The slow unwinding
September 11, 2014 7:38 AM   Subscribe

The Death of Adulthood in American Culture (SLNYTimes Magazine), by A.O. Scott: Comic-book movies, family-friendly animated adventures, tales of adolescent heroism and comedies of arrested development do not only make up the commercial center of 21st-century Hollywood. They are its artistic heart.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (133 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
My mom complained about this when I was a kid. A.O. Scott is my age; I wonder if his mom did, too.
posted by rtha at 7:49 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


CS Lewis said all that needs to be said about this tripe.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:50 AM on September 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


"Noting that nearly a third of Y.A. books were purchased by readers ages 30 to 44 (most of them presumably without teenage children of their own)"

This is an unusual claim to make without any proof, whatsoever.
posted by Selena777 at 7:51 AM on September 11, 2014 [15 favorites]


My lawn. Let me showz u it.
posted by briank at 7:52 AM on September 11, 2014 [28 favorites]


"comedies of arrested development" but no mention of the looming shadow George Bluth cast over his family? Of course, the series can be read as a commentary on the Bush family and adminstration (2001-2009), which, I would argue, contributed to the "Death of Adulthood" as a demonstration of how corrupt, incompetent and untrustworthy our national 'adults' can be.
posted by Shohobohaum Za at 7:56 AM on September 11, 2014 [29 favorites]


I too miss the high minded intellectual rigor and stern dignified duty of the Amos And Andy show.
posted by The Whelk at 7:56 AM on September 11, 2014 [60 favorites]


Didn't we just do this?
posted by Wretch729 at 7:57 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


What a strange article. I would expect a writer from a leading newspaper to avoid the kind of silly American essentialism on display here (linking the current situation with the founding fathers, as if everything in the US was always related to them).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:57 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


...the founding fathers, as if everything in the US was always related to them.

You'd be surprised at the influence that Benjamin Frank-lich, Abraham Lich-coln, Alichander Hamilichton, and Lichlichlich Lichlichlichlich still wield behind the scenes.
posted by Iridic at 8:02 AM on September 11, 2014 [39 favorites]


Is reading the whole article dead too?

It's a good point he makes about Bob's Burgers being something new in the animated family game. Almost every episode, Bob and Linda have a panicked but honest conversation about not knowing what to do in whatever crazy situation they're in, they make a decision together for their family, and then they follow through as a team. Compare that to Homer Simpson's (or Peter Griffin's, etc) blustering authority that pulls everyone else in the family down. The Belchers are probably closer to a new/aspirational paradigm of adulthood than any of the more serious shows in the article.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:03 AM on September 11, 2014 [77 favorites]


Ha, I was waiting for this to turn up here. It's like juicy red meat for Metafilter.

When I got to the line "It seems that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups." my eyebrows rose up all the way above my head.

He mitigates it later with some confused but approving discussion of feminism.

But the whole things strikes me as a muddled mess. If he had stuck to his field of expertise, movies, he would have done better and could have given us some deeper insights. I don't think he really knows enough about feminism or literature (especially themes in YA, which are far from immature these days) to back up his idea.

I don't know if his comments on TV are good or not, I don't watch enough of the shows he's mentioned.
posted by emjaybee at 8:03 AM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yes those Founding Fathers, with Washington breaking into tears at random intervals and screaming when touched by other people, Jefferson's delusional ADHD construction projects, Alexander Hamilton and the likely sleeping his way to the top and Ben Franklyn's love of fart jokes and whoring all so they could have a slightly larger percentage of profits than was legally possibly under English rule at the time. Sober high minded adults all.
posted by The Whelk at 8:05 AM on September 11, 2014 [57 favorites]


(he's right about Bob's Burgers tho, which has the rarest thing in American TV, a working class family that genuinely loves each other.)
posted by The Whelk at 8:07 AM on September 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


Also: Frank Capra died for your sins.

Hollywood movies have traditionally been aimed at a relatively immature audience, Frank Capra's movies being exemplar of this. The happy endings are part of that, but also the way they are filmed, where the audience is always inserted into the movies in the form of reaction shots. You don't really need to think for yourself watching such a movie, because the editor always tells you what your reaction should be (classic example: the shots of the audience during the fight scenes in Rocky).

And so I wouldn't say that It Happened One Night or His Girl Friday were much more mature than Knocked Up or Girls.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:07 AM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


If you're inclined to dismiss this article based on the title, I'd recommend reading it, as it's much more ambiguous and non-dismissive than you might assume. He does stumble talking about feminism a little, though (feminism killed grown-ups? uhhhh. maybe he more means that it's killing a particular kind of assumed male adult authority?). It's interesting that TV has done more to criticize the idea of The Patriarch in the last 10-15 years than just about every other form of media-- and when you're looking for nuanced female characters, you're much more likely to find them on TV than in the movies.

And it actually does sign off with "get off my lawn."
posted by sonmi at 8:11 AM on September 11, 2014 [15 favorites]


All the men I've known have eschewed popular culture. He's looking in the wrong places.
posted by unixrat at 8:11 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Judging adults who like something that is "for kids" is about as socially useful as policing the "toys for girls"/"toys for boys" boundary.

Anyway, just because something is enjoyed by and accessible to young people doesn't mean it's rubbish; and if it the point is that it is rubbish, then the part to be grumpy about is the need to improve the quality and value of kids' media.
posted by Pwoink at 8:12 AM on September 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


That which is not dead cannot be opined on in The Times,
And with strange clickbait even adulthood may die.

posted by codacorolla at 8:12 AM on September 11, 2014 [21 favorites]


"Childhood, once a condition of limited autonomy and deferred pleasure (“wait until you’re older”), is now a zone of perpetual freedom and delight. Grown people feel no compulsion to put away childish things: We can live with our parents..."

Oh, boy! Can't wait to explain to ma and pa that I'm moving back in as an expression of perpetual freedom and delight, and not, as some would have it, in utter surrender and defeat.

If there is an overabundance of men- and women-children in the US today, I suspect it's more because the "condition of limited autonomy and deferred pleasure" is lasting well beyond childhood these days, rather than any sort of free choice.
posted by logicpunk at 8:13 AM on September 11, 2014 [35 favorites]


God, listen to me! Or don’t.

cool, noted
posted by Greg Nog at 8:18 AM on September 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


Someone with more time and interest might write a thesis about how the rise of perpetual childhood in American society started at the same time as the draft ended.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:18 AM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Relevant
posted by nushustu at 8:21 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


A rich tradition dating back to Socrates, at least.
posted by obliterati at 8:21 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Grown people feel no compulsion to put away childish things: We can live with our parents,
Fuck you, pal. I live at home because I can't afford not to. Every day of it deepens my shame. It's the primary reason I don't even try to date. But sure, it's culturally acceptable now to say you live with Mom. I'm sure that first-person plural includes yourself, too.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:22 AM on September 11, 2014 [39 favorites]


That person would then have to explain why we observe similar scenarios in countries that didn't have conscription (Canada), that had abolished it sooner (the UK) or that maintained it (France, Germany, the Netherlands, etc.).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:23 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


All the men I've known have eschewed popular culture. He's looking in the wrong places.

Entirely? Or are they doing that thing where the popculture of yesteryear (or yesterdecade, or yestercentury) has the little "pop" part scraped off and is accepted to solemn nodding as Definitely Real Grown-Up People Culture.

Also, I hope everyone actually makes it down to the end of the article:
I do feel the loss of something here, but bemoaning the general immaturity of contemporary culture would be as obtuse as declaring it the coolest thing ever. A crisis of authority is not for the faint of heart. It can be scary and weird and ambiguous. But it can be a lot of fun, too. The best and most authentic cultural products of our time manage to be all of those things. They imagine a world where no one is in charge and no one necessarily knows what’s going on, where identities are in perpetual flux. Mothers and fathers act like teenagers; little children are wise beyond their years. Girls light out for the territory and boys cloister themselves in secret gardens. We have more stories, pictures and arguments than we know what to do with, and each one of them presses on our attention with a claim of uniqueness, a demand to be recognized as special. The world is our playground, without a dad or a mom in sight.

I’m all for it. Now get off my lawn.
posted by griphus at 8:23 AM on September 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


As a note, Scott has been complaining and griping about comic book movies since they started coming back in force a decade ago. For a while, you could pick up a forced sense of, "I'm writing a review of this movie because it's my job...and that's the only reason I'm bothering with this endeavor."

At the end of the column, it's almost as if he says, 'Okay, I'm done ranting now, sorry, I'm actually not that mad, but just sad, kind of, well, still mad, but ready to enjoy the positive aspects of the thing I just spent the entire time attempting to deconstruct, and right, okay, I still don't like it."

I agree with the suggestion above that perhaps Scott isn't informed enough to really write the article he wants to write, because his rally point is really his interpretation of what adulthood means. If he wants to make a general claim, as he is wanting, then he needs to spend a lot more time telling us what adulthood has generally been accepted to mean. Right now, his stance is more, "Adulthood is whatever childhood isn't!" As a critic of film, again as someone pointed out, he probably could have written a very interesting piece if he relied upon his film background to better denote the change he references. He does point to film, but it's just part of the argument instead of the substance that it should be.

Ultimately, one has to ask, and I don't think he really provided an answer to this question, what is it that energizes him to waste his time on this writing? Is it that he finds himself surrounded by a society he personally is growing to disdain?

