Charlie Sheen, “Aging Frat Boys,” and Winning
I went to a function last week that featured professional speakers hired to educate the audience about the cultural differences among the multiple generations that inhabit our workforce. I won’t go into the many reasons why these speakers bothered me, but one of the more difficult things for me to swallow was the fact that most of their research was based on making massive generalizations. Basically, they assigned certain traits to large numbers of people born during a rather arbitrary period and sold them as cultural realities. I get the point they were trying to make, but I don’t like it when people paint things with a broad brush, especially when I’m one of them.
So, you can imagine how I felt when a friend called my attention to this article from the Wall Street Journal. I gotta say, nothing pisses me off more than when some bored and disconnected writer tries to assign values and reasoning behind my life decisions! Well, Kay S. Hymovitz, you called down the thunder so now you got it:
Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This “pre-adulthood” has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it’s time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men.
Alright, so I see we’re gonna tussle right out of the gate. That’s cool. But you’re a little vague here. What’s the “best” in men? Being married and having children? Are gay couples not being “their best” because they can’t get married or have kids? In an economy and society where we value education to the point where it’s almost overvalued (see law school), how is getting an advanced degree confused with “being in limbo?” And what’s “most men?” Do you have a number for me on that or is it just a mass generalization about men in their 20′s? I see a pattern developing here.
What [comedian Julie] Klausner means by “guys” is males who are not boys or men but something in between. “Guys talk about ‘Star Wars’ like it’s not a movie made for people half their age; a guy’s idea of a perfect night is a hang around the PlayStation with his bandmates, or a trip to Vegas with his college friends…. They are more like the kids we babysat than the dads who drove us home.”
Who are these guys? You’re right, they aren’t men, they’re losers. But then again, who are we to judge? What law are they breaking? Who are they hurting? Why do you care?
During my entire 20′s, I don’t remember one of my friends ever talking about “Star Wars” in that way. I don’t even like Star Wars. Plus, when did every guy join a band? And you know what? A perfect night out IS a trip to Vegas. Do you know how awesome it is there? Last time I checked, a lot of women go there, too. It’s not just roving groups of men looking for Star Wars shows and scratching themselves. Oh, and the “dads who drove you home?” Right, the ones who are divorced from our mothers and show up randomly on weekends? Yeah, those guys got it right!
But for all its familiarity, pre-adulthood represents a momentous sociological development. It’s no exaggeration to say that having large numbers of single young men and women living independently, while also having enough disposable income to avoid ever messing up their kitchens, is something entirely new in human experience.
I love it when they do the work for me. So, this “pre-adulthood” that you’re railing against creates independent men (and women) that work and live in a way that’s responsible and leads them to making well-reasoned decisions? Screw that, gimme those kids who get married and pregnant at age 16 on that MTV show. Now, that’s responsible adulthood!
Yes, at other points in Western history young people have waited well into their 20s to marry, and yes, office girls and bachelor lawyers have been working and finding amusement in cities for more than a century. But their numbers and their money supply were always relatively small. Today’s pre-adults are a different matter. They are a major demographic event.
Why are you still writing? And how insulting is it to refer to single women as merely “office girls?” Hey Kay, I don’t know where you’ve been the last 80 years, but women are allowed to do stuff now, like get degrees and jobs. The dean of my law school was a woman. There were more women than men in my graduating class. Most of them were not married. They were also smart, driven, and independent. How is this a problem?
Still, for these women, one key question won’t go away: Where have the good men gone? Their male peers often come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers—a gender gap neatly crystallized by the director Judd Apatow in his hit 2007 movie “Knocked Up.”
That’s a great question. Where have all the good men gone? Unless they’re married they must be gay or lazy! I bet they are watching a 30 year-old movie like ‘Star Wars!’ Here’s a question you may want to think about answering: where have all the good women gone? Oh wait, they’re in grad school or working or traveling. Much like all of the “aging frat boys” you can’t wait to denigrate in this article. And thanks for comparing an entire subset of my gender to the guy from “Knocked Up,” who isn’t really a hero to any man. He’s just a lucky bastard. Or a made-up movie character. But hey, why stop there?
So where did these pre-adults come from? You might assume that their appearance is a result of spoiled 24-year-olds trying to prolong the campus drinking and hook-up scene while exploiting the largesse of mom and dad. But the causes run deeper than that. Beginning in the 1980s, the economic advantage of higher education—the “college premium”—began to increase dramatically. Between 1960 and 2000, the percentage of younger adults enrolled in college or graduate school more than doubled. In the “knowledge economy,” good jobs go to those with degrees. And degrees take years.
Yeah, I was so spoiled when I was 24. Living in a cramped apartment with two other people, driving an 11 year-old Honda Accord, living on student loans. Going to law school full-time in Baltimore. Received a pretty good amount of encouragement from my parents, but not much in the way of “largesse.” After all, they were going through a divorce. We’ll touch on that later. I was also wondering how I was going to pay my rent or find a job that summer. Man, I was so spoiled! So were my friends who signed up for ROTC to help pay for college but then ended up getting sent to the Middle East. They got to travel and see the world! Spoiled brats! Also, thanks for agreeing with my education theory.
