And because this phenomenon wears itself so clearly as the convergence of downtown cool and easy, abundant money, it is also, of course, about stuff—though that’s not all it’s about. It’s more interesting as evidence of the slow erosion of the long-held idea that in some fundamental way, you cross through a portal when you become an adult, a portal inscribed with the biblical imperative “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: But when I became a man, I put away childish things.” This cohort is not interested in putting away childish things. They are a generation or two of affluent, urban adults who are now happily sailing through their thirties and forties, and even fifties, clad in beat-up sneakers and cashmere hoodies, content that they can enjoy all the good parts of being a grown-up (a real paycheck, a family, the warm touch of cashmere) with none of the bad parts (Dockers, management seminars, indentured servitude at the local Gymboree). It’s about a brave new world whose citizens are radically rethinking what it means to be a grown-up and whether being a grown-up still requires, you know, actually growing up.
And it’s been a long time coming. It showed up in the early eighties as “the Peter Pan Syndrome,” then mutated to the yuppie, which, let’s face it, has had a pretty good run. Later, it took the form that David Brooks called “bourgeois bohemians,” or bobos (as in Bobos in Paradise). Over in England, they’re now calling them yindies (that’s yuppie plus indie), and here, the term yupster (you can figure that out) has been gaining some traction of late. And as this movement evolves, something pivotal is happening. This cascade of pioneering immaturity is no longer a case of a generation’s being stuck in its own youth. This generation is now, if you happen to be under 25, more interested in being stuck in your youth.
This article being what it is, I wanted to come up with my own term to describe them. But what? Dadsters? Sceniors? Dorian Graybeards? Over the course of my investigation, I started calling them Grups. It’s not the most elegant term, but it passes the field test of real-world utility. (Here a Grup, there a Grup, everywhere a Grup-Grup.) “Grups” is a nerdy reference to an old Star Trek episode in which Kirk and crew land on a planet run entirely by kids, who call grown-ups “grups.” All the adults have been killed off by a terrible virus, which also slows the natural aging process, so the kids are trapped in a state of extended prepubescence. They will never grow up. And they are running the show.
Oh, and there’s one more thing I learned, in answer to my opening questions: If being a Grup means being 35, and having a job, and using a messenger bag instead of a briefcase, and staying out too late too often, and owning more pairs of sneakers (eleven) than suits (one), and downloading a Hot Hot Heat song from iTunes because it was on a playlist titled “Saturday Errands,” and generally being uneasy and slightly confused about just what it means to be an adult in these modern times—in short, if it means living your life in fundamentally the same way that you did when you were, say, 22—then, let’s face it, I’m a Grup. The people in the pictures accompanying this story? Grups. In fact, take a minute and look up from the magazine—if you’re in public, you’ll see them everywhere. If you’re in front of a mirror, you might see one there too.
The Grup Music, or the Brand-new Sound of Twenty Years Ago
Once upon a time, pop culture, and in particular pop music, followed a certain reliable pattern: People listened to bands, like the Doobie Brothers or Cream or Steely Dan, that their Frank Sinatra–loving parents absolutely despised. Then these people had kids, and their kids became teens, and they started listening to bands, like the Clash or Elvis Costello or Joy Division, that their Cream-loving parents absolutely despised. And, lo, the Lord looked down and saw that it was good, and on the eighth day, He created the generation gap.
And then these Clash-listening kids grew up and had kids of their own, and the next generation of kids started listening to music, like Franz Ferdinand and Interpol and Bloc Party, that you might assume their parents would absolutely despise. Except it doesn’t really work that way anymore. In part, because how can their parents hate Interpol when they sound exactly like Joy Division? And in part, because how can their parents hate Bloc Party when their parents just downloaded Bloc Party and think it’s awesome and totally better than the Bravery!