As soon as the word “adult” became a verb, I knew we were in deep, deep trouble.
Of course being a grown-up is difficult. It’s supposed to be. That’s the natural trade-off for full-fledged freedom – this little albatross called self-responsibility. In that, I can partially understand why so many millennials feel a need to blow off steam and momentarily escape their daily woes through fairly juvenile activities – online video gaming, cosplaying, wiffle ball, so on and so forth. But there’s a well-defined line between childish escapism as recreational fun and games and convincing yourself decisively immature leisurely pursuits are legitimately creative activities. Case in point? This whole “adult coloring book” craze.
Of course, you just can’t come out and say “coloring book,” you have to give it some pseudoscientific, New Agey air of pretentiousness by marketing said materials as, and I quote, “mindfulness exercises.” (For those out of the loop, “mindfulness” is a three-dollar term wannabe Buddhists have given to a state of being we used to simply call “being aware you aren’t asleep or dead right now.”) So from the get-go, the entire phenomenon is cloaked in some sort of abstruse, hippie-dippie, faux psychological ethos designed to fool you into thinking something with no empirical health benefits is inherently therapeutic. If tax-paying, student-loan-saddled grown-ups were out there coloring Tweety Bird and the Tasmanian Devil just for the hell of it, I could almost overlook it. But when you take it a step further and declare your unabashed cognitive regression to be something medicinally beneficial, I have no choice but to give you the old what-for.
Now, is coloring a relaxing activity? Sure, but you can say the same thing about a million other things, too, like popping bubble wrap or taking a surprisingly smooth poop. The thing is, nobody in their right mind is going to consider crunching plastic pockets of air to be a semi-spiritual form of meditation, and heaven help us, no one should ever refer to dropping a chud as “a creative undertaking.” This newfangled “adult coloring” stuff is about as intellectually stimulating as either of the two base functions above, however, but somehow, the masses (with some generous help from conniving marketers) have actually convinced themselves that this particular form of “doing nothing” actually represents something artistic and reparative.
First off, there’s nothing “creative” about taking a couple of colored pencils and crayons and dragging them around the black lines somebody already drew. All you’re doing is filling out somebody else’s template, an exercise no different, cognitively, from trying to stuff as many strands of uncooked spaghetti into a little cylindrical container as possible. If you were drawing your OWN designs and then coloring them, I could give you the benefit of the doubt. But to go out, spend $20 on a Game of Thrones activity book and grind red-tinted wax onto a flimsy sheet of construction paper shaped like Daenerys Targaryen and formally declare yourself some kind of artiste? Now you’re really starting to irritate me.
Oh, and that Game of Thrones reference above isn’t me trying to be hyperbolic – they actually SELL coloring books based on M-for-Mature licenses like Outlander in bookstores across the nation. Granted, I haven’t flipped through too many of them, but it certainly adds a new wrinkle to the already problematic pastime – who among us doesn’t prefer to relax after a hard day at the office by going home, cracking open a coloring book and painting ourselves a pretty pink and magenta rape scene, or a bright burgundy and crimson mass homicide? A very peculiar type of person, no doubt.
The rest of the adult coloring book pantheon seems to consist solely of these weird, swirly, hyper-colored Lisa Frank acid-trip books that usually come with their own proprietary pencils (because simply coloring stuff with Crayolas, it appears, is just too unrefined.) Basically, they’re a whole bunch of circles, squares and stripes spiralling all over the page and the idea, I suppose, is to create a finished product that looks like the aftermath of an overturned snow cone truck on the highway – just a menagerie of colors, splattered everywhere like artificially flavored sour apple and cherry pavement. Every page is the same logic-less smattering of random hues and tones, desperately, direly screaming “look how unique I am!” – which, in a way, makes them an almost too perfect metaphor for Gen Y as a collective.
The adult coloring phenomenon, really, is just another symptom of the infantilization of the millennial mindset, prophesied by such old, humorless white guys as Mark Bauerlein and Benjamin Barber in their respective anti-Millennial screeds The Dumbest Generation and Consumed. It’s shameless, unproductive, wanton consumerism masquerading as artistic, individual expression, and the veneration of time-wasting as some sort of spiritual (and even medical) good. It’s doing absolutely nothing productive and then turning around and championing yourself for creating a masterpiece. Not only is it NOT a creative endeavor, it’s the exact opposite; indeed, monkeying around with Excel spreadsheets affords one more opportunities to express him and herself artistically.
I’m sure coloring, for many young adults, is an enjoyable activity that gives them ample time to shut their brains off and forget there is a world outside themselves. But like binge watching Star Wars movies or hunting Pokemon on your iPhone or playing Minecraft for seven hours every night, all you are doing is passively wallowing in someone else’s creativity. Scrapbooking isn’t the same thing as carving a statue out of a marble block, sewing patches onto your backpack isn’t the same thing as painting a mural and coloring is most certainly not the same thing as drawing, doodling, stenciling or even bedazzling something into your own graven image. There are far more productive, cognitively beneficial and yes – creative – ways one can “express” themselves than merely coloring between the lines of some overpriced rag deftly marketed to adult audiences, and there are definitely far more therapeutic, stress-relieving coping mechanisms at your disposal, too.
If you are coloring just for the sake of coloring because it helps you squander away time and gives you something to do with your hands, I have no qualms there. But for you stuck-up sorts that think coloring a turquoise Hodor makes you a post-post-postmodern Matisse or using orange sharpie pens to fill in a bunch of jumbled up polyhedrons is literally a form of exercise – don’t you think it’s about time you finally grew the hell on up?
Adult Coloring Books For Sale!
(Mike: I’ll openly undermine well written work just to whore myself out.)
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