I’ve never played Fortnite. All I know about the game is what I see on Twitter or glimpses on my friend’s TVs. I do know what most of the Fortnite dances look like, though. Why? I have friends on social media who have ten year old siblings. Ten year olds dance those Fortnite dances like they’re are on the clearance rack at Target. Recently, I’ve seen an influx of videos on the internet of kids ‘flossing’ and moving their limbs in various other ways with spasmodic energy. These videos are always accompanied by the same comment. They always say something to the effect of: “Kids today are so stupid (or weird),” as if they forgot how inexplicably stupid and weird we were.
On the covers of American junior high students’ notebooks, it takes six lines—two parallel rows of three—to create the starting point for the one Universal Truth every school kid knows. I don’t even have to explain that better because even the home-schooled kids know what I’m talking about. The Cool ‘S’. The geometric ‘S’ shape that was followed by ‘mile’ to create the word Smile. I was taught how to draw the cool ‘S’ after second grade. Before the summer of second grade, I might as well have brought no notebooks to class at all, because the only ones that mattered in second grade were the ones that had at least seven of those big ‘S’s and one huge one right in the middle just to let the other kids know who they’re dealing with.
What does a cool ‘S’ and ‘flossing’ have to do with each other? I won’t pretend they’re directly comparable, but they serve the same general purpose. Kids use both of these as a touchstone to their identity, a way to harmlessly assure themselves that they belong in a social group. And no one really knows where they came from. We don’t have single sources for either of these phenomenons, as we don’t have sources for a lot of the phenomena that were the social currency of growing up.
When we compare our own childhood to the kids who grew up after or before us, we always forget to compare the social reasons for doing dumb things like ‘flossing’ in math class or drawing geometric ‘S’ shapes over your arms in marker. In fact, it might actually be impossible to compare the social aspect of doing dumb things as a kid, because we didn’t live it. We forget that childhood, as a concept, isn’t just an individual experience, it’s a social one.
It’s like saying the shows you watched on Disney Channel when you were nine years old were the best. They weren’t. They feel like they were because it was the best Disney Channel to you. But it wasn’t the best to you because you enjoyed it alone, it was the best because you enjoyed it as a social experience with your friends. You laughed about each episode, talked about them, and saw yourself in them. You argued within your social group, taking sides on whether That’s So Raven or Hannah Montana was better. You lived them. That knowledge shouldn’t take anything away from it being the best Disney Channel to you. It’s just important to realize there are other best Disney Channels. I didn’t have to explain what drawing a cool ‘S’ meant socially, because most everyone college-aged lived it. In the same way, we can’t really know what it means to dance Fortnite dances as a fourth grader.
Kids aren’t inherently stupid. Or maybe they all are, but if they all are, that makes none of them stupid. The point is, we were all kids once, so we were all stupid. The only difference is that now a visual representation of that stupidity is readily accessible to anyone that wants to find it and make fun of it.