Natalia Cecire has an extraordinary post today on the cultural politics of Google’s self-infantilization, responding to the company’s announcement that it would restructure itself under the new name “Alphabet.”

But Google’s simplicity doesn’t go for sophisticated (read: adult) simplicity in the way that Apple’s design so openly does.14)

Contrast this with the conscious citation of children’s alphabet books in the title of Google’s Alphabet announcement, “G Is for Google.” With its logo in primary colors, the letters in a serif typeface as if on toy letter blocks, and of course a name that’s nearly a gurgle and a corporate headquarters (the “Googleplex”) that’s a pun, Google has never exactly gone for the grown-up look. On the contrary, they are, like Facebook, famous for ping-pong tables in the workplace and Silicon Valley’s “youth culture.”


That is not to say that Google’s design strategy is antimodernist. Not at all. For the childishly-named doodles don’t register as ornaments without the “simple and iconic” reputation of the default search page. More to the point, though, the performance of childishness is a key form of modernist primitivism, a way of superseding modern civilization’s (supposed) hypercontrol, not by admitting to being decadent or regressive but rather by appropriating a position of genuine newness in the form of youth (which is also, of course, a proxy for other alleged developmental earlinesses—modernists like Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams freely appropriated African-American, Native American, and immigrant positions).

It’s spread across two sites and many posts but at this point I think Natalia’s blogging over the last few years is basically the definitive statement of how to think about the cultural politics of puerility and childhood in contemporary culture.

(Categorizing this in “Calling adults childish” because companies can do it to themselves!)

adults are acting like children! (a bibliography 1997–2014)

This whole thing is just completely fallacious I think?

  • Anderson, Kurt. 1997. “Kids Are Us: These Days, Behaving Like a Grownup is Child’s Play.” The New Yorker 73 (December 15): 70.
  • Barber, Benjamin R. 2007. Con$umed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole. New York: Norton.
  • Bernardini, Jacopo. 2013. “The Role of Marketing in the Infantilization of the Postmodern Adult.” Fast Capitalism 10 (1): http://www.uta.edu/huma/agger/fastcapitalism/10_1/bernardini10_1.html.
  • Bly, Robert. 1997. The Sibling Society. New York: Vintage.
  • Cross, Gary. 2008. Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Danesi, Marcel. 2003. Forever Young: The Teen-aging of Modern Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Epstein, Joseph. 2004. “The Perpetual Adolescent and the Triumph of the Youth Culture.” Weekly Standard (March 15): http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/003/825grtdi.asp.
  • Noxon, Christopher. 2006. Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes, and the Reinvention of the American Grown-up. New York: Three Rivers Press.
  • Pittman, Frank. 1999. Grow Up! How Taking Responsibility Can Make You A Happy Adult. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
  • Porterfield, Sally, Keith Polette, and Tita French Baumlin. 2009. Perpetual Adolescence: Jungian Analyses of American Media, Literature, and Pop Culture. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Samuelson, Robert J. 2003. “Adventures In Agelessness.” Newsweek (November 3): 47.
  • Scott, A. O. 2014. “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture.” New York Times Sunday Magazine (September 11): http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/magazine/the-death-of-adulthood-in-american-culture.html.
  • West, Diana. 2008. The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

New article about Hannah Montana in Women’s Studies Quarterly

An essay I wrote about the strange ways the Disney Channel show Hannah Montana adapts the “having it all” problematic from postfeminist women’s TV to a 21st century tween sitcom came out this month in a brilliant issue of WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly on the theme CHILD. The special issue also includes articles my new colleague at Pitt Julian Gill-Peterson and amazing people like Natalia Cecire and Nicholas Sammond. It is already a thrill to contribute something to WSQ, and to be part of this incredible issue is even better.

Buy the whole issue from Feminist Press; or if your library subscribes it’s at Project MUSE; or it’s here.



The biggest difference is that when I was young, I wore sweaters. Crewneck sweaters, with button-down shirts and jeans, every single day. And I think at a certain point in my twenties, I decided that was childish. So I gave away all my beautiful sweaters.

Blue jeans are childish too, obviously. But luckily everyone my age kept wearing them. It used to be that adults did not wear jeans—not men, unless they were construction workers—only teenagers wore them. But I guess my generation just said, “We’re going to keep wearing them until we die, because we’re almost there.”

I have to say that one of the biggest changes in my lifetime, is the phenomenon of men wearing shorts. Men never wore shorts when I was young. There are few things I would rather see less, to tell you the truth. I’d just as soon see someone coming toward me with a hand grenade. This is one of the worst changes, by far. It’s disgusting. To have to sit next to grown men on the subway in the summer, and they’re wearing shorts? It’s repulsive. They look ridiculous, like children, and I can’t take them seriously.

You know when George Plimpton died, someone told me, ‘He was so eccentric. He used to ride his bike in a suit and tie!’ and it drove me crazy. I said, ‘What’s eccentric is the bicycle. Everyone here used to wear suits and it was lovely! But only children rode bicycles.’ The trademark of New York City fashion used to be that we dressed more seriously here. More formally. Now people need special costumes to ride bicycles. I mean, a helmet, what, are you an astronaut??

via ‘Yoga Pants are Ruining Women’ and Other Style Advice From Fran Lebowitz.

