George Will on Man-Boys

homersapienI’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.

QED.

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.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. kth says:

    Our culture probably does enable the sort of extended adolescence dramatized on the Seinfeld show. But what would Will have us do about it? Outlaw contraception? Re-introduce discrimination against women in colleges and workplaces? Because sexual freedom and women’s independence are the genii you have to put back in the bottles, if you want to bring back Will’s manly men.

  2. floyd says:

    The ever increasing willingness to wet nurse on a nanny state seems proof enough of a lack of maturity on the part of the entire population, personal responsibility being a key factor in achieving maturity.
    Of course the willful destruction of the traditional family leaves men with no need or expectation for maturity.

  3. floyd says:

    kth;
    Your comment perfectly frames the argument.
    You say…
    “”sexual freedom and women’s independence are the genii you have to put back in the bottles, if you want to bring back Will’s manly men.””

    A person with traditional values might say…
    “”irresponsible sexual promiscuity and abandonment of marital commitment are evidence that the lid must be returned to Pandora’s box, if you want to see a return of responsible manhood.

    See? Two views of the same scene, the former more widely accepted each day, leading to a further exacerbation of what only the latter view really sees as a problem.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    An opinion piece is not a term paper or thesis submitted with incontrovertible evidence. Will’s column hits on observations many of us have made yet not documented for later use. I consider his analysis spot on. From the delay of adulthood to the boomers being self centered it was on target.

    What would Will have us do about it? Well , the first step of solving any problem is identifying it. He is just another of a growing number who see it. It’s not so much manliness he misses as it is adult behavior. We could pick apart what he’s saying piece by piece but overall he’s right.

  5. An Interested Party says:

    What would Will have us do about it?

    To all of those people who agree with him and are whining, what would you do about it? Do tell…

  6. kth says:

    Floyd, sexual freedom can’t be reduced to libertinism, as it just as much implies the choice for a couple to delay having children. And women’s independence isn’t just the right to get out of a marriage, but to be able to support herself in a vocation suited to her talents until she is married, if she so chooses. There’s a wider gamut of peoples’ lives in question here than just your caricature of hedonistic swinger types.

    Steve, if Will is merely exhorting people to get married just because, that’s harmless enough. Obviously it would be delustional of him to imagine that anyone would view him as an authority on the life well lived. I was just wondering if there was anything beyond exhortation. Will is a paleocon, not a libertarian, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he went in for outlawing contraception and no-fault divorce, all for the sake of a more masculine public air. But it would be mighty strange for limited-government types to follow him there.

  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    Men were much more mature in the 50’s when they could start drinking at noon and play grab-ass with their secretaries, then spend the weekend building a bomb shelter in their back yard and relaxing at their segregated country club.

    Conservatives often see the world through rose-colored rear-view mirrors.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    And by the way, while we’re on the topic, fathers in the 1950’s barely knew their kids half the time. I’ll throw down on parental effort and fatherly responsibility with Father Knows Best any day of the week. I bust my ass on the daddy job.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Men were much more mature in the 50’s when they could start drinking at noon and play grab-ass with their secretaries

    I wouldn’t mind a revival of noon-time drinking and secretaries. Hold the grab-ass.

    And by the way, while we’re on the topic, fathers in the 1950’s barely knew their kids half the time. I’ll throw down on parental effort and fatherly responsibility with Father Knows Best any day of the week. I bust my ass on the daddy job.

    Yup. And none of the other jobs matter except insofar as they support that one.

  10. sam says:

    From the delay of adulthood to the boomers being self centered it was on target.

    I’ve come in late. Was Will criticizing libertarianism?

  11. Mithras says:

    “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.

    Yes, including lots of police dramas. Fictional cops fill the archetypal space that cowboys used to occupy. Not much has changed, except that some of the cops are women and not all the cops are good guys.

  12. floyd says:

    kth;
    Once again, you have a view to a different past as well as a different present.
    Both of my grandmothers as well as my mother, were well educated and gainfully employed all of their lives in fields of their choice.Before and after they were married.
    Couples have always had the choice to delay having children, although the simplicity of “the pill” made that decision easier to make.
    Considering that my comment to which you refer was a direct comparison to yours, it is certainly no more,or less of a caricature.
    The point was to expose you to a different point of view. Yours is merely neo-conformity. So ubiquitous and unimaginative that I would think that you would be pleased and surprised at any response.
    I refer you once again to the last sentence of my former comment as my point.
    I submit to you that holding the most popular view without reflection implies that truth is temporal, a view held only by fools.
    Smugness notwithstanding , this generation is no closer to Utopian perfection than those that preceded it.
    History is worthy of study, providing a point of view capable of informing the latest Paradigm shift when given it’s due respect.

  13. JKB says:

    So what does Will consider to be manly behavior? Perhaps slap a woman back after she slaps him like Cary Grant did in many movies? Oh that’s right, that’s gets a male a nice criminal record these days whereas the woman would would never be questioned for striking the man. Will is concerned about an entertainment venue that permits men and women to do something rather than sit at the bar or play darts. What would he say of all the adult weekend sport leagues that permit declining athletes to cling to their high school glory.

    Will seems to be concerned that males just aren’t settling down and being all serious. Getting married, having kids and working themselves to death. Well, quite a few men are doing that, they just aren’t the upper middle class little emperors George sees. They are on military bases or working to stay in the middle class or working class trying to stay ahead of the factory closure.

    The men are there but they stay out of the spotlight. Traditional man behavior gets a tut tut from the chattering classes or an accusation of gender bias or a charge of being mean to women or children. So the men don’t draw attention to themselves. The boys act out but the men just quietly do their work sometimes not even noticed by the women looking for a mate. But men, have traditionally been better at being loners so more skip marriage since the social straitjacket has been doffed.

  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    I wouldn’t mind a revival of noon-time drinking and secretaries.

    Preach it, brother.

  15. Mr. Prosser says:

    The irony is Will loves baseball,especially professional baseball, a boy’s game played by men. By the way, Men at Work is some of his best writing.

  16. Steve Plunk says:

    I would like to recommend one of my favorite websites, http://artofmanliness.com/. Take a spin and see that traditional ideas of manliness don’t always include neglecting your children or grabbing your secretary. Some of the traditions are quite reasonable and lead to good habits.

  17. Fake George Will says:

    Your statement, sir, is piffle.

  18. Heidi G says:

    Most amusing about the Cary Grant reference as manly, given he is well known to have been a closeted gay man.

  19. gawaine says:

    Just picking on one piece of the common refrain in discussions about “man-boys” – As someone who grew up watching his father spend time and money on model railroads, I’m less than impressed by the complaints about adult men playing computer games.