Sadly, Stan Lee recently died and many people are in mourning. And some people are acting like assholes about this because “comic books are for kids. So meh!” But you know what? Many things that people consider immature are specifically designed for adults as well as kids, people make careers off these things, whole billion dollar industries are involved in their production, they help shape the minds of the future, and can prevent despair in adults. Allow me to defend what shouldn’t have to be defended: the consumption of play by adults.
C.S. Lewis with the Best Advice Ever
Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adults themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
C. S. Lewis
If anyone ever calls you immature for liking childish things, feel free to call them childish, because C. S. Lewis said it was so. We shouldn’t be ashamed of the things we enjoy doing. Once when I was watching Dancing with the Stars (yes, I did that), they were doing a dance to a guilty pleasure song, and I mused out loud that I can’t think of any thing that I enjoy that I hide from others out of fear of embarrassment. I will lip sync and dance in my chair while working, not caring if people notice or find it weird. It’s enjoyable. It gives me pleasure. It makes work easier. I play video games, even trash mobile video games, and I read manga (my favorite is Ranma 1/2), and I watch the Arrowverse TV shows. I find stoner films very enjoyable. I don’t care who knows these things about me. Some people enjoy clubbing and bar-hopping. I don’t understand why they find those things enjoyable but I don’t think that makes them more or less human or adult. Being an adult is not about what you enjoy. It’s about owning who you are and taking responsibility for your own well being. Navigating debt, understanding renting and home purchasing and ownership, developing an exercise routine and healthy diet, managing finances, understanding insurance and retirement funds, these are the trappings of adulthood. What you do to relax your brain and understanding that finding enjoyable ways to do so is part of creating mental stability is also a sign of maybe not adulthood, since hardly anyone does this, but at least emotional health. The smarter the animal, the more play it needs. We humans are very smart animals. So feel free to sit in public and read a comic book. You should enjoy the act of enjoyment. Don’t be ashamed. Mature adults know and accept who they are. You’re not alone.
Childish Industries: Jobs for Adults . . . Obviously
Comic books, animated movies and TV shows, children’s, middle grade, and YA books, video games, and board games all employ millions of people worldwide. These people aren’t children. They’re adults. They’re adults who make a living, who make a career, who have a passion for designing, writing, and creating these so called childish things. J.K. Rowling is an adult. Hidetaka Miyazaki is an adult. Stan Lee was an adult. Alan Moore is an adult. Matt Groening is an adult. Walt Disney was an adult. Charles Darrow was an adult. I can keep going if you don’t get the point by now. Things designed with children in mind are designed by adults, and sometimes, because of that, the line between demographics blurs. Creators of creative mediums are meant to create things with love. Flannery O’Connor said that the writer should write the kinds of things they want to read. That bleeds into creating things for kids. We cannot help but make things that are also for ourselves. Hardly anyone finishes a project they hate. Usually, if they do finish, they throw the results away or hide them in the hopes that no will ever see them. Children aren’t making the things they enjoy. Adults are. And there is a lot of money to be made from these things. It’s a business. It’s serious, but it is the serious endeavor to create enjoyment in others. Children’s things are fun. They are even fun for adults, because adults made them. I’ll admit to missing my tamagotchi. I’d still play with it today if it was available, but mobile games have replaced that. I’m not the only person who misses the enjoyment of some of their childhood things. Obviously not, or there wouldn’t still be people creating these things with a passion. You think the designers of the trappings of childhood don’t play with those things before the products become available for the public? Maybe not the accountants at the businesses, but certainly the designers do. It’s part of the creative process to experience what you are creating. And if you don’t enjoy it, no one else will.
