Friday, March 5, 2010

Toilet reading that should stay on the toilet

Have you read George Will's column this week?  No, because right-wing baseball-loving wild-eyed crazies didn't break into your house and force you to read it at gunpoint?  That's fair.  Luckily for you, I DID end up reading it au toilette, and I'd like to discuss one thing:


Let's start with his introduction.  The "Introduction," as you may remember from 8th grade English class, is where you lay out your "Thesis," the argument that you will be arguing throughout the piece.  George's intro goes like this:
Current economic hardships have had what is called in constitutional law a "disparate impact": The crisis has not afflicted everyone equally. Although women are a majority of the workforce, perhaps as many as 80 percent of jobs lost were held by men. This injury to men is particularly unfortunate because it may exacerbate, and be exacerbated by, a culture of immaturity among the many young men who are reluctant to grow up.
OK! Seems straightforward (if stupid) enough: Men in particular are harmed by the recession, and this is contributing to a "culture of immaturity."  Now, I have some argument with the first part of that, but the second sounds interesting.  I do think that our culture has a warped definition of masculity, and an increasing glorification of an eternal "guyhood" that consists of mancaves and Judd Apatow movies.  We're told over and over that men are childish and immature (and, not inconsequentially, that it is women's job to make them grow up.) I'm halfway convinced already, George!  Win me over!
Increasingly, they are defecting from the meritocracy. Women now receive almost 58 percent of bachelor's degrees. This is why many colleges admit men with qualifications inferior to those of women applicants—which is one reason men have higher dropout rates. The Pew Research Center reports that 28 percent of wives between ages 30 and 44 have more education than their husbands, whereas only 19 percent of husbands in the same age group have more education than their wives. Twenty-three percent of men with some college education earn less than their wives. 
Here's the funny thing about statistics.  If you throw out a bunch all at once, you may think you're proving your point, but sometimes, you're just making an ass of yourself.  So after all of those stats telling me that men are falling behind, you finish with... less than a quarter of these supposedly failing men are earning less than their wives?  As in, less than a quarter of women are earning more than their husbands?  If men were truly failing, wouldn't it be much higher than that... say, more than 50%?  Instead of proving that O WOE IS MEN, you just proved that, despite our so-called meritocracy, higher-achieving women are STILL earning significantly less than their husbands.  Why, again, is this a Crisis of Manhood?
In 1956, the median age of men marrying was 22.5. But between 1980 and 2004, the percentage of men reaching age 40 without marrying increased from 6 to 16.5. A recent study found that 55 percent of men 18 to 24 are living in their parents' homes, as are 13 percent of men 25 to 34, compared to 8 percent of women.
I'm going to argue that putting off marriage is a good idea (check out these stats if you want proof), but aside from that, this is interesting.  I'd like to know what percentage of women 18 to 24 are living with their parents, because I find missing statistics highly suspicious, but aside from that, I'm listening.
Mike Stivic, a.k.a. Meathead, the liberal graduate student in All in the Family, reflected society's belief in the cultural superiority of youth, but he was a leading indicator of something else: He lived in his father-in-law Archie Bunker's home. What are today's "basement boys" doing down there? Perhaps watching Friends and Seinfeld reruns about a culture of extended youth utterly unlike the world of young adults in previous generations.
Aaaaaaand you lost me.

  1. Just because you've heard words like "leading indicator" doesn't mean you know how to use them, George. 
  2. Friends? Seinfeld? Really?  I know you went to sleep in about 1994 and never woke up, but still.  It's not that hard to find more contemporary examples of "extended youth."
  3. You're not introducing "basement boys" into the cultural lexicon.  Stop trying to make fetch happen.

Now we bring in the "experts."
Gary Cross, a Penn State University historian, wonders, "Where have all the men gone?" His book,Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity, argues that "the culture of the boy-men today is less a life stage than a lifestyle." If you wonder what has become of manliness, he says, note the differences between Cary Grant and Hugh Grant, the former, dapper and debonair, the latter, a perpetually befuddled boy.
Actually, Hugh Grant passed into manhood in 2002.  (And Badly Drawn Boy did the soundtrack.)  But, ok, let's take a moment to contemplate the differences between the Grants:


Moving on.
Permissive parenting, Cross says, made children less submissive, and the decline of deference coincided with the rise of consumer and media cultures celebrating the indefinite retention of the tastes and habits of childhood. The opening of careers to talented women has coincided with the attenuation of male role models in popular culture: In 1959, there were 27 Westerns on prime-time television glamorizing male responsibility.
 There are only 2 sentences in this paragraph, but I count 4 distinct ideas. At some time after 1959 (the bad new days), these things all happened:

  1. Kids became less obedient because their parents were less strict
  2. Culture encouraged childlike tastes and habits
  3. Women entered the workforce
  4. There were less westerns on TV
I am waiting with BREATHLESS ANTICIPATION to find out what this PERFECT STORM caused:
Cross says the large-scale entry of women into the workforce made many men feel marginalized, especially when men were simultaneously bombarded by new parenting theories, which cast fathers as their children's pals, or worse: In 1945, Parents magazine said a father should "keep yourself huggable" but show a son the "respect" owed a "business associate." 
All this led to "ambiguity and confusion about what fathers were to do in the postwar home and, even more, about what it meant to grow up male." Playboy magazine, a harbinger of perpetual adolescence, sold trinkets for would-be social dropouts: "Join the beat generation! Buy a beat generation tieclasp." Think about that.
 I'm thinking, George.  Thinking that they should give ME your job.
Although Cross, an aging academic boomer, was a student leftist, he believes that 1960s radicalism became "a retreat into childish tantrums" symptomatic "of how permissive parents infantilized the boomer generation." And the boomers' children? Consider the television commercials for the restaurant chain called Dave & Buster's, which seems to be, ironically, a Chuck E. Cheese's for adults—a place for young adults, especially men, to drink beer and play electronic games and exemplify youth not as a stage of life but as a perpetual refuge from adulthood.
At the 2006 Super Bowl, the Rolling Stones sang "Satisfaction," a song older than the Super Bowl. At this year's game, another long-of-tooth act, the Who, continued the commerce of catering to baby boomers' limitless appetite for nostalgia. "My generation's obsession with youth and its memories," Cross writes, "stands out in the history of human vanity."
Last November, when Tiger Woods's misadventures became public, his agent said: "Let's please give the kid a break." The kid was then 33. He is now 34 but, no doubt, still a kid. The puerile anthem of a current Pepsi commercial is drearily prophetic: "Forever young."
In case you got lost, let's recap:  Overly permissive post-WWII parents created the self-involved generation of Baby Boomers who refuse to let go of their childhoods.  (This, apparently, is despite all the Strong Manly Men they were presumably exposed to in the Westerns on TV in 1959....when they were all growing up.  If this makes no sense, it's because you're probably too SELF INVOLVED and CHILDISH.)  Baby Boomers, in turn, have created a generation of "basement boys" who are similarly clinging to youth.  Also, it's all women's fault, for doing better than boys in school and not losing as many jobs in the recession.

You can tell that this is a contemporary problem worthy of a full-page column in 2010, because it starts with the word "Currently".  This is despite the fact that no cultural reference is more recent than 1994, the year when Georgie boy wrote enough columns for the next 30 years and locked himself in a chamber of ice, to be awoken only for baseball games and the occasional murmur of "Get those kids off my lawn!!!"

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