Age doesn’t matter. Except when it does.

“Those rules aren’t real.”
(from Regina George, in sweatpants on a Monday, commenting on the Plastics’ rule that you can’t wear sweatpants on Monday. She was not allowed to sit with the Plastics.)

Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of Mean Girls. And Regina George’s comment about rules is right on. “Rules” are often social constructions, agreed-upon guidelines, used to help people make decisions and belong to a community with shared values and clear expectations. Yada yada yada.

And then, on days when the rules don’t work because the sweatpants are the only things that fit, you say, “Those rules aren’t real.” Because they aren’t real. They’re made up.

But then the other members of the community won’t let you sit at the lunch table with them, and you wonder: “Are the rules real after all?”

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***

The other day, I was talking with a science teacher friend of mine and he was talking about race not being real. It’s a construction, and we pretend that there are these hard and fast lines between one race and another, but really any particular trait (skin color, hair texture, and so forth) exists on a continuum. We just go along placing people in categories as if the categories are real, even though they’re not.

And that’s how places work, too. I travel from Pennsylvania to New York to Connecticut, and it’s arbitrary where one state is divided from another. Sometimes a river or other landmark is used as the dividing point, but often the highway moves from one state to the next, and the only way I know I’ve changed states is by the sign on the side of the road. It’s an artificial division, not a real one.

But, of course, all of these divisions are real. They are real in the sense that they have real effects. Divisions and rules that are more-or-less agreed upon in a community may sometimes be overlooked, may sometimes be negligible in their effects, may sometimes be blurred so regularly as to be meaningless.

More often, however, divisions and rules affect us. And they often come to seem natural rather than artificial because we are so used to the divisions and rules and their effects.

It only makes sense that we don’t wear sweatpants on Monday! And we wear pink on Wednesdays. That’s how it has always been!
(isn’t it??)

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***

I’ve been trying to find recent stats about the ages of audiences on YouTube. I found that 80% of YouTube traffic is from outside the U.S. I found that 18-34 year olds spend more time on YouTube than on any cable channel.

Aaargh, I thought. What am I doing playing on YouTube??? And why won’t my students or kids take on the job when it would be so much easier for them to build an audience?? Why am I trying to show them what’s possible?? I am  TOO OLD.

And then I stumbled upon this site. Well, actually I googled “YouTube age demographics” and found it. And it shows that YouTube is also for older people. Like me!

Okay, so that solves one age problem. YouTube viewers are people of all ages, so people who are my age may like seeing someone from their generation act like a goofball online.

The next problem? My behavior may not seem appropriate for a 45-year old. Especially when I’m pretending to be a young girl like Katniss Everdeen or Ophelia from Hamlet (that latter vid will be released soon!).

In the scripts for these vids, we added lines that directly acknowledge age issues. Katniss has had a hard life. And Ophelia has done a lot of drugs. Forgive them for looking 45!

But I’m sure it will still annoy people. In my How To channel, I sometimes dressed in ways that matched the theme. When I danced like Peanuts characters, I dressed sorta like a Peanuts character. When I did a bubble-gum bubble-blowing lesson, I dressed like a kid. I did kid-like things with my hair for both of those videos. And those choices annoyed several people enough that they decided to comment on it. (Sometimes in the past I deleted mean comments that were posted to my vids, so you may have to trust me that several people made such comments. I wouldn’t make it up. Really. I promise.)

My point? My point is that many of us regularly go around saying that age doesn’t matter. But we act like age matters on a regular basis, whether by making choices about what we will or will not do because it’s easier to follow the “rules,” or by judging people who don’t follow the “rules”—even if the rules are stupid and tell us that we can’t wear sweat pants on Monday.

The unspoken rules about YouTube and age that are regularly policed through viewer comments?
1) You have less right to be on YouTube if you are a female older than iJustine. (I’m less familiar with the male guidelines, but John Green may be the cut-off.)
2) If you are going to be on YouTube, you’d better behave in age-appropriate ways. (And somehow we are all supposed to agree about what is age-appropriate, right?)

But somehow, I’m channeling my Regina George—the Regina George who is too fat to wear anything but sweatpants. Because that is my favorite Regina George! And I’m not acting my age, and I’m risking rude comments, and I’m probably embarrassing my kids.

But I’m hoping that in defying the rules, we reveal their artificiality. And maybe we stretch the rules in ways that include and open instead of excluding and closing. And maybe we end the day with Captain Jack Sparrow who insists that the Pirates’ Code is more of a guideline, really.

Captain-Jack-Sparrow-3-captain-jack-sparrow-5720622-700-348

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About lauriemcmillan

I teach writing and literature classes at Pace University in Pleasantville, NY.

Posted on May 2, 2014, in background and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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