The lamest generation?
(Image from Knocked Up)
Kay S. Hymowitz’s must-read essay, “Child-Man in the Promised Land,” in the current issue of The City Journal, is a brilliant, bouncy, but ultimately depressing analysis of a new and increasingly common type of twentysomething American male. If this is what our colleges and universities are actually producing, we professors should forget diddling around with “outcomes assessment” and instead all commit seppuku.
The single, employed, and mostly white “child-man” lives his post-bac years as “a playground of drinking, hooking up, playing Halo 3, and, in many cases, underachieving.” Unlike men their age in 1970 — 85 percent of whom were married by the age of 30 — today’s child-men are Animal-House slobs who hole up with a couple of fellow dudes in a semi-skanky apartment, enduring unrewarding cubicle jobs during the day. At night and on weekends they play video games (over 2 hours a day — more than kids in high school!), stare at the TV set (favorites: pro wrestling, pro football, South Park, The Daily Show, Comedy Central) visit such ultra-vulgar websites as TuckerMax.com, get wasted (on alcohol, not pot) and, with surprising frequency, get laid. The furthest thing from their minds is marriage. In fact, serious relationships with young women their age are beside the point. We’re talking unkempt, loathsome cads who are proud to be unkempt, loathsome cads.
According to Hymowitz, this unappetizing creature emerged because of a general backlash against feminism, and, going all the way back to the early 19th century, because of the perennially uneasy fit between restless males and staid bourgeois society. These two circumstances, Hymowitz contends, are horribly exacerbated by big media’s effluvia of the sexually vulgar, scatalogically suggestive, snickeringly ironic entertainment — to which child-men are addicted because it enables and prolongs their adolescent behavior.
The effects of all this on the greater society are deleterious, Hymowitz argues. By making themselves repulsive to their generation’s accomplished and ambitious women, child-men effectively opt out of dating pools in which they might find accomplished and ambitious lifemates. (Exactly who sleeps with these pizza-munching hampers of smelly underwear, Hymowitz never explains.) Shunning commitment, marriage, and children, child-men refuse the adult responsibilities conducive to a good society that they ought to be embracing at their age. And after wallowing in frat-house life for a decade or so after graduation, they’re more or less incapable — should they capitulate to matrimony — of a belated transformation into responsible husbands and fathers. (Note: While I don’t accept Hymowitz’s premise that traditional marriages form the only true bedrock for a stable society, I think we need a certain percentage of them to keep things going.)
Esthetically, child-men are pretty ugly human beings. But I think Hymowitz judges them a tad harshly by equating them with their entertainment. Yes, guys like their entertainment to be stupidly subversive (Comedy Central’s audience is 70 percent male), but that doesn’t mean they are what their favorite stand-up comics perform. (I like to read crime novels, but I’m neither a detective nor a murderer.) That said, the new kind of young women that so many of us worked hard to raise won’t find many true soul mates in this crowd of losers. Did the liberation of our daughters mean young men would become so creepy that they’d have to go through life alone?
All of this goes back to a momentous social phenomenon that, for some reason, Hymowitz never mentions: the Pill. In the mid-1960s, when the tiny oblong contraceptive pellets dropped from pharmaceutical Olympus into the laps of college girls in the mid-60s, the word “Yes” lost its dread and fear for them. Millions of coeds — and other “nice girls” — decided to chuck “No.”
Sex without commitment, heretofore a male prerogative, turned the joke motto of rakish bachelors, “Why buy the cow you can milk for free?” into one that young women began to answer with, “As a matter of fact, I enjoy being milked and, not to worry myself, I can produce more any time I want to.” Once the Pill was in full circulation, there was no returning to an unforgiving choice between June Cleaver, stuck at home with the kids, or sluthood, with a constant fear of out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
In the almost half-century since the arrival of the pill, the burden of hearth and home (that is, of society’s having enough stable ones), is falling once again on young women. They’re the ones who are going to have to demand better, more mature, more responsible, yes, even more sanitary conduct on the part of the new horde of child-men before they have anything serious — especially sex — to do with them. Perhaps a mandatory study of Lysistrata, where women could learn about collective female power when sex is withheld, is in order. Otherwise, they’re condemned to trying to find suitable candidates for love and marriage amid the trash of a beer-sodden NFL pizza party.