Further Elder Geek Thoughts: Maturity

Last column I explored how conventions were a place where the silly and the serious, the fun and the professional, combined. It was where you could cut loose – and then the inspiration could be channeled. It was where panels fanning over Sleepy Hollow* are then followed by workshops on writing. Conventions are a liminal space.

Serdar, my multitalented friend, noted in response that for many people, when they become a so-called adult, they often limit what they consider the fun they can have. Conventions are spaces where we can actually just like what we like, and are thus valued. Well, like what we like with the occasional stupid argument, but still.

That got me thinking about media and what is considered “age-appropriate materials” – and how such ideas are actually rather irrelevant, misguided, and confusing.

Because when we talk about what media is mature or not, suitable for adults or kids, it’s often meaningless. It’s assumptions without substance.

Assuming we have a grasp on what is “truly mature media” really is a bit immature . . .

Maturity In Media

Let’s ask about what’s been popular in media the last few years.  Harry Potter springs to mind as a prominent property, arguable a tale pitched at tweens and teens, it’s a story of murder, racism, conspiracies, and death. For something supposedly “Young Adult” it’s often a few wars and atrocities away from being Game Of Thrones with sillier names and a disturbing lack of Dinklage.**

It’s for “Young Adults” but has many themes that would be considered “mature” A lot of Young Adult novels seem to deal with apocalyptics, supernatural evil, conspiracies, with the horror being mostly faced by a younger audience. The only “young” thing about them is the age of the people facing parades of horrors and the occasional sexy vampire, and perhaps less overt sex and gore.  Do things slightly different and they’d be even more disturbing.

But the subject matter? Often as mature as anything you can think of.

Or let’s take my latest viewing habits, both brought on by the recommendations of others.

Daredevil, for instance, was something I assumed would be rather immature. I enjoy the Marvel films, but they don’t display a great amount of maturity or depth, with some exceptions. Daredevil, however, turned out to be a great character piece, heavily influenced by Korean crime cinema, and impressively acting. It was extremely mature – yet is part of a cannon of more supposedly immature fare.

The flipside to my recent viewing habits is the cartoon Steven Universe, which I had long ago figured was one of those odd surreal pieces often derisively called “stoner cartoons.” Noticing that many people of all ages were watching it, I checked it out – and discovered again it was much more. Colorful, animated, with a young protagonist, it turns out to deal with many serious themes. Parental loss, the need for meaning, non-traditional families, and more all are elements explored in Steven Universe.  It’s colorful candy coating lets you swallow many bittersweet lessons and tales.

Of course I’d never let children watch “Daredevil.” Actually anyone under 12 shouldn’t even be in the same house when the show is running. But both properties were also . . . mature in their own ways.

Maturity, it seems, isn’t in subject matter. I then wondered if ideas of maturity actually come from target and handling.

Maturity As Targeting

Sometimes it seems our ideas of if something is “mature” media seems to have something to do with the intended target audience. “Mature” is if the subject and presentation is appropriate to the age.

This definition doesn’t hold up in my experience. Many a drama I’ve tried to watch had the trappings of “maturiy” but were really just exaggerated and shallow, “immature” in content. Indeed, one can look at outright pandering in the areas of sex and violence in media and though we might say it’s mature (we wouldn’t expose kids to it), reveling in titillation is really very immature.  Nothing like a mindless sex comedy for teenagers that really has less plot and depth than 3 pages of Twilight.

The supposed target audience doesn’t really define the maturity of a media. It’s just who we think it’s appropriate for.

Maturity As Subject Matter And Handling

Perhaps we can define maturity as subject matter and how it’s handled – it’s not the subject or the targeting, but the handling of the issues. I think this gets a bit closer to a useful measure of maturity – but not quite.

A story that deals with deep or serious subjects we may christen “mature” – but as noted many things that are supposedly for the young deal with “heavy” subjects. It can be “mature” but we wouldn’t shy from children reading it or seeing it. It is age-appropriate in implementation.

A tale that handles it’s serious subject with blood, guts, sex, swearing we may consider “mature” – but in this case it’s merely the presentation. Take that gory live action, do it as a stylized anime, and people would instantly assume it’s appropriate for a younger audience. The presentation affects our sense as well – but that too can be irrelevant to the nature of he content.

There’s something here, but it’s not “maturity.”

There Is No Spoon. There Is No Maturity.

I’ve come to the ultimate conclusion that our idea of what makes a media “mature” or “for the mature” really is kind of a meaningless muddle. The only true measure I can see is perhaps that we can consider “age appropriateness” but that seems to be a lower end not an upper boundary. One merely has to look at the Frozen Fanatics to realize that’s a movie with an audience well beyond its supposed target audience***

A lot of “maturity” is just about who we think a piece of media is for and how it’s handled. It’s a loose guide, based on a lot of assumptions that usually fall apart easily if we try to cling to them.

We can simply look at the Bronies, the latest incarnation of My Little Pony Fandom. Latching on to a broader take on the series, they are still mocked, but even critics usually end up admitting “you know, this new series is pretty good.”****

When you’ve got a giant, functional adult fandom for My Little Pony, it’s time to rethink your ideas of mature.

Back To The Conventions And Fandom

I think this is one of the important things about fandom and conventions – because it’s space to just enjoy what you enjoy. I have no doubt some of that is enjoying what you like as opposed to following someone else’s poor idea of maturity. Fandom is where people with PhD’s can still argue if the Death Star could take on the Mimbari in Babylon 5*****

Because, really, our ideas of maturity in media don’t work very well. Maybe we need different words.

But until we have better ones, the Geek Convention space and others like it provide a needed area where we can enjoy what we enjoy with somewhat less judgement

I won’t say none, because, he I’ve seen enough flame wars.

* I refer to Tom Misson as “Sexybod Crane” for a reason, people.
** Disturbing Lack Of Dinklage is a great band name.
*** Also I don’t care, that snowman is freaking creepy.
**** And being a geek who knows many artists, I run into a LOT of Bronies.
***** Probably not. The Mimbari have telepaths. Yes. I know.


– Steven Savage