• These Days, Men will be Boys

    • Posted on Mar 08, 1998
    3/8/98

    Something’s happening to men these days, and it’s making a few males uncomfortable.  Maybe even embarrassed.

    I first began noticing this change when I contemplated the ending of “Titanic,” the James Cameron film that cost more than the ship. 

    Jack Dawson, the hero, helps awaken Rose, his girlfriend, to her true destiny as a woman with the heart and soul of an artist.  Thanks to Jack, she survives and goes on to live a marvelous, full life.

    And what becomes of Jack?  Why, he freezes in the ocean after helping Rose onto a piece of flotsam.

    Rose grew up, while Jack froze in his youth.  Could this “Titanic” story serve as a fable for what men currently face, or more accurately, refuse to face?

    Consider other instances of men freezing in boyhood.  There’s Jerry Seinfeld, who appears to be bowing out of his record-setting sitcom as a boy, essentially.  He lives to amuse himself, and he’s good enough at it to amuse others.

    He maintains no intimate ties except to his goofy friends, who seem more like dependents than friends.  He has no children, no serious conflicts that give him pause, nothing that would make him a grownup.

    He’s Jack Dawson, frozen in the water, except at a million an episode.  Also he happens to be much funnier than Jack, which keeps him from being pathetic or tragic.
     
    Then there’s our Peter Pan of a President, Bill Clinton.  If ever there were an eternal youth, a man devoted to keeping his inner child intact and functioning, it’s our still highly popular leader.

    Americans have evidently decided that men will inevitably be boys, so they excuse it. As long as he keeps the economy roaring along, regularly hugs victims of natural disasters, and rattles a few sabers convincingly, who cares if he never grows up?

    As I say, it’s embarrassing.

    Then there’s “Maxim,” a new general interest magazine for “men,” clearly meaning boys.  “Maxim” offers articles on how to beat a lie detector test, how to scam first-class seats on an airline, how to “score with a celebrity,” how to scam a free gym workout, how to survive a foreign jail.  Useful stuff like that.

    “Maxim’s” writing rivals the best that any testosterone-laden undergraduate male could produce.  One sample will suffice.  Writing about a big night on the New York bar scene, a Maxim writer declares, “Within minutes Craig strides up with an amazingly tasty biscuit wearing a tight white sweater that accentuates her prize rack.  We let out a collective “Holy --------.”

    Not a grownup male within miles of “Maxim.”

    “Maxim” serves as one more proof of males frozen in childhood, and it has recently gone from six to 10 issues a year.

    Women, meanwhile, seem to be growing up in record numbers.  What’s happening here?  

    It’s a complex issue, but let me make at least a start.  First, the culture has now inundated us with toys.  And who likes toys more than boys?

    Video games, electronic paraphernalia the likes of which even turn non-geeky heads, and even the Internet all serve as distracting toys as much as serious tools, and boys love them.

    Because we’re drowning in fascinating childish things, becoming a man by putting them away (to paraphrase the Good Book) has become a serious challenge.

    Yet, that’s only half the story.  The truth is there aren’t many grownups out there as role models.  Rich and famous men whom we might admire have become an endangered species.  Most of them change partners and lives at will; they seem addicted to change at any cost.

    Who among the truly rich and famous males behaves like responsible grownups? Legions of talk-show hosts, rock, film. TV stars, and athletes all act goofy or throw tantrums with impunity, behaving like spoiled kids with indulgent parents.

    Then there’s the simple fact that such behavior gets hugely rewarded.  The Howard Stems and Dennis Rodmans of the world are doing very will, thank you.

    For American males, growing up has gone out of style.

    If you grow up, you have to struggle with life’s real problems, including children, nurturing serious relationships, finding satisfaction with work, finding respect and appreciation from peers, sacrificing immediate needs for long-term goals.

    It’s much easier to just spout off, throw tantrums, manipulate others, and avoid most real choices.  Just like a child.

    If you can do this hilariously, you can make a sitcom.  If you can’t, you at least feel like you’re in the mainstream, even if the water’s freezing and you’re about to drown.
         
    What’s to be done?  Some ideas next week.   

    [Ed. note: still looking for 'next week's' column.]
         

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