I definitely fall in his described category. I have a McDonald's toy of Finn from Adventure Time sitting on my desk, I love the cartoon Legend of Korra, but I also insist on wearing a tie to work and appearing 'professional", and while the last book I read was a graphic novel, my current book is an academic study of the conflict between contesting sees of the early Christian church over the nature of Jesus' identity from the 300s to the 500s. I think Scott just needs to open his mind up and ponder the Joker's question, "Why so serious?" Adulthood isn't determined, it's what society as a whole expects it to be, even if that ever changing definition is drifting away from one lonely film critic at the New York Times.
posted by Atreides at 8:24 AM on September 11, 2014 [19 favorites]


Interesting article, but I think the "adulthood" he notes passing was as much an illusion as anything else in Hollywood - escapism into comfortable "traditional roles" made up on the spot and redefined whenever convenient to whatever roles the current audience imagines for themselves.

People are simpler and sillier than they should be as grownups. Kids are more sophisticated and cynical than we give them credit for. I think Hollywood's just being more honest with an audience who's always been in on the joke - the Simpsons is more than quarter century old, and the kids who watched Rocko's Modern Life are in their 30's now.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:24 AM on September 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


Oh joy, it's This Article again. Is there some kind of form letter journalists keep on hand to fill in the blanks with the pop cultural artifacts of the moment whenever they can't think of anything else to write?
posted by Wandering Idiot at 8:25 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Funny how in the other thread we got around to talking about Pleasantville and the problem with transposing a media vision of reality on to the actual lived past. Combined with the reality-warping powers of nostalgia, looking at the past through the context of a highly regulated and bowdlerized media is pretty damn dangerous.

also this seems relevant
posted by The Whelk at 8:29 AM on September 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


Well it's a Standard NYT adulthood article; they have a quota, you know. It's like the article about burlesque or roller derby in an alt-weekly; someone has to write it every once in a while.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:30 AM on September 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


I mean, was anyone ever really in charge? Except for the people with the money to do so?
posted by The Whelk at 8:31 AM on September 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm torn. It's a single link New York Times Magazine article posted on Metafilter (which I'm a part of), both of which have a general demographic that likes complain about stuff. So there's a market for throwing red meat at us to rail against on the internet, which drives eyeballs and sales. Do I really want to contribute to that dynamics, at least to such a simplistic degree? Or I am missing some part of important information by just not diving in and reading the article? If I'm reading this article and turns out to be shit (which is sounds like), I'm missing some other article which might be much more interesting and/or informative. Maybe just read the MeFi comments? Fuck, they're about half and half in terms of reading or not reading it.

Maybe I'll just go to early lunch.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:31 AM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


But in the universe of thoughts and words, there is more conviction and intelligence in the critique of male privilege than in its defense, which tends to be panicky and halfhearted when it is not obtuse and obnoxious. The supremacy of men can no longer be taken as a reflection of natural order or settled custom.

UGH GOD maybe it's because I have a tendency to overwrite stuff in the exact same way and so this feels even worse because it makes me prickle with the guilt of my own sins but this sounds more like "wow the way I talk is so interesting let me keep doing it" than as if he's making a point.

Also, being a grown-up pretty much sucks. I mean, there are good parts, like drinking, but I mostly do that to forget the bad parts like working and paying rent and being responsible for my own hygiene.

My husband and I (and our roommate) were all pretty serious when we were younger; we were smart and we didn't drink or have much of a social life and for the most part we were self-consciously "mature for our age". Recently we've been going through a real immaturity Renaissance out of which we are enjoying the hell; it's been a lot more fun than taking things seriously. Some of this is because the stuff that is serious (like student loan debt) is so depressing that this is more of a "for tomorrow we die" thing, but for a lot of us being an adult hasn't been so great and we're making the best we can out of a bad situation by having what fun we can.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:32 AM on September 11, 2014 [15 favorites]


It's like the article about burlesque or roller derby in an alt-weekly; someone has to write it every once in a while.

As part of the occult ritual which keeps the Deep Lord Q'walzark from rising from his slumber and destroying the human race, we at Cosmopolitan intone the Holy Question:

Can men and women ever really be just friends?
posted by griphus at 8:34 AM on September 11, 2014 [21 favorites]


To the extent that this isn't just the eternal complaint that youngsters (apparently defined as anyone under 50) Just Won't Grow Up, has Scott considered doing any analysis of how that fits into the economics of the era and the post 9/11 malaise of American society? The article I want to see him write out of this, if he's equipped to do it, is a comparison and contrast of escapist films from the 1930s and escapist films from the 2000s/2010s. That would be a more interesting essay for me, particularly if he worked with a historian on comparing and contrasting the economics and social histories, than the one he wrote.
posted by immlass at 8:36 AM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's weird as hell that he brings up artworks like the (really really really good) movie Step Brothers, or Knocked Up.

Regarding Step Brothers: I'm currently reading Poking A Dead Frog, a book about comedy that has an interview with Adam McKay, and he talks about the fact that the two leads in basically function as metaphors for the current American tendency toward entitlement and self-assurance, even though the self-assured person in question may well be an idiot. And Knocked Up has this, like, insanely didactic message of "being a lazy goof-off is no way to live, woe be to you, viewer, if you do not get your shit together."

These movies are not exactly celebrating everlasting childhoods, and it would take an intellectual lightweight - on the level of AO Scott, apparently - to watch them on a solely surface-text level and come away with the conclusion that adulthood is somehow slipping away rather than reifying itself by using different narrative layers.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:39 AM on September 11, 2014 [20 favorites]


You know what we need to bring back is Hee-Haw. That shit was adult as fuck!
posted by Mister_A at 8:40 AM on September 11, 2014 [12 favorites]


Metafilter: reifying itself by using different narrative layers.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:42 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid I watched Rockford Files with my Grandpa, who also drank Pepsi at breakfast. SO VERY ADULT that show was.
posted by Mister_A at 8:43 AM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


My most-quoted Family Guy joke ever:

[Chris is in the living room, nervously watching cable TV]

TV ANNOUNCER: The following program contains adult situations and adult content.

CHRIS: Awww-right!

[Cut to TV. On screen, a couple are sitting at a kitchen table covered in bills.]

HUSBAND: I just don't know how we can pay the mortgage.

WIFE: I think it's time to send Mom to a home.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:49 AM on September 11, 2014 [48 favorites]


""Childhood, once a condition of limited autonomy and deferred pleasure (“wait until you’re older”), is now a zone of perpetual freedom and delight. Grown people feel no compulsion to put away childish things: We can live with our parents..."

Historically speaking, unmarried adults live independently at rates far beyond that of most of the last few hundred years of American history, at least according the chart at the bottom of this article

I think the notion of independence that Americans have is largely based in fake historical nostalgia for an age when people where independent and never got sick or struggled or needed help from family or friends that NEVER EXISTED, and toxic identity tropes based both in the idea that those with more money and assets and material success are way better than those who have a different focus or level of ability in such matters-- and also in a race to the bottom idea of making working and daily life as miserable as possible to prove your worth.

Neither of which I have any interest in.

I feel like the idea of adulthood he thinks existed, if it did indeed exist, was a very small segment of history and select population of people even during that time frame.

You know where Emerson lived after his wife died? With his mom! You know what? I think that's great!!! Because for fucks sake why shouldn't we support our family members if their spouse dies or even if they're just broke? Even Emerson's Aunt was said to have thought his notions of "self reliance" were non-sense at that time.

But who cares what a woman (who especially then and even know does a large bulk of all this supportive work that we're all pretending no one ever needs or uses or society benefits greatly from) thinks about these things?
posted by xarnop at 8:50 AM on September 11, 2014 [27 favorites]


Of course killing off the patriarchy means killing off the adults, in the sense of killing off the old social order. Afterwards, there would be ambivalence and conflict, as people try to find their own place in whatever new order ought to follow. I don't mean conflict in the sense of bloodshed, but conflict in the sense of people disagreeing about how to continue. I'm honestly a bit puzzled as to how one would disagree with this.

...

His obsession with comic book movies is silly. Adventure, fantasy, and derring-do is the default mode of storytelling across history. There is literally nothing new about the fact that this is still popular.

The dirty secret about realistic film dramas is that most of them are unrealistic, middlebrow pap which dates itself horribly even ten years down the line. Obviously not all of them, no, but in general, people listen to stories in order to escape for a moment and feel something greater than reality. Compare The Wizard of Oz to the chamber dramas of its era: which do you suppose has said more to humanity, especially over time? To steal an enjoyably sanctimonious quote from Armond White: if you don't respect that, then you do not like, let alone understand, cinema.

I mean, I'm not saying that Marvel's current domination of the box office is only a good thing, but it's nonsense to lay the blame at comic book movies unto themselves, especially if we pretend that this is a new thing. The problems are deeper-seated.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:56 AM on September 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


You know, our grandads did things like join lodges and go watch stag films and wear fezzes while driving tiny cars in a parade. Was that "grownup" behavior?

Was Ralph Kramden anything but a giant toddler?

Ricky Ricardo spent his nights singing Babaloo and playing bongo drums. Grownup, or not?

Bill Cosby was a very grown-up dad, but also quite silly on occasion. Was he more or less mature than Father Knows Best?

In fact, many if not most of the popular sitcom portrayals of dads often showed them as slightly incompetent, baffled, temperamental, and in a weirdly childlike relationship with their wives.

