When I was a kid, I loved Peter Pan. Not the Disney movie, but the book written by J. M. Barrie that was based on the original play. Now that I’ve gotten older, I still enjoy reading about Neverland and watching Peter Pan spinnoffs, but not in the same way I did when I was a kid. Because, while on the surface, Neverland is all shiny, and basically a good place to visit, underneath, there’s something about it that makes me vaguely uncomfortable.
First of all, I don’t know if anybody noticed, but I’m not the only one that seems to be obsessed with Neverland, or with the ideas behind it. The idea of being young forever is paraded around everywhere. Anti aging, or cover up for aging, is the major buzz word of the makeup industry. And it’s in the songs too. “Forever young. I want to be forever young.” “You and I, we’ll be young forever.” “We’ll live forever, knowing together that we did it all for the glory of love.” “Forever on the dance floor.” And it’s in the books and the movies. “Oh Edward, turn me into a vampire so I can be young forever.” It’s also in the news, as some branches of science attempt to turn anti aging into a reality. I remember reading an article once as a child, the buzz line of which was, “Oh, yeah, and you’ll live forever [thanks to modern technology].”
And recently, thanks to my efforts to learn Korean, (I really did like k-pop before Gangnam Style became such a hit. I promise.) I found this one song that actually makes the specific connection between wanting to party forever and Peter Pan. This is Neverland, by U-kiss, with English subtitles (for those of you who don’t speak Korean).
I love the song, naturally, but I find the trend it highlights a little bit disconcerting – the fascination we all have with the idea that it’s somehow possible to stop at the “fun” part of life, whether you think that’s before you lose your innocence or right after your sexual organs develop, and stay there having one big party, even though when we do grow up, step back, and look at the truth, we realize that life is so much more than a party.
Second of all, we forget that there are people in this word who never do grow up, in terms of losing their innocence. We call them the “special” kids, the children who will never get to be adults. Some of them live happy lives, and some of them grow angry at a world they don’t understand, but in either case, the rest of us usually feel a sense of loss when we’re around them, or at least I do. I love them for who they are, but I can’t help wondering about the adults they could have been. So when I think of Peter Pan, I don’t think of a normal kid, I think of some poor boy with autism, or some other kind of “special need” who may not want to grow up, but also can’t. In a sense, he’s trapped in his own paradise.
Finally, what concerns me about Neverland is that I see it taking over the lives of people I know. A lot of my friends still watch the latest Disney movies that come out, but then again, I guess that isn’t really too far from our level of comprehension anymore, because most of the entertainment we get nowadays, even supposedly “mature” entertainment, has to be dumbed down to fit the attention span of a child. That’s what many of us adults are nowadays, children.
It used to be, not very long ago even, that young people were expected to act like adults a lot sooner. But then teenagehood was tacked on to the end of childhood and labeled as a period of time when we were expected to goof off, and then Young-adulthood was tacked onto teenagehood and labeled as another period of time when we are expected to goof off, so now most people don’t really grow up until they’re 25 or older, and that’s scary. In fact, I’ve become aware recently that for my generation, college is what high school used to be, in terms of the social environment, because in terms of maturity, college students now are what high school students used to be a generation ago. Yet half the hit movies continue to be about people going to high school, because those people are young. Children forever. We don’t need to fantasize about Neverland anymore. We live in Neverland. And I, personally, want to escape from Neverland.