Hymovitz then goes off on some weird job discussion which only seeks to prove my point more: demographics change. Economies change. People must adapt. Thus, priorities change. Alas, she returns to her asininery, blaming this on movies:
At the same time, young men were tuning in to cable channels like Comedy Central, the Cartoon Network and Spike, whose shows reflected the adolescent male preferences of its targeted male audiences. They watched movies with overgrown boy actors like Steve Carell, Luke and Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Will Farrell and Seth Rogen, cheering their awesome car crashes, fart jokes, breast and crotch shots, beer pong competitions and other frat-boy pranks. Americans had always struck foreigners as youthful, even childlike, in their energy and optimism. But this was too much.
Right. Because Mel Brooks, Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Pryor, George Carlin (and a whole mess of others), all worked clean, priding themselves on being “responsible males.” Gimme a break. Quick movie trivia question: which two films are lauded for having the greatest car chases of all time? ”French Connection” and “Bullit.” Anyone know what year those were made? 1971 and 1968, respectively. I’m guessing Will Ferrell wasn’t in those.
What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.
What?!?!?! Who the hell are you? What makes you the gender expert? So, the only way a man “can be a man” is to pass some subjective “test” to prove they are a “protector?” I’m guessing having the courage to make tough decisions like going tens of thousands of dollars into debt to do something you love isn’t courageous. Because after all, we’re all spoiled rich kids who just do what we want anyway, right? Isn’t this also the same type of backwards thinking we heard with regard to women in the 1950′s? I don’t like to curse on this blog, but this is complete and utter bullshit.
Today’s pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn’t say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can’t act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.
More of the same. And apparently, all my friends are single losers like me. I guess my single friends who are partners in law firms, own their own businesses, teach children, and manage millions of dollars for their clients are just jerks.
Furthermore, do my married friends secretly hate me? Because I really respect and admire them — they must continue being my friends because they feel sorry for me, right Kay? Also, if I’m so undomesticated, who does my laundry? Who provides my meals, irons my shirts, pays my bills, etc? Should I be asking my rich parents to do this for me?
Single men have never been civilization’s most responsible actors;
Of course. Because married men don’t cheat on their wives, develop drinking and drug problems, get divorced, lose their jobs, struggle through mid-life crises, get violent, start wars, or make any real mistake. Ever. God forbid men get those things out of their system before they enter into a life-long committed relationship with someone else. Or, take longer than a few years to think about it. No, let’s just label all young single men as baby-killing vampires.
…they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers
What’s your definition of “success?” Getting married to your high school sweetheart? Right, because all 18 year-olds are rational beings. Having a kid? That’s really not that hard to do — “Sixteen and Pregnant” proves that. Is it being wealthy? I’m pretty sure a number of my single friends make more money than some of my married friends and vice versa. Is it owning a home? Yeah, pretty hard to do that if you’re single, but there’s a lot of married people that can’t afford that, either. So, tell me: what makes a married person more successful? Doing what you think they should do? Conforming to the ideas that you were raised with? Because that sounds pretty ass backwards if you ask me.
So we can be disgusted if some of them continue to live in rooms decorated with “Star Wars” posters and crushed beer cans and to treat women like disposable estrogen toys, but we shouldn’t be surprised.
And we hit a nerve. Back to crude and sweeping generalizations – I wonder what George Lucas ever did to this woman. The same independent, competitive, driven men who put marriage off (her words, not mine) are also living in a pit of filth supported by their parents and surrounded by crushed beer cans. Oh, and an endless supply of women whom they treat as objects. Make up your mind, Kay! Also, women of the world: these men are your only options! Settle quickly, because if you don’t get married and start a family, you’re not successful! You also have no choice in the way men treat you, either. Your life will be miserable, just like mine!
Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men’s attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There’s nothing they have to do.
They might as well just have another beer.
But who will help make the babies? Listen, you ignorant, hate-filled miserabile: married, single, childless, jobless, educated or not, doesn’t make you good, bad, or ugly. It makes you human. If I want to be any of these things, what the hell gives you the right to tell me it’s right or wrong?
And there you have it. This was one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. Or it was just incredibly lazy. Probably a little bit of both. Which brings me to Sheen: people make fun of him and laugh at him and call him names because he isn’t what they are. He made decisions to live his life in a way that’s different than you, me, and pretty much everyone else. Is it healthy? No way. Is it “right?” How the hell should I know? Regardless, he’s made a decision that’s uniquely his own and he’s not afraid to own it. Putting the substance abuse aside, Sheen takes heat because he doesn’t live the life so many of us might be settling for and he’s not afraid to talk about it. People could care less about the drugs, the alcohol, the women, the TV show, whatever. They hate him because he’s living life his own way on his own accord. So, Kay Hymovitz, is Charlie Sheen really winning? You’re got-damn right he is.
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