I'm not sure we ever really had many "grownup" portrayals of men. In movies, heroes in action roles (including westerns) were stern, but also violent and largely living outside of "responsible" society. They were drifters. Humphrey Bogart seldom played roles where he remembered to take out the garbage. Most portrayals of adult men in movies were either people who were very rich (and so had no real responsibilities), married to their dangerous jobs (cops, detectives, superheroes), or in an artistic career (they sometimes got married at the end because they'd just made a lot of money and so now could afford to keep a wife. But you never saw them paying the gas bill or taking the baby to the doctor at 3am).
posted by emjaybee at 8:56 AM on September 11, 2014 [14 favorites]


The thesis statement here seems to be that showing women avoiding adulthood, and not just men living in mom's basement, is an equalizing force and has generally been a good thing. That it's loosening arbitrary societal expectations for all of us.

I would have appreciated some mention that this might actually be because no one can afford traditional markers of adulthood anymore, but it's not the AND THAT'S WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOUR GENERATION article that the comments here implied.
posted by almostmanda at 8:57 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


There are definitely objective indicators of extended adolescence in American society, but that may have as much to do with our increasing lifespan and improvements in medical technology which reduce the pressure to procreate ASAP as the cultural dismantling of patriarchy.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:07 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have watched over the past 15 years as the studios committed their vast financial and imaginative resources to the cultivation of franchises (some of them based on those same Y.A. novels) that advance an essentially juvenile vision of the world. Comic-book movies, family-friendly animated adventures, tales of adolescent heroism and comedies of arrested development do not only make up the commercial center of 21st-century Hollywood. They are its artistic heart.

I don't think anyone is being immature. People flocked to Lord of the Rings movies and Guardians of the Galaxy for the same reason the masses have usually flocked to entertainment: adult life often involves doing a lot of things you don't want to do, so escapist entertainment sounds like a damn good idea.

Who wouldn't rather be roaming the neighbor looking for something to do or hanging out with friends instead of trying to go to school or work?


What all of these shows grasp at, in one way or another, is that nobody knows how to be a grown-up anymore.

People know exactly how to be a grownup, have for a long while and will continue to do so for even longer, just to pay their school loan off or something similar. The vast majority of us pay rent or mortgage and work a job (or jobs) and have come the non-earth shattering conclusion that there's a lot of ridiculous bullshit involved in doing that. Drinking, eating, hell even sitting on the couch and staring a screensaver on a 56 inch tv is often much more interesting. But that doesn't pay the bills.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:09 AM on September 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


At the end of the column, it's almost as if he says, 'Okay, I'm done ranting now, sorry, I'm actually not that mad, but just sad, kind of, well, still mad, but ready to enjoy the positive aspects of the thing I just spent the entire time attempting to deconstruct, and right, okay, I still don't like it."

"Metafilter: ..."
posted by officer_fred at 9:12 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think there is a kernel of an interesting idea here. Adulthood isn't just a thing, it is a socially constructed thing. But the social construction we have had in the past was created by a patriarchal society, and the so adulthood meant men and women moving into very clear, and very different, positions.

That construction has been successfully challenged by feminism, as it should, because it supported a world in which men were placed in a position of financial and social authority while women were placed in a position of financial and social responsibility. Every home had its little dictator in the form of the father, and he could be a helpless dictator, as with Ralph Kramden, or he could be a benevolent dictator, as with Fathers Knows Best, or he could be a tyrant, as with every English Angry Young Man play. If society educated its children to turn into adults, it educated them to turn into a repressive vision of adulthood, and that has been challenged, and it should be.

But that leaves popular culture without a clear model of manhood. I would say adulthood, but they have no problem showing women as being responsible, which, in the frequently male-created world of popular culture, instead means "spoilsports." And without their ability to be tinpots dictators in their home, instead we end up with male characters who are more genial versions of Ralph Kramden -- they act like sullen losers, they behave like life has made them victims, and they behave like their wives are actually scolding mothers. This was how it was in Everybody Loves Raymond and King of Queens, among many, many other shows. And this doesn't seem like adulthood to us. It seems like the behavior of teenagers.

Now, this isn't feminism's fault. There are absolutely models for adult behavior that doesn't involve recreating the nuclear family tyranny of the past. It's probably mostly laziness and a lack of imagination on the part of writers, who are responding to their own uncertainty what adulthood might be nowdays like their characters (I would say that the same petulant, childish unmooring from traditional models of masculinity is behind a lot of really aggressively sexist behavior right now). It can be better -- Bob's Burgers, as mentioned above, presents a different model of adulthood and shared authority.

But popular culture is interesting because it often shows us, even accidentally, where the fault lines are in our world, where things are shifting. We're in an entertainment world of men who won't grow up, but it's a stopgap, hopefully, before a world in which adults are markedly different than how we used to represent them, and how we used to think of them.
posted by maxsparber at 9:14 AM on September 11, 2014 [43 favorites]


I thought the whole point of being an adult is that you manage your own life so you can get more of what you like and less of what you dislike without being judged (unless you do something illegal).

What I do think has changed is that we don't fall for appearances. We know a suit and reading the WSJ does not make a respectable person. We know that you can be politically active, productive, and respectable; and also belong to the Harry Potter fan Club.
posted by Tarumba at 9:20 AM on September 11, 2014 [11 favorites]


Childhood, once a condition of limited autonomy and deferred pleasure (“wait until you’re older”), is now a zone of perpetual freedom and delight. Grown people feel no compulsion to put away childish things

Perhaps as a culture we've finally pulled the stick out of our ass.

The myth of adulthood is that somehow you transform and lose all sense of childlike fun and wonder. We're finally beginning to understand that no, adulthood is simply one more phase in a continuity of life that allows you -- if you're healthy -- to enjoy the new as well as old.

I pity people like the author. They have abandoned their capacity for the unrestrained joy and wonder that we experience as children. And they are proud of their contempt for it. That's no way to live.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:23 AM on September 11, 2014 [12 favorites]


If you wanna know why someone would reject adulthood, you simply need examine the adults they watched while growing up.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:26 AM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


I know this is not directly related to the article but it does speak to how our culture sees or constructs the idea of adulthood.

Due to a really weird marriage ending I ended up back at Mom and Dad's about a year ago. I had no choice as I was financially screwed and had no prospects of a job where I was and to be frank I needed (though I didn't realize how much) the emotional support to figure out where to go next.

I'm in my early 40's and I assumed that it was only going to be a temporary arrangement until I got myself sorted and could go out on my own again. That's what independent, single adult women do right?

Well it looks like I'm not going anywhere in any forseeable future and it's not because I can't but because when everything is weighed pro and con it makes no sense. I get along with them just fine. We have our own space and soon to be even more of separate space. They're getting older and need more help with things. I can do that. They help me with things. There is companionship when I need it. This house is old and it's been in the family for generations. It's going to be mine to do something with at some point. Why not invest in things it needs now rather then investing in another place. Shared expenses is nice because it is hard on your own. I have awesome pets, including two dogs. I love them but I would not have got them if I was single because they are restricting. There more but you get the point.

All that just makes sense but it took me a lot of emotional work to get to the point where I could just accept it because I kept feeling like it was accepting that I had failed some big test of adulthood in this society. I know there are people out there that would consider it a failure because that seems to be what our culture says. That maybe I'm some sort of awful person that can't grow-up and so I mooch on my parents. I even went through a period of being paranoid about my sisters thinking this. They don't at all. They're more then happy to have me living here because they worry about Mom and Dad as they get older. Now they don't.

Even as I write all this there is still a part of me that says, "oh your just justifying not having to be a real adult". The other which I do think is the actual 'adult' and mature part of me says 'er no, staying here is actually part of an adult thinking process.

It makes me kinda mad.

Think I'll just go back upstairs and play a computer game.....
posted by Jalliah at 9:27 AM on September 11, 2014 [30 favorites]


If you want to read a book which details the horrors of adulthood in surreal, grisly detail, read Oblivion.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:28 AM on September 11, 2014


It's funny because I was having a conversation with another parent about my age this weekend and he was telling me about how he was letting his 3 year old daughter watch some of the shows he remembered as a kid. They were terrible on re-watching, and even his daughter couldn't follow them and bored quickly. I think some of the reason that youth-centered media has crossover appeal to adults is possibly because it's just so much better than it was when we were growing up.
posted by Jugwine at 9:31 AM on September 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


Also relevant
posted by chambers at 9:31 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Jalliah, I thought you would like to know that in many cultures (including mine) not living with your parents kind of marks you not only as an ungrateful child, but also as a squanderer of family affections and emotional support.

It may not be the norm here, but it is in many, many places.
posted by Tarumba at 9:32 AM on September 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


Adorno had it right in 1944: The Culture Industry
posted by doreur at 9:32 AM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


I do think there may be real issues in the culture right now having to do with our values and expectations for adulthood, but this doesn't seem to be the right way to go about looking at the issues to me. The more interesting questions about how our culture has changed and is changing seem to me more like scientific questions dealing with the intersection of technology and human behavior than matters of cultural criticism. Cultural criticism is still valuable, but I don't think it can get to the root of things like this.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:33 AM on September 11, 2014


Jalliah, I thought you would like to know that in many cultures (including mine) not living with your parents kind of marks you not only as an ungrateful child, but also as a squanderer of family affections and emotional support.

