What does the Bible have in common with William Shatner?

Two pieces crossed my desk this week, each of them tangentially connected to the other. Both of them discuss what I’d call the more unfortunate side-effects of adult fannishness. In the case of the one, the article-writer is essentially complaining that adults who were born in the 1970s and 1980s have so thoroughly coopted kid culture, that today’s kids are kinda getting squeezed out of the picture. Everything that used to be made explicitly for kids, has been all-growed-up and is now pitched to an explicitly adult market: video games, comic books, TV cartoons, etc. It’s a billion-dollar consumer party, and kids — anyone below the age of 16 — aren’t necessarily invited. The other article-writer engages in no small amount of self-praise because of the fact that he’s skipped paying bills and even skipped buying food, so that he has enough money to attend his favorite science fiction convention(s) — because you’re not a real fan until you’ve suffered and sacrificed for your street cred. It takes the maniacal dedication of an aesthete to make a fan (mundane) into a Fan (caps-f).

Now, I am the last guy in the world to jump up on the “You’re doing it wrong!” soap box. I generally say, hey, whatever floats your boat, it’s your life — you go ahead and live it.

But not paying bills? Not buying food?

I think 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 has something to say about all of this:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

I’ve had enthusiasms all my life. Just about everybody does. Such as rooting for a favorite sports team. Or loving a favorite movie. I’ve also let some of those enthusiasms go, simply because I haven’t had the time — all-growed-up! — to keep pursuing them. Like scale model airplanes. From age 9 through age 16, my bedroom was festooned with replica fighters and bombers. In my late teens and early twenties, I switched over to scratchbuilding starships from the Star Trek universe. But even that hobby took a back seat, as the demands of being a responsible adult increased. Taking on two careers (civilian and military) followed by, eventually, three careers (batcave job: author) meant making choices about where to devote my time. And this was on top of having a marriage and a family to look after, including church responsibilities.

But at no time did I ever fool myself into thinking that a mere enthusiasm should take priority over real world commitments and necessities.

Look, everybody scripts her own existence. No one person’s life is ever going to be lived exactly like any other person’s life. This is the beauty of free agency. But being a free agent doesn’t mean having a free pass from adulthood. Paying the bills and putting meat’n’taters on the table are so basic, so completely fundamental, they shouldn’t even be part of the discussion. This is rudimentary maintenance stuff, like brushing and flossing. If you actually have to decide whether or not you’re going to buy groceries and pay your power bill, versus spending that money on a convention . . . I’m going to gently suggest that not only is this not noble, nor does it elevate you above others, you in fact may have a serious prioritization problem that goes way beyond the silly hubris of declaring yourself more-fannish-than-thou.

Meanwhile, I do think my generation (we’re crossing into middle-agedness now, oh noes!) and the generation after mine, have a legit problem with extended adolescence. All over social media lately, I see people joking, “I had to go out and adult today!” or “I can’t adult today, I just don’t have it in me,” Where adult is a verb meaning, “Doing the unpleasant chores of the real world, which all grown-ups have been forced to do since the beginning of time.” Which is really kind of sad, considering the fact that most first-worlders live lives of astounding convenience and luxury, compared to their great-grandparents. We live much longer, we generally don’t have to worry about diseases like polio, and many of us sit in comfortable chairs behind comfortable desks, only having to log eight hours a day, a mere five days a week. Yet we talk as if this is a nigh-unbearable burden — a psychically crushing and existentially soul-destroying purgatory. Because reality won’t let us follow our bliss every waking minute of every day, all week, every month, each year.

I suspect our generational clinging to the loves of our childhood — comics, video games, cartoons — is a coping mechanism. And coping mechanisms can be good, so long as “coping” does not become synonymous with avoidance in actual practice. Real life doesn’t go away. In fact, the more a man avoids real life — escaping into his enthusiasms — the larger the problems of real life loom. In past eras, men who couldn’t deal, typically descended into pointless violence, or crawled to the bottom of a bottle, or simply ran away; abandoning wives and children. In our era? Adults who can’t deal may find themselves utterly lost in an enthusiasm, such that real life is just an annoying distraction. The enthusiasm itself becomes a replacement for reality — a secondary, preferable world. Could be a MMORPG. Could be the convention circuit. It doesn’t matter what the thing is. When the thing becomes more important than fundamentals — paying bills, taking care of yourself, and also taking care of family — you might have a problem. Dare I even say, a serious problem?