Animated Narratives are Designed with Adults in Mind
While there are animated movies and TV shows designed specifically for adults—things like Rango, Futurama, Rick and Morty, Beavis and Butthead, The Critic, Family Guy, King of the Hill, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Cowboy Beebop, and even some pornographic animated titles—many of the titles touted as children’s narratives are actually incredibly enjoyable for adults. The reason for this is the knowledge that parents will have to watch the stories, typically many times in a row, and that some adults will not watch anything higher than a G, PG, or PG-13 rating because of moral objections. I’m neither of those demographics. I will never have children and enjoy R rated films quite a lot. However, made for children titles can be deep, inspiring, hilarious, and saddening. The movie Up makes many adults cry with it’s deep and wordless depiction in all of ten minutes of a married couples’ entire life together. Animaniacs has some sex jokes in it. Kung Fu Panda has a message about acceptance of self, which most adults could stand to hear. To some extent, animated TV shows and movies are treated exactly like movies for adults. The crafting of the story, characters, and themes are just as powerful. They just shy away from some very specific things: extensive cursing, clear depictions of sexual encounters, realistic blood and gore. These things aren’t necessary for every story. Live-action G, PG, and PG-13 titles are actually less mature in their use of themes and comedy by and large versus animated titles in those same ratings. Sometimes animated movies are more cohesive and focused than live-action ones in the same ratings bracket because they know they want to teach an idea through their story to children and everything needs to feed into that because animation is (or at least until recently was) hard. But while they know that’s what they’re doing they still find time to slip adult humor into the films:
Also, Farquaad? How many years old were you when you got that joke?
The best episode of a cartoon of all time designed almost entirely for Beatles fans:
And finally, one of my favorites:
Kids laugh at these jokes because the adults in the room do. They don’t always get them. But that’s okay. Kids should be eased into adult humor anyway. This is a good way of doing it. And some jokes for kids are also very funny no matter how old you are, which is why Spongebob Squarepants is so popular with adults. Some of the jokes are just good. There’s nothing wrong with a lack of adult themes in humor, and there’s nothing wrong with laughing at those jokes. But beyond humor, some things for kids are just amazing. Like . . .
- Avatar: The Last Air Bender
- Voltron: Legendary Defenders
- Batman: The Animated Series and the entirety of the DCAU
- Samurai Jack
- Courage the Cowardly Dog
- Teen Titans Go (man, that Thanksgiving episode)
- The Fairly Odd Parents
- Ed, Edd, and Eddy (have you seen the surrealist episode?)
I could keep going and going on this list but eventually you’ll get tired of that. These shows may all be designed with kids in mind, but you do not have to be a kid to enjoy them. Seriously, have at it and enjoy!
You Still Play Video Games at Your Age? Duh!
I’ve literally heard this question out loud before, not directed at me, but instead of keeping quiet, I opened my mouth without thinking. I said, “Don’t say that! I literally just watched a Ted talk about how the average video game player is 30 and the average video game buyer is 37.” It’s old at this point, but you can watch it below.
The second statistic does not account for adults buying video games for children, which is why the first statistic is the most important one. Due to the rise of mobile video games, that average age for video game players has gone up to 37 for female players and to 33 for male players with 35 being the overall average (source: http://www.theesa.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/EF2017_FinalDigital.pdf). There is a let’s player on YouTube with more than four hundred thousand subscribers who is an 82 year old woman (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzkY7wa8Ksxv4M5NyUYgTmA/featured). She posts regularly. Why would an octogenarian play video games? Well, because they help with reflexes, critical thinking skills, memory, focus, fine motor control in the hands, and so much more. In short, they’re good for you.
Oh, but what about the mental health effects? This is a contentious subject. Some people believe that video games make people more violent and is the cause of mass murders, but I can’t help but think that this is an insane idea totally defeated by common sense. Video games are a billion dollar industry and per household in the US there is an average of 1.7 gamers (source: http://www.theesa.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/EF2017_FinalDigital.pdf). If video games made people more violent, there would be way more mass murders and violent crimes, but violent crime in the US peaked around the mid ’90s and has been steadily going down at the same time as the number of people playing video games has gone up.
You can see from the first graph that video game sales were at a low when violent crime was peaking. Why would video games make people less violent? Well, because it gives them something to do and an outlet for anger or frustration. The brain actually needs this, in the same way that they often tell people to watch a sad movie or listen to sad music when they are grieving but numb. People need to express their emotions, good and bad, in healthy ways. Isn’t it better that someone beat up a fictional person than a real one? I’m pretty sure this is why so many people like martial arts, to blown off steam (I like kickboxing). But some people aren’t into that. They think these kinds of acts are distasteful, like our thoughts should be so pure that we don’t need to work off our stress with healthy violence. Well, I’m pretty sure those people have impure thoughts and that their lack of an outlet is why we have so many passive aggressive people. Can video games make a person angry? Yes, absolutely. At the game itself, typically. But that’s usually because of bad video game design that creates cheaty, BS progression walls and, more recently, gambling mechanics.
