green-Barteet
Infantilization of Adults and Generation Gaps
Infantilizing adults, along with the Peter Pan syndrome are prevalent marketing
practices that impact consumer habits, manufacturing, product design and the media
industry. Being young no longer correlates with ones age, but rather it is a lifestyle
choice. Advertisements are now focusing on how to keep consumers young. Advertisers
are prolonging childhood by infantilizing adults; they are educing and encouraging
childishness in order to strategically generate profits. Infantile behaviour can be
described as deviant, fun and carefree behaviour. To infantilize somebody is to treat
them as a child or in a manner that denies their maturity in age of experience (Webster).
Western culture, through infantilization, is making it acceptable for adults to act
immaturely and this is reinforced through consumer capitalism of products and services.
Infantilization places adults in the same target market as adolescents, which is
beneficial for the advertiser because the target market for a product expands to a wider,
more affluent and cost effective audience. Through this, western mass media has
created an infantilizing ethos, which heavily targets and portrays adults as children.
Specifically, mass media has negatively infantilized adults through the promotion of
entertainment choices such as movies like The Muppets, fashion design and aesthetic
procedures, which all create a craving for youthful things.

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Advertisers have found a way to normalize infantilization to the point where it is
assumed normal behaviour for adults to not act their age and want to be young. This
can also be referenced as the Peter Pan Syndrome. This syndrome affects people who
do not want or feel unable to grow up or are people with the body of an adult but the
mind of a child They do not want to stop being children and start being mothers or
fathers (University of Granada). A University of Granada study reported that a larger
number of adults are presenting emotionally immature behaviours in Western society.
This syndrome is a result of Western societys advertising tactics as they predetermine
the stages of transformation in an individual. In other words, advertisers tell society
when and how to mature. These infantile adults are now becoming obsessed with the
way they look but lack self-confidence, all of which are qualities a teenager is likely to
have. Time magazine reported that the percentage of 26-year-olds living with their
parents has almost doubled since 1970 (Grossman). In many cases, these adults are
refusing to grow up and accept adult responsibly which mass media supports and
promotes. Benjamin Barber introduced the concept of infantilist ethos, which marketers
and advertisers are heavily promoting in order to form ideologies and behaviours of
consumer culture. Infantilist ethos is an ethos of induced childishness: an infantilization
that is closely tied to the demands of consumer capitalism in a global market economy
(Bernardini). An example of how the Peter Pan Syndrome and infantilization is enacted
can be heard on news stations that have simplified their broadcast language and each
year the top grossing movies targeted towards the youth markets.
The movie industry is a prominent player in reinforcing adult infantilization.
Hollywoods top grossing movies now include childrens movies. Hollywood has adapted

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this infantilist strategy in their new films by featuring comic-book action, branded
characters, numerous sequels, extensive product placements and commercial tie-ins
with fast food and other global enterprises and minimal plots (Barber, 27). Childrens
movies targeted towards adults began in the 1970s when movies such as Star Wars
and Indiana Jones premiered. In the present day, movies such as The Lord of the
Rings, superhero movies and animated movies now capture adults and childrens
attention. Barber argues, we have progressively demolished the life cycles traditional
stages, shortening childhood Adolescence begins before puberty and, for some, lasts
foreverage denial is everywhere (Barber, 5).

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Figure 1 refers to the top grossing movies of 2003 and 2004. In both years, the four of
the top five movies were targeted towards the youth market yet had an adult appeal and

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one out of the five in each year is an animated film. This trend continues to prevail; in
2013, when eight of the top ten highest grossing movies targeted both adults and
children. Hollywoods main goal is to attract the largest possible international audience
and they do this by developing movies so there is a broader cultural understanding
(Barber, 26). Hollywood is now dumbing down films and the blockbuster approach to
filmmaking are not accidental features of an irrational Hollywood storyline, but a
conscious decision by studio executives and film producers who understand that to
make money their products have to sell world wide (Barber, 26). For example, the
newest Disney movie, Frozen, is now the highest grossing animated film in box office
history. The movie has sold over $1 billion in global sales. Not only are adults taking
their children to see the movie but adults and teenagers and independently going to
watch Frozen themselves.
The new Muppets movie released in theatres March 21, 2014 is heavily targeting
adults along with children. Recently, the Muppets franchise has partnered with car
company, Toyota. Toyota and The Muppets have collaborated and produced a
commercial, which is featured on television targeted towards adults. As a result, we now
see playful, nostalgic puppets in adverts naturally targeted for adults, the main
purchasers of automobiles. Childrens movies generally feature the Muppets; however,
the 2014 movie has subversive adult humour that appeals to the mature audience, as
well. The children that went to see the original Muppet movie when it was first released
in 1979 are now adults with a youthful mindset as the result the new movie has a strong
appeal for them and has a nostalgia effect on them. All adults used to be children and
teenagers; therefore, the memory of what used to be is always present in the eyes of

