I’ve recorded two podcasts with Brad Riter for Trending Buffalo that have generated a lot of feedback via email, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. The topic? The extended adolescence of the American man and how it has created an unserious generation, obsessed with the toys and affectations of our youth.
Listen to Part 1
Listen to Part 2 (with Alan Bedenko)
The podcasts have been more opinion and entertainment than nuance and the format doesn’t necessarily lend itself to deep linking of the information that informs the idea that manbabies are ruining American culture. So, let’s lay out the premise and discuss it.
What is a manbaby? A manbaby is the type of guy who is fundamentally unserious about and uninvolved with the world around him. He is overly committed to the social structures of his adolescence and engages in childish/selfish behavior which distracts him from working for the greater good. I believe that men of a certain age should invest in personal and/or professional development, involve themselves in fellowship in their community and use their spare time wisely to create an impact on the world around them. A manbaby acts in a frivolous, self-centered world of the puer aeternus.
The markers of passage into manhood, ascending to a productive life in a trade, profession, or artistic pursuit, marriage, children, and civic involvement have been replaced with a an extended adolescence of playing video games until 4AM, hard drinking, obsession with the toys of youth, and a pervasive selfishness. Michael Kimmel, author of Guyland, The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men writes,
Guyland is the world in which young men live. It is both a stage of life, a liminal undefined time span between adolescence and adulthood that can often stretch for a decade or more, and a place, or, rather, a bunch of places where guys gather to be guys with each other, unhassled by the demands of parents, girlfriends, jobs, kids, and the other nuisances of adult life. In this topsy-turvy, Peter-Pan mindset, young men shirk the responsibilities of adulthood and remain fixated on the trappings of boyhood, while the boys they still are struggle heroically to prove that they are real men despite all evidence to the contrary.
Males between 16 and 26 number well over 22 million—more than 15% of the total male population in the United States. The “guy” age bracket represents the front end of the single most desirable consumer market, according to advertisers. It’s the group constantly targeted by major Hollywood studios, in part because this group sees the same shoot-em-up action film so many times on initial release. They’re targeted in several of the most successful magazine launches in recent memory, magazines like Men’s Health, Maxim, FHM, Details, and Stuff. Guys in this age bracket are the primary viewers of the countless sports channels on television. They consume the overwhelming majority of recorded music, video games, and computer technology, and they are the majority of first-time car buyers.
The book covers a lot of ground, delving into what happens when men never emerge from Guyland or transfer their adolescent obsessions into Cosplay, LARPing, obsessions with fantasy sports and other activities. It’s a fantastic read that explores the underpinnings of American self-involvement and our declining interest in the world around us.
Does this mean that men can’t enjoy a video game at night? Have a drink with friends? Watch a goofy movie? Read a comic book? Indulge in bad TV? No. As small hobbies, these are normal behaviors. However, problems emerge when men engage in these behaviors to the exclusion of activities that might benefit others.
We don’t need to spend every waking minute bettering the nation, but America would be a much better place to live if, for just 5-10 hours per week, more of us turned off reality television, put down the comic books, stopped reading fanboy updates on the new Spiderman movie, or poring over stat sheets to improve our fantasy sports teams and instead worked in our communities. Our unwillingness to do so tells the culturemakers to give us more of what we consume and tells those who need help that few care about them, aside from our Facebook status updates about how someone needs to get to work on solving their problems.
The culture we have is the culture for which there is demand. Our media reflects our nostalgia-crippled desire for the simpler times of our youth. Our politics appeals to lowest common denominator ideologies as we’re “too busy” with adolescent pursuits to truly pay attention to the issues. Our communities suffer from lack of participation because we’re “too busy” with our hobbies or frivolous pursuits to be involved in the business of participatory democracy. Our religion cripples our sensibilities and we fail to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to recognize emotional pandering and manipulation. Our choices to live in suburban and exurban bubbles in which we no longer have to deal with people of color or different socioeconomic levels has created a selfish isolation that creates an “I’ve got mine and fuck everyone else” kind of culture. All of these things have a common thread, our inability to act like compassionate grown-ups.
If you disagree that a man in America has a responsibility to those around him, I’m not quite sure what to tell you. Our fore bearers handed us a nation, a precious gift and it is our responsibility to protect and expand upon what was given to us. Were the decades of the 1950’s and 1960’s the “halcyon” days? No, absolutely not, especially if you weren’t an educated white man. However, a fundamental seriousness has been largely replaced with a culture that rewards foolishness and selfish behavior. Simply going to work, taking care of your kids, and rarely looking beyond the confines of your front window are simply not enough. That’s the minimum. America needs serious men who are interested in sustaining a nation of ideals and creating communities rich with experience and concern for one another. We can’t leave it for others to do, we all need to bear some of the load.
If you disagree with the premise that we’re less serious than men of previous generations, I’d like to hear what you have to say. I’ll be expanding on this topic in the weeks ahead, delving into civic engagement surveys and other research which highlights how we’ve grown more disconnected from one another or become lost in our own pursuits and what that means for the health of our society.