Now, lest I be accused of being a fun-hater, I want to emphasize that I am not saying we should all dump our enthusiasms and live a completely hairshirt existence. But I believe there’s got to be balance. And I do think there are times when we — all-growed-up, in body if not in spirit — have to put away childish things. At least until we’ve successfully reckoned with real life to the extent that we can plop down in that mythic beanbag chair, pull out the video game controller, and enjoy some well-earned R-and-R; knowing that the bases have all been covered.

I also think we can afford to let some things remain kid-friendly. We don’t have to drag every single damned thing we loved when we were kids, forward into our disillusioned middle age, where the sunshine of youth gets clouded over by the grimdark of maturity. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed Cartoon Network productions such as Regular Show, Adventure Time and Chowder so much, is because they work for my daughter as well as they do for myself and my spouse. The jokes, the situations, the references, all of it operates at two levels. Which, if you think about it, is also true for much of the classic animation of yore. Example: the Looney Tunes shorts were originally written and produced for adult theater-going audiences. Not Saturday morning cereal viewers.

Regardless of whatever sort of balance each of us strives to achieve, it’s important to remember that the total universe of enthusiasms is an egalitarian universe. You like football. I like basketball. Somebody else likes baseball. You like Skyrim. Your friend prefers World of Warcraft. I prefer my throwback video game from twenty years ago. You attend a lot of conventions. I attend a few conventions. Our mutual acquaintance attends none. And it’s all good. As long as people are taking care of the fundamentals — doing what needs to be done for house and home — I think it’s no-harm, no foul.

The problem is when things get out of balance. When an enthusiasm becomes an obsession. When we get so caught up in our formerly childhood passions, we take over the landscape and crowd out the real kids. When we begin to depend on others to take care of our fundamentals for us, so that we can remain distracted by the alternate world of our formerly healthy diversions. And — last, but not least — when we mistake our out-of-balance obsession for proof that we’re better than the merely “normal” people who’ve managed to successfully keep one foot planted in the real world, while also being actively engaged in the fun of their choice.

And yes, I know, you can’t say stuff like this without making somebody angry — that’s expected. This is the internet. You can’t talk like this, and not make somebody on the internet flamingly mad at you.

My answer to the angry folk?

Let’s go back to the question I first posed: what does the Bible have in common with William Shatner?

Both of them tell us to get a life.


  1. Those model ships are scratchbuilt from scrap? Wow. Well done. And I’d say that the concomitant workmanship and perseverance were character-building exercises. 🙂

  2. I can sympathize with the guy complaining that adults have taken over fannish things.

    (Though I would point out I saw oodles [scientific term there] of kids at Salt Lake Comic Con last month. I’m also halfway through watching all the Star Wars films with my family so 5 year old nephew can watch them for the first time. It makes the whole experience better to get caught up in his reactions to seeing these things for the first time.)

    Balance is the key though. There is nothing wrong with a 5 year old liking batman. There is nothing inherently wrong with a 50 year old liking Batman. Either group trying to claim sovereignty over the character and leaving the other out? That’s not good. _Either_ of them diving into their hobby so deep they lose grasp of reality? Yeah, that’s a problem too.

    Take his batman example – Yeah. The Arkham series is rated M and does the gritty violent batman well. (As far as I know. I’ve seen people play one of the series, and it is very well received, but I’ve not actually played it myself.) _Not_ appropriate for kids. Do you know what _is_ appropriate for kids, and tons and tons of fun? Lego Batman. (Lego anything videogame, really) That one is on _him_ though – parents should ALWAYS check the ESRB rating (and I’d advocate for looking into the game online first) before buying it for their kids. Videogames aren’t for kids anymore. They aren’t for adults only either, but like any entertainment medium that is for everyone you have to verify beforehand who the intended audience is.

  3. ‘the bases have all been covered”

    So, “Who’s” on First? “What” bout 2nd base and really, “I don’t know” 3rd either.

    -duck and run for cover-
    ((sorry, Brad, I simply could not resist.))

  4. I saw the Shat convention skit when it originally aired, and I literally rolled on the floor laughing. It’s been one of my all-time fav SNL skits ever since. I am so glad a quality copy is now available on Youtube via the official SNL channel.

  5. I agree that many people lack balance, which may be why they so often get up in arms over rather minor things. I’m not sure I’m as good at it as I should be, as I often find myself obsessing over something or other. Not to the point where I can’t afford food, but I do make sacrifices for my writing. And I sometimes wonder if a little bit of crazy isn’t necessary to be an artist. I know I wouldn’t be trying to edit and publish a pro-paying anthology of I were in my right mind.

