Letter from the Editor 03.06.2021
On coming–of–age tales, growing older, and longing for 16
Growing up is a slow burn, even though we don’t always realize this in the moment. The trope stares us in the face so regularly we never think to interrogate it.
It sits at the end of The Catcher in the Rye, where Holden Caulfield believes the “Fuck you” scrawled on the side of his little sister’s school is a metaphor for endless adulthood. It’s the central theme of Amazon’s The Wilds, where the cast leads us to believe that teenage girlhood is so much messier than being trapped on an island in a social experiment. It’s the takeaway from the cult classic Thirteen, where a pre–Twilight Nikki Reed whisks us into a world of neglectful parents, drug addiction, and middle schoolers who wish they could just fast forward to adulthood already.
The process of growing up is always depicted as something painfully cringeworthy, something to avoid at all costs, something to skip through so you can get to the good part. What Hollywood—and, by extension, we—often forget is that we are aging in perpetuity. We will always be growing up, getting wiser, hating the things we used to like. The difference? As we careen into our twenties and mosey into middle age, the stakes of those realizations get higher.
I long for the days when the awkwardness I was desperate to flee was unambiguous and could be patched over with a couple Ben & Jerry’s pints and a trip to the nail salon with my mom. It’s not that the problems of adolescents aren’t real. It’s that they’re manageable. The solutions are simple: find a new group of friends, study harder, tell the principal if someone’s bothering you.
But once you hit 18 years old, there’s no principal to protect you, and the ethical dilemmas get messier. What do you do if your colleague is microaggressive, but you don’t think your boss will understand? Or if you’re already working the hardest you can at multiple jobs and still worry that you won't make rent? What if you’re stuck in a loveless marriage or a dead–end career, or hate your life but can’t afford to change it? Suddenly, working harder and tattling doesn't work anymore.
This week’s edition of Street is about how we contend with getting older. We have essays about how our favorite children’s shows don’t hit the same and interviews about rejecting the male gaze that’s been projected on girls since childhood. Even our feature—an exploration of the college admissions process in the age of COVID–19—is about grappling with one of those ugly, adult dilemmas early: What do you do when the education system isn’t designed to support you?
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