It may not be the norm here, but it is in many, many places.


Thank you. I appreciate that. Part of working through the emotional part has been telling myself that it is just a cultural construct and that it is indeed the norm in many other cultures. The objective part of me has been surprised at just how connected to deeper emotions this issue is. Intellectually I know it's okay and that I am fine as an adult but it's been difficult to get the emotion and intellect to agree with one another.
posted by Jalliah at 9:38 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think some of the reason that youth-centered media has crossover appeal to adults is possibly because it's just so much better than it was when we were growing up.

THIS. Kids today, with their Avatar and their Gravity Falls. What do they know of pain? They never spent months waiting for the sweet relief of the Halloween and Christmas Peanuts cartoons, because otherwise it was always another goddamn variety show.
posted by emjaybee at 9:40 AM on September 11, 2014 [17 favorites]


CS Lewis said all that needs to be said about this tripe.

Which was what?
posted by thelonius at 9:42 AM on September 11, 2014


"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." - CS "Chuck" Lewis
posted by griphus at 9:46 AM on September 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


Homer Simpson said it better.
posted by thelonius at 9:58 AM on September 11, 2014


First you get the sugar, then you get the power, then you get the women?
posted by almostmanda at 10:00 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Actually, a good portion of the young people I know act like old people.
posted by jonmc at 10:04 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


CS Lewis said all that needs to be said about this tripe.

Which was what?


One of his most famous quotes:

When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:05 AM on September 11, 2014 [26 favorites]


I don't think you can seriously discuss the "death of the father" in modern American television without mentioning Six Feet Under. I mean, it's there in the first episode, man! Manly, Vietnam-vet dad gets offed in the first five minutes of the show and then what? What kinds of post-manly gender constructs can his wife and children assemble in his absence? Six Feet Under may be about the death of the American hetero-normative nuclear family, but it's not about the death of adulthood, exactly. It's more about adults growing into other roles that don't presuppose the existence of an overarching patriarchal authority figure.
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:05 AM on September 11, 2014 [14 favorites]


First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then you laugh at them, then all of your laughter swirls together in the air, twisting cloudy spirals of mirth shooting up a vortex in the sky, so then you all laugh even harder, your jaws cracking and your lungs splitting and your wild eyes as wide and white as dishplates, and then the vortex darkens as bolts of lightning shatter the broken ground, and then your ears bleed with the deafening peals of chucklenoise, as the ha-ha-hooting-laughs of silly-laughing-laughter shoot from your widening mouths and leave your bodies as broken, dessicated husks, flaking as powdery ash in the hot silent wind.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:07 AM on September 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


One problem with A.O. Scott's mishmash of ideas is that you can locate exceptions everywhere, so there are so many holes that the thesis becomes devoid of meaning. But the real problem is that it appears to be yet another lazy attempt to throw words together in netspace by a Gray Lady columnist in a world where the actual demand for "columns" and, indeed, "newspapers" (paging Walter Lippmann!) are another vanishing artifact of the "age of patriarchy," whatever that is.

On preview, what emjaybee said. Did Lucy and Ricky not "act like teenagers" all the time? Was anyone in charge in that household? Were The Life of Riley, Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and My Three Sons not ossified idealizations even in their own time, which was a time full of change just as radical as ours if not more so?

The more interesting questions about how our culture has changed and is changing seem to me more like scientific questions dealing with the intersection of technology and human behavior than matters of cultural criticism. Cultural criticism is still valuable, but I don't think it can get to the root of things like this.

Couldn't agree more. There is some intersection of tech+scientific criticism/cultural criticism that has yet to be mined because everyone's too exhausted and overworked and attention-scarce just trying to keep up with the changes to stop and have the luxury to comment on them in any meaningful way. McLuhan was a prophet in more ways than one.
posted by blucevalo at 10:08 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well it looks like I'm not going anywhere in any forseeable future and it's not because I can't but because when everything is weighed pro and con it makes no sense.

The generational home has been the overwhelming norm throughout history, and still is in a lot of places, mostly for reasons you mention.

But then no one said as a society we made sense.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:18 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


First you get the sugar, then you get the power, then you get the women?

no. "Mmmmmm..........tripe".
posted by thelonius at 10:19 AM on September 11, 2014


Their deaths were (and will be) a culmination and a conclusion: Tony, Walter and Don are the last of the patriarchs.

I told you all! I told you all!!!
posted by Apocryphon at 10:22 AM on September 11, 2014


@Sticherbeast: And now, the weather.
posted by chaosys at 10:24 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


You know, our grandads did things like join lodges and go watch stag films and wear fezzes while driving tiny cars in a parade. Was that "grownup" behavior?

I dunno, the lodge meeting I stumbled into in a room at the local hockey rink when I was 16 was pretty grownup. Drunk men passed out with their pants down next to gyrating stripper moms, roulette tables and cigarette girls in fishnet stockings all mixed with a heavy layer of cigar smoke.

Actually growing up failed to meet any the expectations this wrong turn established. I am conflicted about whether this was a good or bad thing.
posted by srboisvert at 10:25 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of the time when, as an 8-year-old, I wandered into a backroom at church after the Sunday service and stumbled across all the elders counting the morning's offerings. #lossofinnocence
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:28 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Are you listening to Homer again? "The Odyssey?" You should be listening to something adult instead of that childish adventure crap!"
posted by happyroach at 10:28 AM on September 11, 2014


Ugh, my parents buy into that whole line of thinking.

When I was in college and got engaged, one of my mother's reasons for thinking me too immature for marriage was "you still watch Star Trek."

20 years later, I'm still married to the same woman. I still watch Star Trek. I still play with Lego bricks. I still read comics. I still play video games.

Being "grown up" has fuck all to do with how you spend your free time.

I work a job I hate to provide health insurance for my son and pay my bills. I could quit and get a freelance job with no benefits at any time. But then my son wouldn't have health insurance.

I live up to my responsibilities. That's being grown up.
posted by Fleebnork at 10:30 AM on September 11, 2014 [19 favorites]


It's sorta perfect that this piece was published this time of the year, because I remember a decade ago, a similar scold railing against the celebration of Halloween.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:36 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I live up to my responsibilities. That's being grown up.

Wait, I thought being grown up was about dodging responsibilities, making a general mess of your life and relationships, and wallowing in the mess until things sort of even out hopefully before you die.

UPPPPDDIIIIIIIKKKKKKEEEEEE!
posted by griphus at 10:43 AM on September 11, 2014 [11 favorites]


Reminds me of the time when, as an 8-year-old, I wandered into a backroom at church after the Sunday service and stumbled across all the elders counting the morning's offerings. #lossofinnocence

Did you think they put them in an elevator to God? Or were you implying that they were doing more than counting and actually dividing it up between them to pocket?
posted by leotrotsky at 10:44 AM on September 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


Some of us have jobs that make being grown up difficult. Why just today I went to work and sang a song about frogs falling down a well, argued with a stuffed monkey and played with pop-up books. I'm going to have to do some circulation spreadsheets just to mature a little.
posted by Biblio at 10:47 AM on September 11, 2014


Did you think they put them in an elevator to God?

Probably: I was 8. But no. It was more—though I couldn't have articulated it at the time—that the fact the money came out of the velvet bag at the end of the service and was counted meant that church was a worldly thing and not composed solely of spiritual stuff. My childish mind thereafter placed church in the same category as "shop" or "business," and I could never really get the illusion back again.
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:56 AM on September 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


So - I think the concept is trite, easy and shallow. Or rather, complaining about it is.

I look at it from a antropological/cultural evolutionary perspective. Not the whole "YA" issue itself, but the larger trend of "not growing up".

The first time I heard the term "Neoteny"(SLYT) was from Terence McKenna. Now, he's talking about the mind and perspective, and the social environment. Of course for him it goes back to psychedelics being the change and the "mutants" consume them and alter their perspective to adapt to the new vision/knowledge.

Neoteny, as he says, the tendency of juvenile traits to persist into adulthood. It's a biological concept, and more generally, AFAICT, about physiological aspects, not necessarily mental/cultural traits. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

He gives an example of a salamander that can exist as tadpoles until a crisis occurs which forces the morphological change into the salamander form. His point there is that there is a moment of environmental stress on the entity which causes this change.

As a "man-child" myself, and thinking it was somehow unique to our generation (you know, hipsters, video games, atari t-shirts, concerts, etc...) I don't know if I really believe that. If it is true, it's not nearly as radical a trend as it first appears to be. How many so called "men" act like big fucking babies when they can't get their way? How many juvenile sexist jokes that aren't mature are told? How much gossiping do people do? How much judgement upon others? How is this "mature" and "adult"? Yet it's something we do every single fucking day.

OK, but these aren't "cultural" artifacts necessarily... It's not an act of consumption. OK, so, how do you define your cultural neoteny? I love Voltron (Happy 30th, big guy!), I love Transformers, I love new cartoons like Sealab 2021... I will probably always love it. How is this different than, say, my folks liking Elvis? It's what was hip, fresh and young when they were kids. But because it's gone on so long and it's a bunch of really old people who experienced it first hand, it's just seen as "oh they like some good music". Now of course, if they listened to someone who was a new style after what they grew up with, then it's seen as "bizarre" and "strange" as if youth culture doesn't affect the larger culture. As if only youth are allowed to appreciate youth culture.