  6. There are a lot, I mean A LOT, of people who don’t know how to prioritize. For some people it’s a bigger problem than others.

    Needs: Water, food and shelter.

    Wants that many people confuse with needs: Coffee, new clothes, new shoes, alcohol, soda, new vehicle, new phone, new computer/tablet, things to make your job easier or more enjoyable.

    It drives me crazy when we’re over budget and my wife orders stuff off the internet or buys more gel pens, notebooks/folders or beanbag chairs for her classroom. Those aren’t NEEDS, those are CONVENIENCES that can be purchased after we’ve paid the bills and bought groceries. It’s a continual battle at my house.

    But I’ve met people who willingly forgo groceries so they can go to the movies or bar with their friends, or buy DVDs or firearms. When I was young I met a guy in the Air Force who felt it was more important to own a Porsche than anything else. He lived off base in order to get the stipend, and moved into a tiny hovel just outside of the city limits. The only time he got to actually drive the Porsche was during the winter; spring, summer and fall he road a moped 30 miles to the base and back every day.

    Unfortunately, these people vote, too. And they seem to lean to the delusional end of the spectrum where everything will turn out fine as long as someone else comes along to pay the bills.

  7. *chuckle* My son started getting into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and my brother Al’s response was ‘YAY!’ So to some extent, there is a joy of being able to share one’s childhood pleasures with the next generation.

    That said, I shake my head over the people who go and forgo the necessities for a pleasure. Then they wonder why their lives are a complete and total shambles, and go SJW for ‘everything wrong in their lives.’

  8. I couldn’t agree with you more. So many of today’s “adults” aren’t interested in having kids because they’re still kids themselves.

  9. My younger two hung out with friends in town yesterday… ages 18 to 21. One friend is having a birthday and the others bought her something that she had admired but not purchased. Afterward they were laughing about how she’d sighed and said she couldn’t afford it… then explained that she *could* afford it but then she wouldn’t be able to afford something else, so she had to say no, and went back and forth and eventually decided to be responsible.

    I said… yeah, that’s the thing… when you’re a kid your parents always tell you no… when you’re an adult…

    My daughter’s boyfriend completed my thought… “When you’re an adult you tell yourself no.”

    Not always, and we talked about that, too… but even indulgences are with an eye to responsibility. Employment has been so poor around here for the last years that these young people are on their first jobs getting their first paychecks at age 20, and/or are in school… but I think they’re going to be okay.

  10. I see a lot of what you’re describing as being an unintended consequence of institutionalized “compassion”, both from government and non-government charities.

    The organizations that supply what they call “emergency aid” make a strong distinction between necessities and luxuries. If you go to one with a disconnect notice from the water company, they’ll pay your water bill, because they consider running water to be a necessity. If you show them a disconnect notice from your cable company, they’ll tell you that cable TV is a luxury and won’t help.

    So what happens? When there is a conflict, people learn to pay for the luxuries that they want first, and trust someone else to pay for the necessities. I first noticed this principle at work living on the streets in LA thirty years ago, but I see it “trickling up” through the culture. I now work at a university, and many of the students–who come from middle-class families–just take it for granted that their money is for fun stuff and other people’s money is for grownup stuff.

  11. Hmm… apparently those videos are not available in my country. I always thought Virginia was a little weird, but I never thought of it as another country. California, New Jersey sure, but not Virginia.

  12. With crap like “Ancillary Justice” winning all the “major” awards last year, the old guard of TruFen has lost the rest of fandom. (I just checked it out from the library and it goes back 60% unread.)

    I wonder if hardcore TruFen need more reality in their lives?

    When a good chunk of your time is spent arguing about fiction and writers, do you lose touch with the ordinary world and the ordinary fans? When you consume so much fiction, do you seek more obscure and perverse stories like Faust? Cut off from the mainstream in a small population, do your tastes become more inbred?

    If this is science fiction, I’m going to leave the reading to the children and spend the time back in the real world, as wonderful and crappy as it is.

  13. I think a significant amount of this can be explained by technological change.

    Oddly, the important technological changes are the seemingly insignificant ones. We now have a lot more leisure time than people generations ago, due to the plethora of labor-saving devices in our houses. We can spend time on leisure because we’re not spending time on cooking, laundry, etc. (Admittedly, the reason we can afford these devices is the revolutionary changes to production brought about by the industrial revolution). The people that spend the most time cooking are often the people that really like to cook; I’ve seen some people that really like to cook lament that people that don’t like to cook don’t spend enough time cooking, which fits in with Brad’s observations.