Calling adults childish

Robert Pogue Harrison, “The Children of Silicon Valley“:

In “Change the World,” a splendid New Yorker article published in 2013, George Packer mentions an employee at a high-tech firm who refused to take time away from work to hear what President Obama, who was visiting the campus, had to say. “I’m making more of a difference than anybody in government could possibly make,” the employee reportedly told a colleague. There are not many places in the world—maybe only one—where an employee can expect an absurd utterance like that to be taken seriously, and where children, metaphorically speaking, believe that adults need their guidance and tutelage.

… and on and on. (I’m all for maximalist critiques of Silicon Valley, but politicians as adults is rich.)

(an ongoing series)

coming at you like spider monkeys

The clock is ticking. Those 16-year-old girls are coming at you like spider monkeys, and everyone else is going to feel left out. —Angelo Sotira, “Never Forget that 16-year-old Girls Run the Internet

I have read this weird advice/app review column by the deviantART founder/CEO so many times, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what the 16-year-old girls that bookend (and headline) the article have to do with the body, about new “secret-sharing” web apps. Is the advice about keeping 16-year-old girls out? Why does the advice not also apply to 16-year-old girl users? Will 16-year-old girls adopt any platform regardless of its merit? Will they destroy a perfectly good tool? There isn’t even a coherent passage to quote!

And don’t plenty of 16-year-old girls use deviantART? Is this column expressing Sotira’s resentment of his own client base? Is his the cautionary tale? When he writes, “Imagine that you’re in your apartment, scrolling through the latest confession/messaging/social app, and it’s full of woes of teenage heartbreak. You realize that this app doesn’t speak to you.” is he complaining about his own site? Because, um, go look at the stuff on the front page of deviantART (which is an amazing website—truly no disrespect or criticism there is intended, but the point is obvious I hope).

And if teenage girls run the internet, why WOULDN’T you want them on your site?

I guess I know it’s obvious that everyone hates teenage girls, but is it THAT obvious? Are they such a pure symbol of abjection?

cf, I guess. sigh


This new special issue of Differences, “In the Shadows of the Digital Humanities,” is great. David Golumbia’s article “Death of a Discipline,” in particular, is spectacular. It certainly confirms many of my biases so it’s a joy to read. But it is also really a pleasure to read after Matthew Kirschenbaum’s complaint in the same issue that critiques of digital humanities commonly refuse to address the actual works produced by scholars who identify as doing digital humanities. Kirschenbaum goes to some lengths to argue that DH scholars are just doing something different from “traditional” literary scholars, and the terms of its evaluation should be participation and membership in its own networks:

So it is with digital humanities: you are a digital humanist if you are listened to by those who are already listened to as digital humanists, and they themselves got to be digital humanists by being listened to by others. Jobs, grant funding, fellowships, publishing contracts, speaking invitations—these things do not make one a digital humanist, though they clearly have a material impact on the circumstances of the work one does to get listened to. Put more plainly, if my university hires me as a digital humanist and if I receive a federal grant (say) to do such and such a thing that is described as digital humanities and if I am then rewarded by my department with promotion for having done it (not least because outside evaluators whom my department is enlisting to listen to as digital humanists have attested to its value to the digital humanities), then, well, yes, I am a digital humanist. Can you be a digital humanist without doing those things? Yes, if you want to be, though you may find yourself being listened to less unless and until you do some thing that is sufficiently noteworthy that reasonable people who themselves do similar things must account for your work, your thing, as part of the progression of a shared field of interest. (55)

Which is to say that Kirschenbaum effectively defines DH as a separate field from “traditional” literary studies, to argue against ideological critiques of it from outsiders like theory-minded literary scholars. Which is an effective defense as far as it goes, but  it is almost completely unresponsive to the concern that DH may be threatening or encroaching on or trying to replace the existing practices and disciplinary formations of literary studies. In fact it seems to bolster those concerns. Kirschenbaum is also just weirdly dismissive of critics focus on the “discursive construct” of DH, as though that “construct” weren’t the thing that is making it possible for these people who apparently have entirely different professional networks and constitutive practices to claim the humanities and literary studies as their own.

The question, as Golumbia puts it, is “why professionals who are not humanists should be engaged in setting standards for professional humanists” (157). If practitioners of a field should be primarily responsible for defining their field and evaluating the work it produces, as Kirschenbaum says, and if DH is really a separate field, as Kirschenbaum says, then the terms of Kirschenbaum’s defense of DH ipso facto justify the skepticism that “traditional” literary scholars might have toward of its encroachment and claim of authority in their disciplinary and institutional settings.

In any event, Golumbia’s essay is fantastic for many more reasons than this.

[update: to be clear the goal here isn’t to add to a pissing contest but to point out that the same terms, and even apparently the same analysis, of disciplinarity, professional networks, etc, are being used to support pretty much opposite positions here, and that Kirschenbaum seems to be conceding Golumbia’s argument, and I wish he would actually engage with his implication that DH scholars really do represent an entirely separate professional network/discipline.]