But let's pretend that somehow this IS a new phenomenon, that somehow older people are appreciating younger culture later in life. Let's not pass judgement on it, lets look at it as a new phenomenon. What does it tell us? It's easy to judge the individual from your height of "maturity" or whatever you think you hold as an elitist view. It's the same kind of mentality that says "I never watch TV". But that says nothing about the phenomenon, only that you're a dick who likes to sit in judgement of an entire category of people who do a specific act that you perceive to be beneath you.

Instead, what is it in our society that allows this phenomenon to happen?

I'd posit it's a combination of more free time, less struggle to survive, the cultural acceptance OF youth culture (instead of it always having to be "those dang kids"). I mean we all look down on certain aspects of youth culture, and generally, probably the same sort of aspects we judged as stupid when we were kids (hopefully), though that's not always necessarily true. So to look at it from Terence's perspective, we don't have to worry about the pond drying up, so we stay as those tadpoles, right now.

Who the fuck wants to grow up? When you're a kid you do, but when you're old enough you know better. Why the fuck should you be forced to consume media that you don't like out of some sort of cultural pressure to be "mature"? And how much of this is some sort of class snobbery? And not even real class snobbery, but some vain pursuit of "intellectual" snobbery - when in fact, most of the people I know who read YA actually look at it from a literary critique viewpoint, with regards to social aspects and what it tells us about our society. I don't read fiction, but I don't look down on those who do.

Does the author use the phrase "Heavens to Betsy!" anywhere in the article, because that's kinda what I hear. The person who is mocking us as "children" clearly has the lack of ability to perceive sarcasm, irony and the nuances of cultural language that aren't direct and forthright with regards to social critique.

I throw my lot in with others that this is a cultural change due to various pressures that have built up in our society, quite a few economic, some of them about relationships between class, gender and race... Certainly the whole concept of "for kids" in general is a cultural phenomenon. Look at novels and how they were seen as "trashy" back in the day. I mean, they were the TV of the day. Now they're seen as "adult" (well, YA, excepting, of course) Look at Manga in Japan. Those aren't seen as "for children" and I think the cultural exchange with Japan and the growing movement of more literate comics has led to a refinement of what we think is acceptable discourse for people in middle-age in that particular art-form. My Dad watched fuckin' Hee-Haw when he was in his 40s. Why is *that* somehow culturally superior to YA books?

How fucking absurd and ridiculous. If you want to talk about cultural neoteny as a phenomenon that is more prevalent due to various factors, then go ahead and do that. Actually, it's a bit ironic that this person seems to be acting in quite a juvenile fashion themselves instead of taking a more mature, dispassionate critique of the phenomenon, no?
posted by symbioid at 11:00 AM on September 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


...all the elders counting the morning's offering

Oh shit that reminds me of a hilarious photo I have somewhere. When I was about 12 or 13 my mom and I took a trip to Israel ostensibly for my Bar Mitzvah (which is a different funny story.) My mom was an artist and a big arts person generally, so we took a tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Now that's an Orthodox church and if you've never seen Orthodox clergy they are some fancy, fancy men.

My mother managed to get a photo of one of these fancy holy men attending to a big wooden donation box. It was open and the guy was majestically sweeping the shekels into a big burlap sack. I have no idea how she kept a straight face when he berated her for taking the photo, but she cracked up right after he was out of earshot.
posted by griphus at 11:01 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


“The Forty-Year-Old Virgin”, which this article cites, is as poor a choice to illustrate the death of adulthood as "Wedding Crashers"- both films eventually, mildly subversively, end in the protagonists embracing conventional progression to monogamy and marriage.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:02 AM on September 11, 2014


I have a friend who's in the game industry, and his dad gives him shit for it, even though it makes in MASSIVE amounts of money. My friend plays games. Fucking deal with it. People do different things for fun. Shit to tease someone for making video games as if it's not a real adult job is like saying only child labor should be allowed to make toys for children.
posted by symbioid at 11:02 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I like A.O. Scott, but I have no idea what he is talking about here, mostly because, as an adult, I seek out my "adult entertainment" (ie, whatever is not what A.O. Scott is talking about here). I don't need Hollywood or anyone else to spoonfeed it to me.

I guess I sort of pity people like A.O. Scott who are forced to consume pure dreck on a regular basis as part of their job.

But there is an adult culture out there if you take the time to look for it.
posted by Nevin at 11:30 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


almostmanda: “I would have appreciated some mention that this might actually be because no one can afford traditional markers of adulthood anymore[…]”
Precisely. It's the most visible symptom of the hollowing out of the real economy. I'd be curious about the parallels between America's and Japan's respective "lost decades" and the effect it's had on Japanese forty-somethings. If adult success is defined at pair-bonding, creating your own household, and the birth of children it seems like accomplishing that has become more and more difficult for Recons and Revivalists. From what I understand from my friends among the Social Darwikians they feel even more bitter and left behind than those in my age group do. It's going to be a very interesting couple of decades.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:39 AM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Reading the essay, it seems a lot more about his feelings about the ways in which the idea that white dudes=culture is shifting. I'm guessing he's a white dude who has felt at the center of culture for a good chunk of his life. Reading it as an old myself, I don't relate to his version of culture. It's centered on his experience and my experience is different. My lack of interest in video games, superheroes, shows about male-anti heroes has never been a signal of my adultness.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:40 AM on September 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


I pity people like the author. They have abandoned their capacity for the unrestrained joy and wonder that we experience as children. And they are proud of their contempt for it. That's no way to live.

Children experience such unrestrained joy and wonder because they are ignorant fools. I mean, not to get all Russian on ya, but a lot of time, out there in the world, bad shit happens. You make mistakes and there's no backsies. You fall and nobody kisses the boo boo. Things are not okay, and there is nobody around to make them so.

Or rather, there's you. You're around. That's what adulthood is, learning to deal with regret and pain and responsibility, becoming the person who makes things better for other people even if a lot of the time that means they don't get to do what they want. It's knowing the choices are hard and they're important and you might not get them right and you have to make them anyway. Because nobody gets to stay gold, Ponyboy. Nothing gold can stay.

Personally, I feel like stories about grown-ups are more interesting, in that way. The stakes are bigger, but real, in a way "saving the world" never can be. Scott's "Lament for the Triumph of Juvenilia" is incoherent in a lot of respects. And literature's a big canvas, art a bigger one, so you can pick out counter-examples to most anything he cites, if you like. But I still think he poking around at a real thing, and that our culture is a little poorer for it.
posted by Diablevert at 11:41 AM on September 11, 2014 [20 favorites]


I wonder how much of the perpetual worrying about adults not being real adults is a result of impostor syndrome?

As children I think most of us have the illusion that adults are somehow special, wiser and grander that we can ever be, and if not omniscient and omnipotent at least damn close to it. Then as we become adults ourselves we realize that we don't, and never can, fit our childhood imagining of what adults are like. Which leaves some of us with the nagging feeling that somehow real adulthood has vanished and all that is left are people faking it.

I think a lot of people, probably even most people, have had the unnerving sensation of realizing that they **ARE** the responsible party in a given situation and thinking to themselves "what, me? I'm just me, I can't be the one in charge of this, I'm not a real grown up!"

But most of us eventually realize the truth that no one ever matched our childhood idealized version of grown ups and we accept that people just like us are running things.

Some people seem to view this as profoundly disturbing and deeply worrying. They appear to desperately want the real adults to take over and make things all right again, just like things were all right when they were kids. I'd venture to guess that this desire for authority, truth, power, etc to reside outside mere people puts many of those longing for the "real adults" into other desires or things outside normal humanity. Those who sneer at human created morality, for example, and try to deceive themselves into imagining that some religion somewhere has a morality that is greater than human. Or those who discover that money is just a mutual agreement among people and scramble to gold or some other form of non-fiat money.

There is something in many, perhaps even most, of us which finds the notion that normal, everyday, people who put their pants on one leg at a time and have failings and foibles, are all there is to be deeply and profoundly disquieting.

I'm a grown up. I also play video games. And like My Little Pony. And Star Wars. I've got things in my life that our NYT writer would acknowledge as proper grown up interests as well (science, and pedagogy, and history, and classical music, and literary analysis, and cooking, and acting in Shakespeare, for example). But I suspect he'd class me as one of those eternal man-children he so distrusts and dislikes simply because I am not limited to those interests he deems suitable for grown ups (and which I strongly suspect are probably identical to what his parents liked).
posted by sotonohito at 11:47 AM on September 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


He's a movie critic and he's right about the changes in movies. 1979, 1999, 2013. The top movies last year were for children. I'm not commenting on the quality, the ratio of good films to bad probably stays the same, but on the intended audience.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:52 AM on September 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


"You make mistakes and there's no backsies. You fall and nobody kisses the boo boo. Things are not okay, and there is nobody around to make them so. "

Actually I would argue that a lot of the time there are tons of people around us who could be supportive in times of need-- if we valued that as a cultural value rather than shaming or humiliating people when they fall down, get hurt, or need help.

I know people who are poor as shit, work themselves into sickness, have legitimate struggles with school and managing life such that they could make it in a middle class job and absolutely REFUSE to consider they could deserve help with those things, because the cultural ideology that needing or receiving help is so disgusting, so shameful, that you face more repercussions socially from the hate and disdain of your peers, than with working yourself to death or eating terrible food until you body or mind breaks and covering that up with drugs and alcohol because THAT'S ADULTHOOD!