    The other change is that we now have access to a much wider array of options for our leisure. Thanks to cars, we can go further afield for shopping and entertainment. Thanks to improvements in manufacturing, things are cheaper, meaning it’s easier to afford a small production run, which increases the variety of things such as books. Thanks to improvements in communications, we have greater access to entertainment from all over; we’re no longer limited to whatever has the popularity to make it to the local broadcast station (radio or TV).

  14. A guy named Nick has asked me to speak on his behalf. Seems legit.

    So, why shouldn’t a person, specifically an American, pursue their pleasures to the exclusion of all else?

    You aren’t arguing that an American who indulges in idle pleasure to the exculsion of all else is going to starve, go cold or be without access to the internet, are you? Don’t be silly. People can pursue the things they value most highly, even if they aren’t materially rewarded, and need not fear starvation or loss of other basic needs.

    People don’t NEED to work. It’s an illusion. They can do whatever they want and the consequences BRT outlines just don’t exist. One may wish to work while another wishes to go to a convention. Both will eat.

    A person may find a reason within their own value system to go to work instead of spending the day critiquing the latest episode of a TV show, but that’s their reason. There’s NO TANGIBLE CONSEQUENCE to going to conventions instead of undertaking “productive labor”.

    Heck, I could argue that the person going to cons all the time is enriching the experience of others. There’s a value to the social interactions for all involved. It’s going to be difficult to say that spending a day at labor is more valuable than a day of social experiences without arguing that your values are better than theirs. At that point, you’re just telling people how to live.

  15. Heck, I could argue that the person going to cons all the time is enriching the experience of others. There’s a value to the social interactions for all involved. It’s going to be difficult to say that spending a day at labor is more valuable than a day of social experiences without arguing that your values are better than theirs. At that point, you’re just telling people how to live.

    An acquaintance of mine, Louise, who sounds like a friend of Nick, pointed out that they’re performing a valuable service, that of perpetual victims. We want to feel good for being charitable, they provide someone we can feel good about being charitable towards. We get warm fuzzy feelings for helping them, which are a valuable commodity, so it’s only right we pay them for the privilege. And she insists that it’s only right that the government handle actually helping them, since the people in government would never abuse this process for their own benefit, keeping people trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty. Such good intentions could never lead to anything bad, could they?

    Back to the subject at hand, economics. So much of what we do for work seems so trivial because so few people are needed to do the work necessary for survival. A quick search says that 15% of the US workforce is involved in agriculture, from field to market. That’s a lot better than it would be a feudal economy. All those extra people do something, and it’s not always going to be something of immediate value to the survival of the human race, and that’s not a bad thing; art and literature and entertainment are important in the end, even if not necessary. Is a modern MMO gold farmer really less economically valuable than a royal wig-maker to the court in pre-Revolutionary France would have been? I could argue that the people paying the gold farmer are more likely paying from the product of their own effort than the royals paying the wig maker. I’d say the MMO gold farmer produces more value that people are willing to pay for than a EEOC regulatory compliance officer, even if his occupation seems less serious. I’m worried, however, that Louise (and likewise Nick) would seem to agree with me.

  16. Andrew, please tell me that was satire. If not, you should go live in a Socialist country and leave this country to those of us who actually work for a living. It’s bad enough the government already takes a good chunk of my money and spends it on things I don’t approve of (most of us would call that theft).

  17. I warned at the top I was speaking on the behalf of old Nick.

    Nick points out that you’re, @bassmanco, heartless and evil for thinking poorly regarding the starving poor, and that includes convention participating poor. Placing your values over their needs for food and shelter is just cruel.

    @Cicilis. Nick suggests you secretly want to tell people how to live their lives and are, apparently, racist. Not sure where he got that last part, but he’s sticking to it.

  18. “So, why shouldn’t a person, specifically an American, pursue their pleasures to the exclusion of all else?”

    Depends on the situation. If you don’t have any obligations or greater purpose than a dionysiac life and you can independent afford it, go for it. (The Rich Kids of Instagram need more moral nihilistic peers.) The money spent will trickle down and help the rest of the population to varying degrees.

    Most people need to work and there is a lot of real work left in the world, despite what many pundits and slackers believe. And given enough money to retire comfortably, there still are needs, interests and callings beyond living in a fantasy world of cons and cliques that surround the hard core fen. (Or golf and drinking. Or gaming. Or drugs and porn.)

  19. Nick suggests you secretly want to tell people how to live their lives and are, apparently, racist. Not sure where he got that last part, but he’s sticking to it. Since I suspect he’s responding to comments by Louise, I’ll pass his remarks on to Ms. Cypher.