So there isn’t really a reason not to play video games as an adult. Most are designed by adults for adults with mature ratings, and if I and others had our way, those games with gambling mechanics would be for adults only. Not only is there no reason not to play video games as an adult, there’s many reasons to play video games as an adult. The higher functioning the brain, the more play it needs.
Board games and other party games are the only games most likely to cause a person to enact violence against another person. Like Monopoly or getting a draw four card in Uno. Yeah, that’s enough to punch a family member in the face, especially a sibling. But they often lead to a sense of camaraderie as well. They are much more engaging and interactive way to spend time with loved ones than side-by-side individual activities like watching a movie or TV show or reading. Some of my most cherished memories are of playing board games, card games, or something like charades with friends or family. They are much more memorable times than say when we all went to the movies together. Can doing those other things together be interactive? Yes, but only if you can pause the TV; otherwise, you’re just being rude. These face-to-face games aren’t just good for interaction; they’re also good for your critical thinking and problem solving skills. Much like video games, they stimulate parts of your brain that are sometimes set to atrophy in our modern, don’t-have-to-hunt-or-fight-every-day world, and since we need those parts of our brains to still work, it can make us happier overall to use them regularly. Not every face-to-face game is fun to everyone and not every person is fun to play with, so not every experience of “game night” is going to be a blast and beneficial, but on average they will be.
Illustrated Reading: Real Life Hero Stan Lee and Real Life Villain Bill Maher
For some irrational reason, Bill Maher has decided that after Stan Lee’s death is a good time to denigrate the man’s accomplishments. You know, in a cowardly way since Lee couldn’t defend himself. You know, in a distasteful and insensitive way since someone is dead. I don’t believe in over eulogizing a person, but in this case, I believe that Maher acted out of a sense of bitter jealousy, because I doubt that he will ever have the impact that Lee had on the world. It feels a bit like angrily riding on coattails. Anyway, in a very short blog post–or as I view it, in a long rant–Maher said that Lee “inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie.” Cute. Let’s pretend for a minute that comic books aren’t a about $800 million industry as of 2013 (source: https://www.businessinsider.com/the-comic-book-industry-is-on-fire-2014-8), which doesn’t include toys or adaptations. Let’s also pretend that the X-Men weren’t created as a metaphor for the Civil Rights movement. Let’s also pretend that when Bryan Singer helmed the first feature film adaptation of the X-Men that he didn’t make it a metaphor for the issues facing the gay community in the U.S. Let’s pretend that the introduction of Black Panther as a major comic book hero didn’t help race relations in the US, like when Jack Kirby had him fight the KKK. Let’s just pretend that narratives don’t help fix social and political issues by turning public opinion, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and that getting them young isn’t a thing. Let’s pretend all that is true. Should we also pretend that Lee wasn’t a servicemen during WWII in the training document creation department? How about no? How about we not ignore all these great things? Was Lee perfect? No. But no one is, and frankly comic books have done a lot of good through inspiring people to be more open to change, other people, and ethical ways of thinking. They are constantly making people think on questions of deep, philosophical ideas. Does every panel? No, but not every page of one of the great novels–Moby Dick–does so either. They are also meant to entertain. They do that too, but I don’t think philosophy in narratives should skimp on entertainment. I think it is essential to story-telling to be entertaining. And comic books do both. Like The Watchmen. A lot of the great stories of Marvel were possible because of Stan Lee. Comic books are quite possibly the most cumulative of genres, and he was one of the early major influences at Marvel.