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the consumer and can be continually resurfaced when the market relies on the nostalgia
effect (Bernardini). Monsters University and The Lion King sequels are examples of this
in my generation. We grew up watching these films; therefore, we have the desire and
connection with the franchises. Just as we have a strong connection to movie
franchises, individuals also have a strong connection to brands and products, especially
clothing styles and brands.
The clothing adults are now wearing has become a reproduction of what
teenagers are wearing. Adam Sternbergh has described adults as yupster (yuppie +
hipster), yindie (yuppie + indie) or grups (taken from Star Wars where children rule the
world). The adult uniform does not exist anymore; the generation gap of clothing attire
has been bridged between teenagers and adults. Time magazine described these
individuals as full-grown men and women who still live with their parents, who dress
and talk and party as they did in their teens, hopping from job to job and date to date,
having fun but seemingly going nowhere (Grossman). Business offices are no longer
enforcing a strict dress code; dress down Fridays is now every day at offices. It has now
become normalized to see middle age adults dressed in jeans, un-tucked shirts and
sunglasses. Barber discovered, through his research, that, marketing and advertising
today, are aiming both to sell to a younger demographic and to imbue older consumers
with the tastes of the young (7).
It is now normalized to see a forty year old regularly buy his clothes at Urban
Outfitters (a store which is targeted to the youth market of 18-25) or wear sneakers to
the office (Sternberg, 51). An example of this trend was displayed by thirty-two year old
Victoria Secret model, Alessandra Ambrosio, when she attended the popular 2013

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Coachella music festival in California. The festival attracts celebrities and features
artists such as The Lumineers, Alesso, Arcade Fire and Ellie Goulding. The diverse
audience present at the festival reflects the Peter Pan Syndrome because at one time
such events were havens for youth and the generation gap, at one time evident in music
tastes, has significantly narrowed, if not disappeared. Fashion wise, tasteful or not, the
evidence of infantilization is prevalent.
Figure 2 shows model Alessandra in two outfits she wore to Coachella. Her

clothing demonstrates how the infantilization of adults is taking over. Alessandra is an

influential fashion icon for the clothing and fitness industries. As demonstrated in Figure
2, Alessandras clothing choices resemble those that a teenage girl would wear, as well.
She was seen wearing pink high-wasted shorts, a crop top, colourful sunglasses and

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Figure 2

excessive bracelets. Alessandra took the liberty of bringing her five-year-old daughter to
the festival and they can be seen wearing very similar clothing, which reinforces the
argument of the generation gap bridging. The Victoria Secret model is also shown
posing the same as her five-year-old daughter, and are both wearing bohemian style
clothing. Alessandra is an adult but is seen wearing provocative clothing that is targeted
towards teenagers. Bella Throne (a teen actress) also made an appearance at the
same festival (female in the middle of figure 2) and wore an outfit similar to Alessandra;
however, there is a sixteen-year age gap between the two women. Through infantilized
fashion adulthood is being redefined and a new breed of adults is closing the
generation gap.
To further bridge the generation gap aesthetic surgeries, beauty products, and
performance-enhancing drugs are a necessary commodity in many adults lives. The
sales related to these types of products and services have grown exponentially over the
past decade due to the infantilization of adults. The media and advertisers are
consumed with the need to keep a youthful image; focusing, primarily, on the physical
form of looks. Companies are promoting a youthful regression through beauty.
Adultescents are now the target of marketers because they are still living at home and
are mortgage and debt free; thus have lots of disposable income (Barber, 8). Barber
reports that over four million adults between 25 and 34 are still living with their parents
in the United States (8). These adults are chasing the aesthetic parts of youth in order
to blend in. Cosmetic surgeries are growing in popularity as adults try to achieve and
maintain a youthful look. A study shows that there were roughly 9.5 million cosmetic

