George Will on Man-Boys
I’ve been a fan of George Will for longer than I can remember, going back to his earliest appearances on what was then “This Week with David Brinkley.” He remains quite enjoyable on that show and continues to write excellent columns three decades after he won a Pulitizer for commentary.
Still, his ratio of stinkers to gems has, perhaps inevitably, sharply increased of late.
The infamous Blue Jeans column is perhaps the exemplar.
But his Newsweek essay arguing that modern American males are increasingly less mature than was true a generation or two back, is more typical of the decline. It’s not stunningly bad and its thesis is defensible enough. But the argument is, at best, incoherent.
First, we learn that men are marrying much later. Or, at least, more of them are reaching the age of 40 without ever having married. Fine, although there could be many reasons for that — including more time acquiring formal education, the greater acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle — that have nothing to do with the maturity thesis.
The next piece of evidence is that Meathead from “All in the Family” lived in his father-in-law’s house. Sure, he was a fictional character and the show first aired 39 years ago. But it’s apparently a “leading indicator” of a future trend. And, sure enough, “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.” Well, okay. But a lot of 18-year-olds are still in high school. I was one of them, by virtue of a November birthday.
Next, we learn that some guy wrote a book in which he claimed that the notion of manliness has gone from Cary Grant to Hugh Grant. But who the hell thinks that? The former was and remains idolized as a symbol of manhood and sartorial splendor. The latter seems a jovial chap and is good looking and wealthy. But he’s hardly the name that springs to mind as the archetype of modern manhood.
Ah, but “In 1959, there were 27 Westerns on prime-time television glamorizing male responsibility.” But now that women are having careers, they’ve canceled these shows and replaced them with, well, other shows. That don’t feature cowboys.
Next, Will notes that parenting has gone soft and confused men as to what it is they’re supposed to do. He cites examples from 1945.
And there’s apparently an ad for some restaurant called Dave & Buster’s that “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.” Uh huh.
Also, the Rolling Stones are obsessed with youth and Tiger Woods is irresponsible.
I’m sympathetic to the argument that modern life has prolonged adolescence, taken away some of the old-style pride in self-reliance, and otherwise weakened the notion of maleness as something distinct from femaleness. But a series of random observations — especially when many of the examples of how we’ve gone bad lately are decades old! — is not a persuasive way of making it.