    Most people need to work and there is a lot of real work left in the world, despite what many pundits and slackers believe. And given enough money to retire comfortably, there still are needs, interests and callings beyond living in a fantasy world of cons and cliques that surround the hard core fen. (Or golf and drinking. Or gaming. Or drugs and porn.)

    What’s ‘real work’, other than what people are willing to pay you to do? I grabbed ‘MMO gold farmer’ as a good example of something that while of low value still has people willing to pay for the service; is ‘MMO gold farmer’ real work, and if not, why is ‘sci-fi author’?

    Louise suggests that I’m being defensive because I’ve chosen to be somewhat Odd in my hobbies as compared to a lot of my family members, and I’d have to admit that there is a grain of truth in that. In part, it’s a reaction to the fact that I’ve been at a con when we had the privilege of watching two groups of brightly colored oddly-costumed hyperactive fans collide, knowing that one group (the con-goers) is regarded as odd, while the other (the baseball fans) is regarded as normal, despite both groups being more similar than dissimilar. Why is playing video games childish, while staring at the TV watching sports or soap operas considered adult?

    If you want to draw a line between volunteer work for a worthy cause and lying around with an escapist hobby, that’s one thing (and I’m pretty sure it’s one I fall on the wrong side of), but I consider erasing most of the social distinctions between unproductive hobbies to be a good thing.

  20. ” Why is playing video games childish, while staring at the TV watching sports or soap operas considered adult?”

    Nether are childish, they are both entertaining to the participants. Given the resources, I don’t think I could do either for a large percentage of my time. (There are people whom do make a living doing one or the other.) There’s a lot of more interesting tasks that existing in the “real” world that take a different kind of effort and may benefit others beyond just me.

  21. @Civilis. Old Nick suggests your attitude regarding erasing distinctions between “good” and “bad” work is worthy. It would be wrong to force our values on others, and forcing them to suffer starvation or exposure just because we thought someone’s work in “Pokemon fantasy football mashup” was “wrong” would be cruel.

  22. Please pass this one to “Nick” when you get the chance:

    So, that thing you believe should be free?

    Was a human being involved in mining, smelting, pressing, machining, raising, planting, harvesting, milling, fleecing, weaving, gluing, packaging, quality-checking, shipping, driving, loading, unloading, purifying, cleaning, storing, building, manufacturing, making space for, protecting, unwrapping, preparing, displaying, sewing, racking, jacking, wrench-turning, turbo-washing, mincing, dicing, slicing, roasting, or performing any other verb on, or for, the thing?

    Did any human being who performed the verb, have to spend tens, or hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands of hours, learning a skill, in order to effectively perform the verb on, or for, the thing?

    If the answer is YES and YES (and they always are) guess what . . . .

    The thing is not now, nor can it ever be, free. You owe somebody for their time and trouble. Regardless of what some politician promises you.

  23. Now, if I read between the lines (of “Nick’s” piece) a bit more, the core contention seems to be that society is just so naturally abundant with “stuff” the aesthete will always manage to have a full belly, a roof over her head, and clothes on her back. Somehow. Which in certain cases may be true. There are people who admire an aesthete’s total (dare I say maniacal?) devotion to a given form of art — and they will patronize the aesthete accordingly.

    But in most cases, we’re simply talking about mooching.

    An individual who is content to mooch his way through life, is not a grown-up. He may have the body of a grown-up. He may even have white hair in his beard, or upon his head. But he is not a grown-up.

  24. Nick doesn’t want to argue BRT’s points, but seems to think they don’t matter. More than that, he’s actually OK with the situation. BRT’s still going to feed the starving MLP Paper Mache artists of the world. He’s still going to put a roof over their head. All their survival needs, and the basic needs of 1st world living; education, electricity, medicine…will be taken care of. Since he, BRT, seems to think that our growing stock of “aesthetes” are mostly “not grown up”, and he’s the one feeding, clothing and housing them…

    Who’s responsible for the state of these children?

  25. I’ve enjoyed the exchanges between Nick and Louise. Well done.

    And I’m reminded of my response to every single last “post work” fantasy when it is expressed. (As we leave “scarcity” behind we also leave the need to “work” and society will go happily burbling along while a very few happily-productive individuals support the happily-idle or happily-artistic…) And that is this:

    Our society left scarcity behind sometime around the industrialization of agriculture. To imagine that some further development of productive over-supply will result in “post-work” rather than the discovery of additional “necessities” is completely and utterly absurd.

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