Meanwhile a very large portion of these folks have families who would take them, and I wonder if statistically their health and wellbeing- and choice of ethical jobs that improve rather than damage the world and humanity if they stayed at home.

If responsibility means exploiting the earth, fellow humans, and the suckers who buy your toxic products to make enough money to not use family or government aid, rather actually developing a sense of real duty to your fellow humans and your planet- then it stops meaning much at all. If you can harm human beings with toxic harmful products, and still call yourself an "adult" because you pay mortgage and don't read comics I'm not sure what there is to be proud of there. If you have a loving family that you could live with, what are you really proving by staying in unhealthy working conditions that are damaging your body and soul, or damaging people around you just to prove to other people that you are "on your own" so they will stop judging you? Why can't we all just choose not to judge each other for stupid shit like this and focus ethics and a sense of duty on actually choosing ethical work, volunteering, or positive contributions within our family and peer groups as all a valuable part of making a meaningful contribution and being a good person?

Also I think because people are more often not practicing religion, I think the fantasy genre may have taken over some of the functions of the mythologies and purpose generating ideals that religion supplies to some.

Where I will agree, is that I think we us americans do probably fear the concept of making hard choices in order to serve the welfare of people around us, and sometimes, yeah we probably should put in the effort to care about people around us, our own long term health and well being, and other stuff that it's funner in the moment to ignore but leads to more suffering when neglected. But that's a balancing act with suffering as the result of falling too far on either end of that equation(the needs of the individual vs the collective).
posted by xarnop at 12:06 PM on September 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


Hollywood movies have traditionally been aimed at a relatively immature audience, Frank Capra's movies being exemplar of this. The happy endings are part of that, but also the way they are filmed, where the audience is always inserted into the movies in the form of reaction shots. You don't really need to think for yourself watching such a movie, because the editor always tells you what your reaction should be (classic example: the shots of the audience during the fight scenes in Rocky).

Post-Production Code, maybe - and even then, you have to grapple with the movies that were later grouped together as film noir. There have been decades when many mainstream US movies were not aimed at moral idiots.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:06 PM on September 11, 2014


I didn't quite grasp the conflation of patriarchy with adulthood, and took the advice of an exploding headache and moved on...
posted by cool breeze at 12:10 PM on September 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'll also note, as far as consumer markers of "adulthood" go, that things people learn to enjoy as children tend to persist through life. The makers of breakfast cereals, for example, discovered that children who grew up eating breakfast cereal wanted to eat breakfast cereal (at least from time to time) as adults. They sometimes wanted something different, a less sugary breakfast cereal perhaps, but cereal none the less. Back in the 1950's and 1960's this was a major consumer products revelation, prior to that breakfast cereal was considered the exclusive domain of children.

Same goes for cartoons, a generation who grew up watching cartoons will continue to want to watch cartoons as adults. They likely will want cartoons with a more mature theme, but they'll find cartoons enjoyable.

Video games, tabletop games, you name it, if people liked it as children that preference tends to stick around through adulthood.

I'll also agree with many here that the quality for (some) children's entertainment is just plain higher than it once was. My partner and I liked Avatar (and like Korra), possibly more than our kid did. A few days ago, on netflix, my son found some of the cartoons I grew up watching and as I watched with him I realized that they were just plain awful, especially in comparison to what he watches today. There's exceptions, the Warner Brothers stuff under Chuck Jones was simply brilliant, but for the most part children's media is simply better today than it was when I was a kid.

But the important thing is that from a consumer standpoint, the markers of adulthood will change from generation to generation. Seeing young adults continue interest in the same general categories of things they were interested in during their childhoods is entirely predictable.

Adults tend to acquire additional interests, but they rarely completely abandon the general categories of things that interested them as children. The specifics change (liking Thundercats vs. liking Bob's Burgers) the general categories often don't (liking animated shows).
posted by sotonohito at 12:14 PM on September 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


“The Forty-Year-Old Virgin”, which this article cites, is as poor a choice to illustrate the death of adulthood as "Wedding Crashers"- both films eventually, mildly subversively, end in the protagonists embracing conventional progression to monogamy and marriage.

Yeah, in The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, the protagonist is a fit middle-aged man with a decent job and a reasonably happy outlook - not exactly what I'd picture, given only the movie's title - and the whole joke is that he has remained surprisingly childish. The movie goes on to show that his friends, supposedly more mature than he is because they've had sex, are actually pretty immature themselves, and the movie makes fun of them for it. The movie ends with the protagonist literally putting aside his childish things and accepting the responsibilities of a mature relationship, and this is unambiguously portrayed as the right thing to have done.

Did A.O. Scott even see this movie?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:16 PM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Somebody pointed out recently that Big couldn't be released now because the concept of a thirty year old man behaving in that manner isn't even remotely strange.

They had a point.
posted by effugas at 12:52 PM on September 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


I'll also note, as far as consumer markers of "adulthood" go, that things people learn to enjoy as children tend to persist through life. The makers of breakfast cereals, for example, discovered that children who grew up eating breakfast cereal wanted to eat breakfast cereal (at least from time to time) as adults. They sometimes wanted something different, a less sugary breakfast cereal perhaps, but cereal none the less. Back in the 1950's and 1960's this was a major consumer products revelation, prior to that breakfast cereal was considered the exclusive domain of children.

Funny you should mention that.
posted by Diablevert at 1:22 PM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


He's a movie critic and he's right about the changes in movies. 1979, 1999, 2013. The top movies last year were for children. I'm not commenting on the quality, the ratio of good films to bad probably stays the same, but on the intended audience.

I wonder how much of that is about changes in the economics of movies & the film industry, the rise of video at home, etc.
posted by epersonae at 1:25 PM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


If adults went to movies, Hollywood would make movies for them.

The only things I'm looking forward to this fall is Mr Turner, and I'll probably miss its no doubt brief run and have to wait for it to arrive in other forms.

Somebody pointed out recently that Big couldn't be released now because the concept of a thirty year old man behaving in that manner isn't even remotely strange.

Big is one nasty creepfest of a movie. I know I'm going with a tired gimmick, but really, imagine for a moment if the protagonist were a poor thing of a young girl, and the business ally an adult male.

(Come to think of it, though, I imagine there could be interesting possibilities in Bigette with a vicious female hierarchy a la The Women (speaking of adult movies it would be hard to make these days).)
posted by IndigoJones at 1:25 PM on September 11, 2014


Whether they are childish or not, I agree that comic book movies do indeed (for the most part) suck. Gotta give him that.
posted by ReeMonster at 1:26 PM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, in The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, the protagonist is a fit middle-aged man with a decent job and a reasonably happy outlook - not exactly what I'd picture, given only the movie's title - and the whole joke is that he has remained surprisingly childish. The movie goes on to show that his friends, supposedly more mature than he is because they've had sex, are actually pretty immature themselves, and the movie makes fun of them for it. The movie ends with the protagonist literally putting aside his childish things and accepting the responsibilities of a mature relationship, and this is unambiguously portrayed as the right thing to have done.

Eh, I don't think the bow the story is wrapped in at the end is necessarily the "true lesson" of the story. Andy's lifestyle, with his mint limited editions and schweet playstation set up, is also portrayed as enviable, to his self-same friends. Moreover, there mere fact that Andy is the protagonist, that he is fundamentally sweet and normal and meant to be the audience's stand-in, is indicative of a shift; in another age, he'd have been played by Don Knotts instead of Steve Carrell, and he'd have been pure comic relief, a buffoon. "Barney Fife gets his bone on" is not a movie audiences would have paid to see, in 1964. Besides, taking a step back and looking at the larger Apatow body or work, Catherine Keener is about the only main female character who's not also a killjoy antagonist for the lead actor. Half the contemporary reviews of Knocked Up talk about the characters getting engaged at the end feeling forced and awkward and unrealistic.
posted by Diablevert at 1:33 PM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


On one hand, I want to rebut your points, but on the other hand, they're pretty solid points.

His friends like his lifestyle? That's so, to some extent, but his friends are portrayed as clownish and immature. Nonetheless, their arcs don't lead to greater maturity, which does undercut Steve Carrell's character's arc's neat lesson.

Plus, yeah, in former times, Carrell's character probably would have been played for much meaner laughs, and he wouldn't have been the star of the show. That probably indicates a shift of some kind, even if the main arc's basic message is "baby man grows up and is better for it."

And yeah, finally, Apatow really leans on the archetype of the adult woman as the atagonist to childish men. You could argue that even Keener fits the type, because Carrell's character only obeys her wish to sell his toys with great reluctance, if I remember right. It's been a while since I've seen the movie.

This is all kind of a derail from Scott's article, so I'll grant you that The 40-Year-Old Virgin isn't as bad an example as it looked to me at first, and I'll stop typing now.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:07 PM on September 11, 2014


I pity people like the author

...people like A.O. Scott who are forced to consume pure dreck on a regular basis as part of their job

He's a movie critic and he's right about the changes in movies.


As an Old who loves attending the cinema, I must agree. I found his essay entertaining, and true.
posted by Rash at 2:17 PM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


James Kunstler in a similar vein, but pithier.