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surgeries and procedures preformed in 2010 and this was a 9% increase from the
previous year (Hendrick). The total number of procedures done for cosmetic reasons
has increased 155% since 1997 (Hendrick). The media is reinforcing individuals to
maintain a youthful image; models and actresses are progressively getting younger.
This is why aesthetic procedures are growing. The most popular of minimally invasive
procedures were: Botulinum Toxin Type A (Botox), Hyaluronic acid (lip injections), laser
hair removal, laser skin resurfacing, and chemical peel (Hendrick). All of these
procedures are done in order to restore a youthful image which the media portrays as
the best and only type of look a person should have.

Figure 3

Fifty-nine year old, Janice Dickinson (figure 3), a former model, has undergone
numerous cosmetic procedures in an attempt to maintain her model image. Dickinson

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during an interview with InTouch magazine revealed she had had a tummy tuck, face lift,
breast augmentation, Botox and Restylane and justified by saying, so has every other
woman in Hollywood! Sue me (InTouch). Dickinson has now declared bankruptcy
because of unpaid doctors bills related to plastic surgery procedures. Individuals such
as Janice Dickinson are going to extremes in order to achieve what is believed to be
beautiful when in actuality they should accept the bodys natural aging process and be
proud of it.
In addition to cosmetic procedures, anti-aging products along with sexual
performance enhancing drugs are now advertised and popular in the consumer market.
The cosmetic aisles in stores have countless beauty products targeted to those looking
to maintain a youthful appearance. Products such as anti-aging skin cream, wrinkle
reducing eye cream, firming skin products, hair-loss shampoo and hair dye for grey
facial hair are now featured prominently in all forms of advertising billboards,
magazines, in-store displays, on-line and TV advertising. Performance enhancing
products, such as Viagra, are now widely available and gleefully promoted for the older
male to maintain youthful stamina. All of these products are constantly advertised and
promoted within Western culture in order for aging individuals to remain youthful, which
increases the infantilization of adults. Being young is now a lifestyle attitude and a way
of life. The chase for youth through material products is becoming standardized and
adults are refusing to accept their own age.
The generation gap has now been almost eradicated due to the mass medias
goal to infantilize adults. The mass media has succeeded in infantilizing adults due
advertisings constant saturation of youth-maintaining beauty products, aesthetic

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surgeries, fashion and entertainment choices such as movies. Advertisers are interested
in the largest international group possible; therefore, they attempt to prolong
adolescence. North American advertising is pioneering immaturity, as a result,
advertising campaigns dumb down the message to consumers to purchase products
that will infantilize them. Adults now want to act the age of the most important social
qualifier, which are teenagers and young adults. Consumers will go to great lengths to
achieve this. What it means to be an adult has shifted from an idea to ideal. Mass media
has now become the architects of our infantilist culture.

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Works Cited
Barber, Benjamin R. Con$umed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and
Swallow Citizens Whole. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2007. Print.
Bernardini, Jacopo. "The Role of Marketing in the Infantilization of the Postmodern
Adult." Fast Capitalism . N.p., 1 Oct. 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
Grossman , Lev. "Grow Up? Not So Fast." Time Magazine 16 Jan. 2005: n. pag. TIME.
Web. 2 Apr. 2014.
Hendrick, Bill. "Cosmetic Surgery on the Rise in the US." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 7
Apr. 2014.
"Infantilize." Oxford Dictionaries. Web.
InTouch Weekly. "Bankrupt Janice Dickinson Tells In Touch: "I Live For Plastic
Surgery"." InTouch. N.p., 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
Sternbergh, Adam. "Up with Grups." New York Magazine. N.p., 3 Apr. 2006. Web.
University of Granada. Overprotecting Parents Can Lead Children To Develop Peter
Pan Syndrome. ScienceDaily. Science Daily, 3 May 2007.