Monday, February 21, 2011

Raising Concern Trolling To An Art Form

So there I am, minding my own business, idly checking my Twitter feed, when I should see this article pop into it:
Where Have The Good Men Gone?
Kay S. Hymowitz argues that too many men in their 20s are living in a new kind of extended adolescence.
Oh, this is gonna be awesome. I can hardly wait. Please, Ms. Hymowitz, tell me what is wrong with my gender.

So it begins:
Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This "pre-adulthood" has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it's time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn't bring out the best in men.
Okay, so men - like women - are settling down with a family later as their career choices firm up. But pray tell, why does this not "bring out the best in men"? Do you have any evidence to back that assertion up?
"We are sick of hooking up with guys," writes the comedian Julie Klausner, author of a touchingly funny 2010 book, "I Don't Care About Your Band: What I Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters and Other Guys I've Dated." What Ms. Klausner means by "guys" is males who are not boys or men but something in between. "Guys talk about 'Star Wars' like it's not a movie made for people half their age; a guy's idea of a perfect night is a hang around the PlayStation with his bandmates, or a trip to Vegas with his college friends.... They are more like the kids we babysat than the dads who drove us home." One female reviewer of Ms. Kausner's book wrote, "I had to stop several times while reading and think: Wait, did I date this same guy?"
So your proof for your assertion that men who don't get married straight out of college are generally jerks is... a few guys that a snooty comedian dated once? I think SMBC has a few words for you. And also, why the Playstation, "Star Wars," and vacation hate? So you dated men who - GASP - liked things that you don't like? Oh God, sound the alarm, some men don't have Julie Klausner's exact array of interests! They may - my God, how can you stand even reading this - like video games! And science fiction! And you know who invented video games and sci-fi? THE DEVIL, that's who.

Anyway, maybe this gets better. Let's see. After citing the obvious about demographic trends, Hymowitz goes here:
Still, for these women, one key question won't go away: Where have the good men gone? Their male peers often come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers—a gender gap neatly crystallized by the director Judd Apatow in his hit 2007 movie "Knocked Up." The story's hero is 23-year-old Ben Stone (Seth Rogen), who has a drunken fling with Allison Scott (Katherine Heigl) and gets her pregnant. Ben lives in a Los Angeles crash pad with a group of grubby friends who spend their days playing videogames, smoking pot and unsuccessfully planning to launch a porn website. Allison, by contrast, is on her way up as a television reporter and lives in a neatly kept apartment with what appear to be clean sheets and towels. Once she decides to have the baby, she figures out what needs to be done and does it. Ben can only stumble his way toward being a responsible grownup.
Yeah, that Ben Stone seems like a real immature douche. Fortunately, he's... what's the word I'm looking for... oh, yeah, FICTIONAL. So in sum, Hymowitz's proof that 20-something single men are immature losers is a) a bunch of men a friend of hers dated and b) a man who doesn't, technically, exist.

Then she talks about career mobility, the time and money required to get the necessary education for said career, and how that affects life decisions - all interesting points. But that's not what she's trying to argue. She's trying to argue that our society has turned men in their 20s into immature jerks. So she takes a crack at pop culture:
In his disregard for domestic life, the [early 20th century era] playboy was prologue for today's pre-adult male. Unlike the playboy with his jazz and art-filled pad, however, our boy rebel is a creature of the animal house. In the 1990s, Maxim, the rude, lewd and hugely popular "lad" magazine arrived from England. Its philosophy and tone were so juvenile, so entirely undomesticated, that it made Playboy look like Camus.

At the same time, young men were tuning in to cable channels like Comedy Central, the Cartoon Network and Spike, whose shows reflected the adolescent male preferences of its targeted male audiences. They watched movies with overgrown boy actors like Steve Carell, Luke and Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell and Seth Rogen, cheering their awesome car crashes, fart jokes, breast and crotch shots, beer pong competitions and other frat-boy pranks.
Entertainment filled with dick jokes? Fart jokes? Sex jokes? Drinking and fighting? This is supposedly new? Dude, have you ever read Chaucer? Or Aristophanes? You can't honestly tell me that the latest Will Ferrell movie is any more licentious than "The Miller's Tale" or "Lysistrata." We've found sex, drinking, and bodily functions highly entertaining for, like, the entirety of human history.