I am female and well into middle age. I generally clothes shop at Nordstrom or vintage/consignment places because the odds of finding clothes for grown folks are better. And then I commiserate with the salespeople on that very issue.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 2:19 PM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is interesting:

'A little over a week after the conclusion of the first half of the last “Mad Men” season, the journalist and critic Ruth Graham published a polemical essay in Slate lamenting the popularity of young-adult fiction among fully adult readers. Noting that nearly a third of Y.A. books were purchased by readers ages 30 to 44 (most of them presumably without teenage children of their own), Graham insisted that such grown-ups “should feel embarrassed about reading literature for children.” Instead, these readers were furious. The sentiment on Twitter could be summarized as “Don’t tell me what to do!” as if Graham were a bossy, uncomprehending parent warning the kids away from sugary snacks toward more nutritious, chewier stuff.'

My suspicion is that readers are thirsty for straightforward, plainly-told narratives, without the posturing encumbrances of modern literary fiction.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:55 PM on September 11, 2014 [12 favorites]


Children experience such unrestrained joy and wonder because they are ignorant fools. I mean, not to get all Russian on ya, but a lot of time, out there in the world, bad shit happens

Children experience some nasty shit in this world. Extremely nasty.

And yet those same children can put it aside and enjoy a toy or an experience. They are masters at being present, and at not letting long term worries stop them from enjoying the moment.

Choosing to be constantly weighed down by your burdens is not an admirable trait. Sometimes you have no choice, but it's not a state to aspire to.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:05 PM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of people, probably even most people, have had the unnerving sensation of realizing that they **ARE** the responsible party in a given situation and thinking to themselves "what, me? I'm just me, I can't be the one in charge of this, I'm not a real grown up!"

Ha, I basically said this almost verbatim earlier tonight. I'm in charge of a group getaway this weekend, and I'm a little terrified that people are trusting me with this. But reading this thread, I realized that I found the rental, booked the rental, divided the expenses and collected money, paid for the rental, found and distributed coupons for the attraction we're going to, bought the food for 11 people to have two meals plus snacks and alcohol, remembered to put the ice packs for the cooler in the freezer, stacked all the non-perishable food, supplies, and games near the door to put in my car after work tomorrow, made various lists for things I need to pack and do tomorrow and, oh, shit, I am a proper grown up! So, thanks, thread, for putting me in my place. (That place, btw, is one where I can confidently say, "Psssh, I got this.")
posted by Ruki at 6:42 PM on September 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


You'd be surprised at the influence that Benjamin Frank-lich, Abraham Lich-coln, Alichander Hamilichton, and Lichlichlich Lichlichlichlich still wield behind the scenes.

Little known fact: John Adams is still alive and working feverishly to produce proper Latin and Greek translations of every motion, bill, and official utterance made by the Massachusetts state legislature. People occasionally see him on the subway quietly discussing the marvels of rail transit with Michael Dukhakis.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:48 PM on September 11, 2014


Children experience such unrestrained joy and wonder

Am I from another planet? Childhood is deadly dull. I was lucky in that I was't over-scheduled with "fun" activities like so many of my suburban peers, but all this joy everyone is talking about started when I got a car and little money in my pocket.
posted by spaltavian at 7:18 PM on September 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


There have been decades when many mainstream US movies were not aimed at moral idiots.

These were always a minority, though. The vast majority of what people saw was your standard shot-countershot-reaction shot, individualism-tempered-by-good-neighborhood pablum.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:05 PM on September 11, 2014


It's pretty sexist, I think, to conflate the death of patriarchal society with the death of adulthood, as if it's how men act that determines what's adult or not.

And I think it's just wrong in any case. Adult behavior is just what adults do. If, for instance, the average age of a videogamer is 30, then playing video games is an adult activity. I'd wager that far more adults play videogames, not only in absolute numbers but in percentages, than ever read the classics, or any other kind of literature for that matter. What makes videogaming, or collecting Marvel characters, intrinsically less mature than leisure fishing, or collecting stamps and coins, like our grandparents generation did?

Furthermore, if he's really going to make the argument that people's tastes are more juvenile than ever, he need to show his work. What were people doing with their free time 50 years ago? A hundred years ago? Two hundred years ago? How much free time did they have even? I see a lot of cherry picked anecdotes. Someone else could just as easily noted that people are far more educated, with more advanced degrees. People have more varied and refined tastes in travel, more sophisticated palates for food, beer and wine than most of our grandparents could've dreamed of. People are drastically less violent than 50 years ago. Is it more mature to beat the shit out of your kids for speaking out of turn like grandpa's generation did?

Finally he fails to note one big causal factor for our supposed "state of being forever young." The fact that we ARE young, in terms of health, compared with previous generations. Hundreds of years ago, people in their 40's were riddled with venereal diseases, suffering from malnutrition, missing teeth, and so on. They worked themselves to the bone and their bodies physically wore out. It was common for women to give birth five or more times, with a substantial risk of essentially untreatable complications each time.

A person today can play a pick-up game of basketball in their 60's because they're not crippled with polio or hunchbacked, they take medication which reduces their aches and pains considerably, and their knees and heart valves have been repaired. Not, because they just don't wanna grow up and do serious stuff.
posted by xigxag at 8:33 PM on September 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


When anyone tells me they live with their parents the first thing I think is how nice and responsible they must be.

I mean, I'd throw my mother into the Bosporus in a sack if I had to live with her for a week; people who can reside in the same house with their parents in comparative peace are obviously nicer and more patient people.
posted by winna at 8:34 PM on September 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


Am I from another planet? Childhood is deadly dull.

Overall I'd say my childhood was dull, but the high points were extremely high. Things like:
  • The night before Christmas. We were going to get new toys in the morning -- it was unbearably exciting.
  • Early experiments with ants, confusing them and seeing if they would pick up their trail again, etc. I could and did sit for hours with them.
  • The animated Hobbit.
  • So many different plastic toys, so few firecrackers and rocket engines.
  • Doing a completely made up jig-like thingy to the Brigadoon soundtrack and not giving a shit that it was made up because dancing was fun.
  • Sitting down with my Dad and a pair of dice and rolling ourselves a bell curve.
If you experienced nothing like those in you pre-car years I feel very bad for you.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:34 PM on September 11, 2014


Am I from another planet? Childhood is deadly dull. I was lucky in that I was't over-scheduled with "fun" activities like so many of my suburban peers, but all this joy everyone is talking about started when I got a car and little money in my pocket.

My childhood was rockin' awesome. Though, I had woods with a creek to run through on a daily basis, just enough sports to make them fun and not a chore, and some of the best cartoons were airing on Saturday mornings and after school. You weren't from another planet, but sounds like you didn't have access to the good stuffs.
posted by Atreides at 7:42 AM on September 12, 2014


The best thing about adulthood is not having your judgement constantly questioned.
posted by elizilla at 8:08 AM on September 12, 2014


Hollywood got the rump. Subtract out all the lower income people working two or three jobs to get by, the middle class desperately trying to remain so, the parents overwhelmed with parenting responsibilities and expectations, and then see whose left to program for.
posted by newdaddy at 8:40 AM on September 12, 2014


The more I reconsider this article, the more I think it's also implicitly a complaint about the dying of middlebrow culture as we knew it in mid-century (last century) America. The thing is: we're so distant from that time that we're analyzing the "best", at least as viewed from our current vantage point, and comparing it to everything, discounting that popular taste contained at least as much crap then as now.

This leads to questions like: were men's adventure/detective novels and romance novels really that much more mature than modern YA? Or are they similar in ways that we don't analyze because the marketing categories have changed (e.g., are they written with a similar sort of simple plot through-line?). Were western movies that were popular in the 50s more intelligent/better-plotted and characterized than modern superhero movies? That's not even getting into modern culture and how certain cultural signifiers of the middlebrow are taken for markers of adult taste when they're not that adult. For instance: Downton Abbey is a soap opera with a lovely period setting, but it's a soap opera, and kidding ourselves that it's somehow more grown-up than something like Reign because it has the right trappings overestimates Downton.

I've also been thinking about the Century of the Self as part of the context of my reaction to the article. One of the things I got out of it is that advertisers told people what they were supposed to want in the 50s according to very broad demographic groups, whereas now we're split into tiny markets based on more individual details. If there's no mass sense in American culture of what adulthood looks like, there's no way that media consumption (books, films, music) can demonstrate membership in that demographic.
posted by immlass at 9:37 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Were western movies that were popular in the 50s more intelligent/better-plotted and characterized than modern superhero movies?

I was pondering this exact question this morning. I think it's a great comparison and I wonder if in some literary journal or opinion piece in an art and style section of a major newspaper, there isn't a critic complaining about the dominance of the Western and how it's just adults choosing to play cowboys and indians or something.
posted by Atreides at 10:36 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


The more I reconsider this article, the more I think it's also implicitly a complaint about the dying of middlebrow culture as we knew it in mid-century (last century) America. The thing is: we're so distant from that time that we're analyzing the "best", at least as viewed from our current vantage point, and comparing it to everything, discounting that popular taste contained at least as much crap then as now.

This leads to questions like: were men's adventure/detective novels and romance novels really that much more mature than modern YA? Or are they similar in ways that we don't analyze because the marketing categories have changed (e.g., are they written with a similar sort of simple plot through-line?). Were western movies that were popular in the 50s more intelligent/better-plotted and characterized than modern superhero movies?


