On “Manchild” 🤓

A defense of learning to embrace whatever you’re into, even if it doesn’t match the norms of your age range. Nothing wrong with being a nerd.

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Recently, I came across a headline on LinkedIn that made me think that the world had gone a little topsy-turvy. Simply put, the toy industry was excited about the growing “kidult” market for its products, as highlighted by the fact that the audience had expanded beyond just kids.

There are a lot of reasons that this might be the case. For one, the 1980s and 1990s represented prime times for toy marketing, creating interest that lasted far beyond the target period. Nostalgia is strong.

Two, there seems to be a bit of a push beyond the norms that might have defined toys in the past. To explain in another way, when the kids of the 1980s heard “I don’t wanna grow up” from Toys ”R” Us commercials, they in some ways took it to heart. Sure, people have families and jobs and responsibilities now, but if they’re into collecting figures of pop culture icons that they enjoyed when they were 12, that’s their prerogative.

I think, in a lot of ways, the term for this phenomenon was called the “manchild,” and its existence pointed to the idea that someone needed to put away their toys and grow up and be responsible. (“Kidult” seems like a useful gender-neutral update of the term, and to sort of highlight the point, Bloomberg featured noted actress and cosplayer Chloe Dykstra as the face of the piece.)

But what if the cat is out of the bag on this antiquated norm that just because you’re 35 and making $70,000 a year means that you need to throw out your collectibles? Certainly, the toy industry doesn’t feel this way—as the Bloomberg piece notes, Lego and other companies have basically embraced this new audience. Turns out, companies like making money, no matter the source.


And it’s not necessarily all about toys. Paying video games as you get older, or having unusual hobbies doesn’t make you any less of an adult. It just means that you’re interesting and have wrinkles. As I tweeted last night, I think a big portion of the hell Kevin Smith gets as a director, for example, is related to this idea that he never really grew up, when in reality, he just has an array of interests.

I think popular culture has long embraced this idea—let’s be real, the complexity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe exists for the sake of adult fans—even if not everyone agrees with the sentiment.

There is a bit of messiness in this discussion in part because “geek culture” is a loaded term these days, with 12 years of Big Bang Theory stereotypes helping to shape mainstream thinking on the general idea. But I guess what I’m sort of getting at is that we seem to be slowly moving away from these “roles” given to us by society. Just because we’re 45 and work on Wall Street doesn’t mean we don’t like pulling out an Xbox controller every once in a while. Just because we have a stressful job doesn’t mean that we deal with that stress in any one way.

At some point, the way that we embrace the world around us is going to be unique, with a path defined by a road that each one of us individually walks down. And honestly, some of what we do, depending on who we are, might evoke the idea of the manchild or “kidult”—embracing the stuff that we grew up with, even if it seems like child’s things.

We’re past that point, honestly. If we want to enjoy something, we should just enjoy it, social norms be damned.

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Ernie Smith

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Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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