This idea that Maher has that we’re supposed to stop reading comic books just because we reach a magical age that signifies adulthood is, in itself, immature. Tell me that The Watchmen is for children. Read it, and tell me it’s not designed and written specifically for adults. I dare you. Maher complains that my generation doesn’t know how to buy auto insurance but doesn’t acknowledge that the previous generations–including his–never taught us how to do so, throwing us to the wolves of the world without the knowledge to fend them off and the economy and job market were so messed up as to be soul crushing and education came with crippling debt that didn’t exist when Maher went to college, so excuse us for trying to inject a little fucking gallows humor into what felt like an impossible situation. No, Maher, we’re not stupider. We actually are more fiscally responsible and care more about social issues and the environment while reading books with pictures. So sorry to disappoint you for not pining for the days where racial and gender injustice were more prevalent and acceptable. So sorry we learned from comic books to be better people and valued them for those lessons enough to teach classes on them. Like any genre, they come with examples of bad lessons too. There’s books, movies, and TV shows like that too, but you don’t throw out an entire medium for a few bad apples. You promote the good ones and discuss what the bad ones did wrong, you know, like you do with literature. A person should apply their intelligence to EVERYTHING. Every aspect of our lives should be lived with intelligence and mindfulness. Don’t blame the comic book community for the Donald Trump presidency. I already explained who is responsible for that fiasco (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/a-lack-of-respect-the-path-to-a-trump-presidency/), and comic books have nothing to do with it. It’s is a stretch of infinite proportions to lay his election at the doorstep of the comic book community, considering that they are an extremely diverse group of people.
But really, his rant, which I am now matching (or surpassing) in length, stems from a lack of maturity. He and people like him are too concerned with how others view them. They’re afraid of being judged as childish, so they put down the things that they perceive as childish. But to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it is immature to be concerned with seeming mature. You don’t have to like comic books. But you don’t have to put others down for liking them either. There are some things people find enjoyable which I never will, like being manipulated by the media or making fun of sub-cultures. Read comic books. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change whether or not you’re a functional adult, but being a rude, inappropriate, jealous, bitter, and passive aggressive person does.
Oh, But Somehow Sports Are Different?
Bill Maher is a part owner of the New York Mets?! What happened to not applying our intelligence to stupid things? Huh? Sports are different? No, they’re not. They’re games! Basketball games. Baseball games. Football games. Need I continue? There’s even a myriad of virtual versions of these games. Children play sports more than adults do! And they’re a great way for families to spend time together (playing them together, not so much watching one family member do it or watching a someone else do it). Playing these games for fun is great! But the professional and academic versions are full of ethical issues. Is it right that a university should make so much money off a student that could be injured while playing for them and that student never see a dime for their talent and work? No, it very clearly isn’t. I don’t like sports myself, but I don’t begrudge those who enjoy playing them from doing so. I do find the voyeuristic tendencies of professional and academic sports to be less beneficial. Maybe it helps as a release for the us vs them mentality which is instinctive to focus it on football teams as opposed to countries or people of differing races. Maybe, but I’ve never heard of video gamers rioting in the streets the way some sports fans literally do. Listen, it’s okay to enjoy sports, watching, playing, etc. It is. Just like any of these other industries it can be an exercise in working out parts of your brain that otherwise wouldn’t get attention. But don’t pretend like sports are serious and all these other things aren’t. What people enjoy isn’t up to us to decide and there are benefits to all of these so-called childish forms of entertainment, including sports.
The Damage of a Brain without Play
Throughout this, I’ve kept saying that the brain needs play. I could go into very specific details on that, but I will allow this guy to say it for me instead:
So, Maher, Did You Learn Something?
Every one needs to relax. Enjoy the things you find enjoyable and don’t worry about whether or not others think it is mature. Don’t be ashamed of the things you find enjoyable. Don’t judge others for the things they find enjoyable. Being overly concerned with appearing as others expect of you or in judging how others appear is the not the mark of being mature. It’s the mark of being superficial, shallow, archaic, and immature. Entertainment mediums are not important enough to judge others by. When it comes to entertainment, we shouldn’t be arguing over whether or not we should enjoy it, but about the quality by which it is made and the success of its intent. So enjoy your good middle grade and young adult novels, enjoy your good animated movies and TV shows, enjoy your good video games, enjoy your good games, enjoy your good comic books, and if you’re in any of these industries, love what you do, put your utmost care into your creations, and people will love and care about them too.