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Manbabies

Filed under: Miscellany, Morning Grumpy

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.


  • I think with this entire topic you’re over generalizing to try and make your point. 

    Yes, generally as a society there needs to more community involvement and investment. However, that goes for women as well as men. EVERYONE should do this; young, old, man, woman, white, black, whatever. 

    Just because a guy is running around in Delaware Park with plywood sword on a Saturday afternoon doesn’t mean that he doesn’t do a lot of good things the rest of the week. 

    I feel like it’s a specious argument to simply assume that anyone doing something ‘unmanly’ is doing it at the expense of something more positive to society. 

    •  He’s not talking about the people that are doing things once a week in Del. Park.  He’s talking about the overwhelming majority of men under the age of 35ish that have pretty much shirked their civic responsibilities and spend every non-working waking moment fulfilling every desire they had as a boy/adolescent.  Think less of the person who goes out on a sat. morning with a group of people to engage with and more of the type that spends every night until 3 or 4am in a bar. Or, spends every waking moment absorbed by video games or this season’s fantasy sports bracket.  Yes, I see your point that it involves everyone.  However, you never here a term like Man-boy attached to women.  In what Chris is saying there has been a shift where women are definitely more mature in societal roles and men are staying in a post adolescent excess.  It’s like these people are stuck because they were told no they couldn’t do something when they were younger and now they have no one telling them not to do it so it preoccupies them.  However, it’s also a result of more and more guys coming out of helicopter parenting situations that have no reasonable understanding of what responsibility is.  When everything is done for you all your life to a certain point, and everything has always just been about games and self fulfillment, how can that person be expected to function differently when it comes to being out on their own in society.  We all go through a period of learning to do for ourselves, but the group that Chris is commenting about seems to be stuck in this post adolescent self gratifying stage. And the sad part is, they choose to stay here.  It’s more about selfishness than anything else. Plus, this could only occur in a society such as ours that is run by commercialism.

      • I would take issue with this statement :

        “overwhelming majority of men under the age of 35ish that have pretty much shirked their civic responsibilities and spend every non-working waking moment fulfilling every desire they had as a boy/adolescent”

        There are obviously some people who would rather spend more time on their XBox than doing something productive, but I think it’s an unfair statement that a majority of the under 35 crowd are slackers. 

  • Is the argument for women any different?

  • CPBarrett

    I think the interpersonal “disconnectedness”  has been a side effect of technological advances.  While it certainly can be attributed to women as well, I believe there is legitimacy in viewing this topic separately for males and females (as the argument about consumer marketing confirms).  It reminds me of the “we used to have to walk 4 miles uphill to school and back” argument heard from my parents generation.  We  now see (ironically often on Facebook) “Click if you used to play freeze tag or know who Captain Kangaroo is.”  There is nostalgia for a simpler way of life, for our youth but I think every generation, even those that did not have computers and cell phones,  experienced this in some form as they matured.

  • Manbabyism is the symptom, not the disease, of course. There is a general decline in seriousness overall, a fragmentation of social mores, a dispersal of families, increased absorbing technology, and men have higher unemployment rates and lower college grad rates than women. There are a myriad of reasons for this – everything from the end of the Cold War to the decline in manufacturing to ease of travel (away from my nagging Dad who says I play too many video games…) – but when we try to discuss those, everyone’s eyes glaze over. Mention manbabies, and people can’t comment fast enough. Which is another way of saying, good job.

    •  I was hoping you’d show up to lend some credibility and seriousness to the point. Perhaps something for you to expound upon in a future blog post?

      • Some future writing somewhere perhaps. I’m keeping my blog decidedly politics and policy free, by choice, but maybe I can write something somewhere else. For now, commenting with you and Alan is fun again.

  • “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. ” 

    Unfortunately these things were put in place just for the exact reason of causing distraction so that we are not concerned with the decisions, policies, etc of the people in power. Don’t you think the government is thrilled that nobody cares what they do? They can sell guns, bust “drug dealers,” start secret wars and everyone is too concerned with the next Modern Warfare video game or Miley Cyrus’ new hair cut. It isn’t actually an accident, I think it’s on purpose. Consumer culture is a distraction from reality and it was always meant to be that way. These are words straight from the man who created and developed the ideas of Public Relations, essentially propaganda for corporations to sell their products: 

    In Propaganda (1928), Edward Bernays (Father of Public Relations) argued that the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy:

    The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.

    This isn’t a whacko speaking here, this is Sigmund Freud’s nephew, a guy who took his uncle’s ideas about the mind and used them to manipulate the public in to consuming to no end. So I guess my point is, if manbabies are just consuming, useless, members of society, it is by design. And as you can see, the design is working.

  • Carey1518

    If the majority of men are all man babies, as usual the authors need to completely overstate their point, than why do I turn on the TV and every other friggin’ crap reality show is some narcissistic whining middle aged bimbo, going on about herself?  And who is watching this crap?
    I am very suspect of your findings as I go to a decent amount of board meetings, not-fors and muni, etc. and as far as I can tell the majority of those boards are currently made up of men.  I am happy woman are stepping into these positions, but don’t try to play it as men failing society.
    One last note, for anyone who grew up here in Buffalo back in the 60s-80s, know that like me most of the dads in my neighborhood spent their evening in a bar, and weekends in the bowling alley or at the gun club or country club, and didn’t spend all that much time with the family. 
    You guys are off base with this “new concept”, it is nothing new.

  • What started as a piece decrying a lack of manly seriousness logically ended up at the crux of today’s political battle: what kind of country do we want to be?

    A nation of self concerned loners (conservative) or the one that all pulled in the same direction to accomplish extraordinary feats: playing a large role in the defeat of global fascism, going to the moon, etc…(progressive)

    You see the selfish Id of America in the Tea Party, in Ron Paul supporters, in the demented sum of modern American conservatism.

    Not to say that manbabies are all conservative leaning but the “Me” mentality that you might get with someone who still goes clubbing/role plays/etc… at 35 is the same one that powers the GOP in 2012 to be a serious threat to the basic social contract.

  • ChaseMudd

     Shit journalism.

  • tonyintonawanda

    Does the fact we are at this point surprise anyone?  It was a logical outcome when we decided everyone had to go to college right out of high school and then happily put them tens of thousands in debt to do so. What they studied in college didn’t matter….so get that liberal arts degree with that 2.0 GPA, don’t do any internships or community service to make yourself marketable but rather spend all of your college free time partying or playing video games.  Just get that piece of paper and  a six figure job is waiting.

    Of course, graduation comes and no such pot of gold exists.  So move back home where you can now suck off your parents health insurance until you’re 26 and get some part-time retail job that gives you enough cash for beer money, to purchase the next Call of Duty the first day it comes out and make the minimum payment on your student loans.

     Don’t work two or three part-time jobs and really bust your ass so you can impress someone with your work ethic and get on a career path.  Keep waiting until that job with the corner office and the big bonus finds you because you deserve it and in the mean time, stay young and have fun because childhood doesn’t have to end until around 30.

  • The idea of the established generation being disappointed in, or feeling superior to, the ascendant generation is nothing new.  

    Case in point: during yesterday’s podcast, Chris mentioned how Gen X was hustling while Millenials were being manbabyish. 

    IIRC, back around 1990, the baby boomers were calling us Gen Xers “slackers” and denigrating our unserious underperformance and lackadaisical attitudes towards everything. 

    Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.