And then there's the obvious problem of trying to demonstrate the actual experience of young men from a bunch of art about young men. See, art is quite often allegorical, fantastical, or both. Comedies, especially, are exaggerated beyond any resemblance with reality. So, sorry, not buying this argument either. From there it's on to the conclusion, leaving us with the uncomfortable truth that we just read an article that purported to be about society creating immature men but utterly failing to prove that these immature men even exist in great numbers.

And there, of course, lie the problems with this article. One is the reductionism. Perhaps there are men out there who, like Rogen's character in "Knocked Up," prefer to live out their adolescent fantasies instead of growing up and taking responsibility for their own lives. But Hymowitz assumes that if you're over 25, male, and unmarried, you're "aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers." If you're a responsible young man who just hasn't met the right person yet, or who would rather focus on a career than a family, you don't exist. Hymowitz may have just rendered invisible the vast majority of young, single men. We can't know, since she didn't bother to prove anything.

The second problem is the loose definition of "immaturity." Let's look at some of those pejoratives Hymowitz uses here. "Aging frat boys, maladroit geeks, grubby slackers." What defines any of these categories? Are aging frat boys "immature" because they like to drink beer, hang out at bars, and hit on women? What makes that immature? And what about the geeks - are social awkwardness and technical knowledge signs of immaturity now? I'll concede the slackers - active avoidance of responsibility is a hallmark of immaturity - but even that's a stretch (to quote Michael Stipe quoting "Richard": "withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy").

Hymowitz's friend Julie Krausner's definition is even worse: "Guys talk about 'Star Wars' like it's not a movie made for people half their age; a guy's idea of a perfect night is a hang around the PlayStation with his bandmates, or a trip to Vegas with his college friends." So she doesn't like sci-fi, video games, or Vegas? Fine. But why is all of that stuff immature? Is there a reason why you're labeling it as such, or is it just that you don't find it appealing? Hymowitz and Krausner use "immature," it seems, as a shorthand for "people who do things the author doesn't like." Guess what - society isn't going to fall apart because some men have a different idea of fun than Kay Hymowitz and Julie Krausner. So can we quit with the self-absorbed concern trolling now?

Update: Also read Jill Filipovic's take, which goes more in-depth about social trends and points out a few things about Hymowitz's history as a conservative traditionalist that I didn't know.

7 comments:

Mike said...

Ms. Hymowitz, out of curiosity, which one am I: an "aging frat boy" who was never in a fraternity and generally abhors their hookup mentality, a "maladroit geek" who has a relatively active social life and has never bitten the head off a live chicken, or a "grubby slacker" who works a 45-hour-a-week job?

I could rant more, but I'm technically supposed to be working said job, and you did a pretty good job as is, so I'll just say one more thing: maybe women who are so frustrated about the immaturity of the men they date should take a good hard look at their *own* choices.

P.S. "Richard" was, in fact, Richard Linklater, and the quote is from the movie "Slackers", which you should see, if for no other reason than the one scene featuring a Ron Paul '88 presidential campaign billboard is anachronistically hilarious. Oh, I forgot, quoting from a landmark 20+ year old independent film is a sign of immaturity. My mistake.

Mike said...

After the second paragraph, I already wanted to give Jill Filopovic a standing ovation. I wonder if she's hot... (kidding... sort of... :)

Matthew B. Novak said...

I just really enjoyed this post. I like it when people get taken to task for writing silly arguments.

Rhonda said...

People live longer now. I think it is natural that they will wait to get married. The people getting married and having kids (or just having kids) are not necessarily growing up and making sacrifices for those kids. Who cares what you do. It’s not affecting anyone else. I get tired of everyone cutting down the younger generation. I admire most of the younger people I work with. Most days I learn something new from them. If people would just listen and learn from them and vice versa, the world would be a better place. It is reverse age discrimination. If the younger generation treated the older one like they are being treated, that's all you would here on talk radio

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