We see them on the streets and in the mirror: middle-aged men wearing jeans and baseball caps. Grown men, dressing and -- all too often -- acting like boys.
So where did we, an immature generation, come from?
On a recommendation from George Will, I picked up the book “Men to Boys, The Making of Modern Immaturity” by Gary Cross. Sadly, the book didn’t provide the answer.
Cross provides an in-depth review of American pop culture, which he sees as shaping people’s actions. He observes there were 27 westerns on television in 1959 (and he provides a recap of seemingly each one), and notes that these programs take a far different view of male responsibility than modern programming (think Friends or Family Guy).
Fair enough. But pop culture doesn’t drive our lives so much as it reflects our lives.
Consider one of the examples Cross highlights: The series of movies starring Mickey Rooney as “Andy Hardy.” Andy was a clueless but loveable boy, always ready to listen to and learn from the wise advice of his father, a judge. Rooney’s character was a great role model for boys in the 1940s.
But if pop culture was an effective driver of human actions, wouldn’t the movies have rubbed off on their star? Instead, Mickey Rooney made a hash of his life -- married eight times, addicted to gambling and drugs, etc.
So there has to be a bigger reason that our view of manhood changed, and that change has allowed Hollywood to change what it offers us. It’s a reason Cross doesn’t choose to delve into. It’s that, starting in the 1960s with the Great Society, government got steadily more involved in our lives.
For most of human history, men have been expected to take care of their families. There have always been exceptions, of course. Cross spends many pages describing Hugh Hefner and the Beat Generation poets as examples of men who opted out of generally accepted adult roles.