As you all know, over the years I’ve been fascinated by male and female roles in America. As the mother of a very manly little 10 year old, I take male role models in this culture very seriously. I’ve therefore noticed (and commented upon) the way in which our society consigns boys to perpetual adolescence. Just walk down the streets, and you’ll see teen girls dressed like hookers (tight, skimpy clothes) and teen boys dressed like babies (backwards hats, falling down pants, unlaced shoes).
Hollywood is an important part of the way in which American man are infantilized. I’ve written about this subject twice at American Thinker. In one article, I looked at two movies with two very different messages about men: Brokeback Mountain and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. In the other, written during the primaries, I looked at manliness in pop culture generally and in the primaries specifically.
If you’ll pardon me quoting myself, in my article from the primaries, I looked back on movie males during Hollywood’s golden era and compared them to our current crop of stars:
Any analysis of American pop culture has to start in Hollywood. If we enter the Wayback Machine, we can see that, before and during World War II, Hollywood’s male stars were grown-ups (at least on the screen). There was nothing immature or adolescent in the screen presence of such great stars as Clark Gable, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Joseph Cotten, Joel McCrea, or Walter Pidgeon, to name but a few. These were men’s men, with strong faces and deep voices.
When the war started, the most boyish of Hollywood’s hot stars, Jimmy Stewart, ditched Hollywood entirely to serve in the war himself, which he did with extraordinary distinction. Mickey Rooney, another boyish actor, also did his bit. Nor were these two alone in abandoning the world of pretend war on the silver screen in order actually to participate in the real war. Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, William Holden, Gene Autry, Robert Montgomery, David Niven, and a host of others enlisted. (Ronald Reagan did too, but a hearing problem, combined with the military’s pressing need for morale boosting films, kept him on the home front, something that dogged him politically in later years.)
Today’s Hollywood stars, even when they take on testosterone packed action roles, never seem to rise above boyishness. Go ahead – take a look at modern such screen luminaries as Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Orlando Bloom, or Ben Affleck. All of them are distinguished by their chipmunk cheeks and teen heartthrob attractiveness. The same holds true for the older, post-adolescent actors. Whether you’re watching an increasingly wrinkled, although still quite charming, Hugh Grant; Tom Cruise with his shark-like grin; or a goofy Adam Sandler, they all get by playing men who, for the bulk of any given movie, can barely seem to grow up. Even George Clooney, who boasts old-fashioned silver hair and a gravely voice, shies away from emotionally adult roles, both on and off the screen. With this type of competition, it’s small surprise that Daniel Craig has proven to be such a popular James Bond. While his physical attractions elude me, there’s no doubt that he’s the first craggy-cheeked man to play James Bond since Sean Connery made the role.
I’m not the only one paying attention to this trend. At Pajamas Media, Andrew Klavan has also noticed the perpetual state of immaturity that characterizes guys in way too many movies:
The guys are all children whose manhood consists exclusively in hell-raising. The women are either fun-loving party girls or grim, death-of-pleasure wife/mommies who seem ever ready to take their little menchildren by the ears and force them to wash the dishes while they stand by wagging their fingers. These dames remind me of a wonderful line in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night about “the American woman, aroused” whose “clean-sweeping irrational temper… had broken the moral back of a race and made a nursery out of a continent.”
A lot of critics get all huffy about this depiction of the sexes – read the silly little fellow who wrote the review in the New York Times by way of example. The standard line seems to be to blame it all on childish filmmakers pandering to adolescent audiences. But you know what? I suspect a lot of it is simple realism. More and more often I meet young guys just like this: overgrown kids who are their grim wives’ poodles. They sheepishly talk about getting a “pink pass,” or a “kitchen pass,” before they can leave the house. They can’t do this or that because their wives don’t like it. They “share” household and child-rearing tasks equally – which isn’t really equal at all because they don’t care about a clean house or a well-reared child anywhere near as much as their wives do. In short, each one seems set to spend his life taking orders from a perpetually dissatisfied Mrs. who sounds to me – forgive me but just speaking in all honesty – like a bloody shrike. Who can blame these poor shnooks if they go out and get drunk or laid or just plain divorced?
It’s easy just to pass this off as meaningless pop culture, but there’s something deeper going on. Our culture is becoming feminized. Women now make up the majority of college graduates, and one could easily call this recession the “men’s recession,” since they’re the ones who have been hardest hit. That hit will resonate in the home. While Mom is still going out and earning a living, Dad sits there, unemployed and unemployable.
I’m not sure what can be done about this problem. I’m certainly not advocating a return to some troglodyte time of brutal cave men and repressed women. We don’t need to live as they do in Saudi Arabia. But the pendulum has swung to far and it would be good for American society if it stopped swinging so wildly in the feminine directing and started trending back to a happy-ish medium.