Saturday, 3 August 2013

Getting older: "Men vs Boys", The World's End, and turning 30

I'm 30 next month and that's totally fine. I got over my fears of turning 30 a couple of years ago, so now I'm not worried at all.

I'm also totally comfortable with "who" I am at this age - my issues at the moment are practical ones, like financial stability. I'm not worried about "settling down" or becoming a "grown up".

Until I saw The World's End last week.

The World's End is the final part of the "Cornetto Trilogy" by Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright, after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. It's about aliens, but also about growing up. In a nice twist from SOTD and HF, Simon Pegg plays a loser, Gary King (of the Humans!), who never grew up and whose life never got better after a pub crawl 20 years ago.

I worry that I am 10 years, a long jacket and a Sisters of Mercy tattoo away from being Gary King.

Back to this in a moment.

"BOYS" vs "MEN": Fuck you and the false dichotomy you rode in on

There's a set of images being regularly shared around the internet about the difference between "men" and "boys". Here's a couple of examples:

These things piss me off.

I don't want to defend bad behaviour or applaud people being irresponsible. I believe in people being honest, straightforward, up front and mature, particularly in relationships and how you treat other people.

But I don't want to get married. I don't want to have children. I don't dream of "planning for our future". I don't want to buy a house. I question whether emotional and physical monogamy, with one person forever and ever, really is the be-all and end-all of relationships for all human beings.

All of these things, according to the "boys vs men" idea above, mean that I am a BOY. And that I am JUST a boy.

Not only does "boys vs men" make a false distinction between the irresponsible, cheating, short-term, thrill-seeking "boy" and the older, mature, responsible, home-building "man". It falsely suggests that to be a "boy" is automatically A Bad Thing. The implication is we should shun "boys", because they are a threat to us, and they undermine our culture, where maturity means settling down, getting married, buying a house and having kids.

Well, fuck that.

In all fairness, I'm not a young mother whose partner ditched her with the baby; I'm not a woman whose boyfriend's attachment to drugs and bad people is hurting her and her friends and family. These people will recognise the "boys vs men" idea straight away, and that's probably more what "boys vs men" is supposed to be about.

But the problem is this: you cannot automatically connect bad behaviour (and the people who do it) to ideas of youthfulness and not being "grown up".

Me, the 90s and Gary King (mild spoilers ahead)

The World's End is a great film. I've seen people complaining on Facebook - "don't go it's shit" "such a letdown" - when really what they mean is "I was expecting it to be as fresh and original as Shaun of the Dead, and I'm angry my overly high expectations weren't exceeded".  True, it's perhaps not quite as amazing as SOTD or HF, and there are fewer obvious laugh-out-loud moments. (There's still a lot. I'm still laughing over the "Legoland" line near the end.)

But it's a grown-up movie about growing up. The jokes are clever. They play in your mind. When (or if) people watch it again in 5 or 10 years' time, I think it'll be even better, because it's a film that makes you think as well as laugh.

Something else that resonated was the soundtrack. The World's End is full of music from the early 90s - James, Primal Scream, Pulp, Blur, Suede. While I didn't get into music until the late 90s, these are all bands that we loved as teenagers (and still do); watching the film with my friends from school, we all recognised the songs straight away, tune after tune.

Back to Gary King. The character is both youthful and irresponsible, and remains frozen in time. His exciting behaviour at 20 - charismatic, exuberant daredevil - is wholly unappealing at 40. Partly because it's simply inappropriate in itself, such as assuming a woman you haven't seen in 20 years wants to have sex in the toilets. But even more off-putting is Gary's total unawareness that his behaviour might even be a problem.

I'm fully aware I have a growing Peter Pan complex. (Well, it's only growing because I'm getting older - no-one at 25 has a Peter Pan complex.) I feel I haven't done enough - enough travelling, enough experiences, enough people. I'm totally comfortable jumping around on a stage, shirtless, singing about robots and dinosaurs. I haven't really changed my hair style since I was 17 and I don't intend to any time soon.

These things aren't a problem right now - Nick Frost said in an interview about the film that "it's about growing up, we're not 30 any more", which was a bit of a relief. But what about the future? What about it indeed.

Gary finds redemption in the film, but not just in being Earth's last hope against the aliens. Gary's spirit finds redemption. In homage to all alien invasion films, the obvious question posed is, "what does it mean to be human?" The answer, in The World's End, is clear: to be human is to be illogical, to be irrational, to go crazy and enjoy life. We are still passionate, short-sighted animals, and this is what life means to us.

Now back to me

In a way, I hope I can be a "successful" Gary King - that I can get to 40 and be fun, funny, charming and exciting, without the drugs, inner demons and lack of self-awareness. Maybe it's ambitious. Maybe I'm thinking about it too much. I'm quite boring and not like Gary King in lots of ways: I've never taken hard drugs; I don't owe people money; I waited until 29 to get my first (small) tattoo. I'm actually very safe and middle class.

I'm not going to change who I am. If I tried to "grow up" and stop doing all the things society deems "immature", I wouldn't be me, which would be both dishonest to myself and everyone else.

Then again, I'm different to when I was 25, just like I was different then to 20. I'd be a fool for trying to trap myself in amber and artificially stay the same. The world changes, and you change, and that's fine too.

My near future is unsettled - UK, Thailand, NZ, Australia - and that too is fine. I don't know if moving around in your 40s without a permanent base is right or wrong or desirable or not. But going to Aussie is the right thing for me at this time.

I take heart in knowing my friends (hopefully?) approve of what I'm doing with my life, and don't secretly think I'm some kind of arrogant dickhead. (I am occasionally a dickhead.) I also take comfort in knowing two of my closest Wellington friends - the exuberant, inexhaustible Theresa Winters, and my wondrous, multi-talented bandmate Chiara LaRotonda - are both people who threw away the rulebook on conventional life-plans and are being Who They Want To Be, where they want to be.

Life's not bad. I'm ready for 30. Let's do this.



  1. Can I please have 'exuberant and inexhaustible' on my gravestone?

    You're not a man-child, Jez. You're seizing life and creating your own. You are, and will be, Just Fine.

    And I can't wait till you get to Oz. (BTW, only Kiwis call the country and also the people 'Aussie'). ;)

    1. Let's make a mutual gravestone pact. And thanks for letting me know, in that case I'll call it "Aussie" :D