I agree completely, but I think you're conflating two things a bit --- Micky Spillane and Barbara Cartland weren't middlebrow culture in the 50s. They were lowbrow culture. Comics were lowbrow culture. Middlebrow was like, book of the month club, Philip Roth and Norman Mailer and Updike. (The closest equivalent today would probably be Oprah's book club, but even that's died off.) I'd say a lot of the broad popular genres of the time like romance or Westerns spanned the two, so you had your lowbrow spaghetti westerns and cheesey TV fare like Gunsmoke, and then you had The Searchers and Giant and High Noon. Ditto say, Douglas Sirk or An Affair to Remember on the romance side --- those are exactly the kind of middle brow movies that don't get the same kind of mainstream play today, about adult romances with big stars and a soupcon of a social conscience to give the thing a bit of respectability.

The thing is, a lot of this middlebrow stuff wasn't, you know, good. Nabokov had a term for most such cultural offerings, poshlost, meaning exactly the kind of trite-but-thinks-it's-deep, mistakes-gravity-for-pompousness, would-rather-bowlderize-than-risk-vulgarity kinds of works which Scott is in part mourning, which make up the bulk of the so-called "middlebrow" output.

I'm not saying you don't get any of these types of works produced today --- there's about 100 indie film festivals and 1,000 books with questions guides for your book club pre-printed at the back to say different. But they don't have the same cultural weight they once did. These aren't the movies that make the top ten highest-grossing films; these aren't the books that get made into movies.

But--- and even though I'm mostly with Nabokov on the whole "I hate poshlost" team---I do think there is a distinction here, in the sense that the seriousness with which the "middlebrow" took itself was part of the adultness that Scott now finds lacking. There was an essential idea that the average grown up person would want to read/watch works about other grown up people dealing with realistic problems in a realistic way (or at least giving a head nod to them) ---- racism, war, poverty, religion, sex, marriage. That to not want those things --- to want instead to read/watch only fantastical works dealing with completely unrealistic problems in a ridiculous way (man in really tight underoos shows up and stops the bad guys with his lazer eyes) was contemptible, a sign of immaturity, someone incapable of handling the real world.


I mean, like I said "art" is a pretty big word and you can find counter examples in any era, fantastical works from the mid-century which were treated with seriousness, subtle, complex emotional journeys which have attained mainstream popularity today. But I think Scott's right there's been a shift. I mean aren't the black label editions of Harry Potter enough to tell us so?
posted by Diablevert at 11:26 AM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


There was an essential idea that the average grown up person would want to read/watch works about other grown up people dealing with realistic problems in a realistic way (or at least giving a head nod to them) ---- racism, war, poverty, religion, sex, marriage.

Would that be accurate, though? Sometimes when people look to the past with nostalgia lenses they focus on one kind of individual and extrapolate them to the whole population. I am sure there were people who were grown up in that sense, but those were the privileged ones. What portion of the population was illiterate, underemployed, or well employed but distant from any kind of political influence?

He should compare the "grown ups" of the golden age with people of equivalent privilege, background and political influence today. We are talking about solid middle class people in homes with one stay at home partner and enough income for a comfortable life. I don't think average people thought about racism or sexism as much as we do now, particularly if they didn't belong to the minorities.
posted by Tarumba at 12:38 PM on September 12, 2014


This strikes me as an unprovable argument without any rigor, designed to soak up a lot of column space and cultural references.

What is the purpose even of such an argument? Does the author expect a bunch of Hollywood/cable executives to look around and say "Hey! He's right! Next season, THE REMAINS OF THE DAY miniseries!"

I feel like this is arguing against sugary cereals. They exist in the marketplace because people eat them. You might convince individuals to make better choices but you'll never convince Battle Creek to stop making them.
posted by newdaddy at 1:41 PM on September 12, 2014


He should compare the "grown ups" of the golden age with people of equivalent privilege, background and political influence today. We are talking about solid middle class people in homes with one stay at home partner and enough income for a comfortable life.

I thought he did do that, pretty clearly. I'd say that a Judd Apatow movie now and, say, Portnoy's Complaint are aimed at pretty much the same demographic. As far as literacy --- the illiteracy rate for the US has been less than 2 percent since 1940, near as I can google. The book of the month club used to move a million copies a month to a country of less that 100 million people, back at its height. I think we're pretty clearly comparing "mainstream entertainment" of different eras.

I don't think average people thought about racism or sexism as much as we do now, particularly if they didn't belong to the minorities.

Thought as much, maybe, tough to say. Thought differently, for sure. But while obviously the terms of the debate on such social issues have moved a bunch, what I was pointing to was that in a lot of middle-brow literature addressing "social issues" is sort of a pre-req to be taken seriously at all, in the way it's not really, in a super-hero movie. Not that socially relevant themes don't crop up in contemporary popular works ---- reviews are forever banging on about the way the plot of this or that super adventure tale reflects the changing mores of our post-9/11 blah, blah, blah. But say "anxieties about the security state " are more usually subtext than text in superhero films*, whereas the reverse is true in a lot of the works I've alluded to --- liz Taylor's sympathy for Mexican farm workers is a major plot point in Giant. One of Douglas Sirk's big movies is about a married woman whose family rejects her when she falls in love with her gardener. the Searchers is all about whether John Wayne would/should/will kill a white girl because she's been kidnapped and therefore "polluted" by Native Americans. An Affair to Remember's plot revolves around whether a man can love a disabled woman.

Obviously, that's just a handful of titles jerked from off the top of my head. But I think they're pretty typical of mid-century popular middlebrow fare.



*one exception is the X-Men series, which is an explicit allegory of racism, and where that's discussed openly in the text
posted by Diablevert at 1:52 PM on September 12, 2014


My suspicion is that readers are thirsty for straightforward, plainly-told narratives, without the posturing encumbrances of modern literary fiction.

I hope you're right, because that's exactly the idea I had with the novel I'm planning to release...
posted by saulgoodman at 2:51 PM on September 12, 2014


There was an essential idea that the average grown up person would want to read/watch works about other grown up people dealing with realistic problems in a realistic way (or at least giving a head nod to them) ---- racism, war, poverty, religion, sex, marriage.

Why would anyone want to read about that sort of thing, when they can just look out the window? Or walk down the street? I don't need to need some long pretentious book about poverty, I can just walk a mile to the homeless encampment.

Of course the answer to my mind is that it was to isolate the middlebrow audience from these problems. Make them into fantastical issues affecting Someone Else, and the audience could vicariously experience these lives while staying comfortably safe in their living rooms.

Of course now if we want to be exposed to social issues we don't need a book; there's the internet for that. If one wants to experience the lives of people trapped in poverty or abusive marriages there's blogs for that. People exploring the frontiers of sexuality? Entire online communities. The equivalent of a John Updike novel? MRA message boards. You don't need a book to have vicarious social awareness.
posted by happyroach at 3:45 PM on September 13, 2014




Since a resilient and necessary counterargument to Scott's sour hand-wringing apparently isn't worthy of its own post these days, I'll just toss in a mention of Hesse's exploration - on a more durable plane - of this question in Magister Ludi aka The Glass Bead Game (1943) ... as well as the book that prompted it, Johan Huizinga's 1938 Homo Ludens ('Man the Player').

Readers who appreciate the more general benefits of play (and the disease which inevitably follows its extinction) and its long-term human potentials will find more lasting substance in these works.
posted by Twang at 6:02 PM on September 13, 2014


homunculus: “ The “death of adulthood” is really just capitalism at work. Here's what A.O. Scott's lamentation about adulthood in pop culture misses: our economic transformation
Quite. Bringing Mad Men back into it, I've written in threads about it how my father's generation, the Anti-Anti-Utopians, also had the rug pulled out from under them as they came to adulthood in the Sixties. As is so masterfully depicted on the show, the old order started to give way, and the effects would reverberate until their children, we of the Reconstructionist and Revivalist generations got left out in the cold economically.

Not as many of us will have careers [PDF] as they used to be thought of. Conditions for successful household formation have been terrible [PDF] essentially my entire adult life. So Scott's goddamned right I watch cartoons to try and keep the Big Black Dog at bay now that my marriage is failing and I've wound up back under my father's roof for the third time.

Not that I'm bitter.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:18 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ok. Go back in time to and watch the movies. You'll have John Wayne as an Irishman in a story where the only references to the independence movement are the chummy Catholic and Anglican priest. You'll have Bing as a hotelier doing a blackface number with the children of his black employees. You'll have John Wayne again as Rooster Cogburn in a movie that deliberately avoids all of the post-Reconstruction prejudices and ghosts that Mattie Ross so deliciously narrates as the novel's narrator. You'll have a musical with mixed-ethnicity Yul Brenner as a Thai King that studiously avoid mentions of the colonial powers next door. See any of Wayne's early films for avoidance of the genocide. Remember that Chaplain was exiled to France, married couples couldn't share a double bed, and homosexuality was banned from the New York stage.

I don't buy the notion that today's comic-book blockbusters are immature compared to the very deliberately depoliticized (or politicized in very conservative ways) products of the Motion Picture Production Code.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:38 PM on September 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


Oh, what I wouldn't give to be of that generation entertained by serious adult fare like Hee-Haw and Donny & Marie.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:41 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


the seriousness with which the "middlebrow" took itself was part of the adultness that Scott now finds lacking.

What I keep coming back to when I think about this is "The Century of the Self" and the point that the middlebrow of the mid-century was constructed as aspirational for consumers. This was stuff advertisers told you was adult and that was why you took it seriously.
posted by immlass at 9:11 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


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