Suzanne Fields

This is all very amusing, but underneath the humor lurks a serious problem. A large number of the most privileged men and women in our society are setting only juvenile goals. When they could be concentrating on how to make better places to live, engaging their minds in conversations of significance, they're frittering away their time in search of regressive escapes. For all their self-absorbed faults and indulgences, the boomers had passions and politics with a point.

But it's difficult to engage rejuveniles, whose attention spans are as short as the cartoons they fancy. Their obsessive "cultivation of immaturity," says Frank Furendi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent at Canterbury in England, who began studying collective infantilism after he observed college students watching Teletubbies, is an extreme response to growing up in a culture saturated by media.

While the phenomenon suggests a fear of growing up, it reflects as well another facet of the dumbing down of the culture, an aversion to mature conduct and useful contemplation. When MTV interviewed Bill Clinton in his first campaign for president in 1992, a college student asked him whether he wore boxers or briefs. The question was not only dumb, but demeaning. Instead of putting the student in his place (a playpen?), the candidate answered it.

When Vice President Al Gore played himself, sitting in a hot tub in a "Saturday Night Live" skit, he thought he was being hip and witty, not understanding that he was merely degrading his office and mocking a lack of propriety.

Book publishers, television producers, moviemakers and other mavens of the media lust for the latest "edgy" notion to push the envelope. Such notions needn't be substantive as long as they turn on sensation to drive controversy.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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