by Mark Judge
In her essay “Where Have All the Good Men Gone?,” Kay Hymowitz posits that we now live in the age of “pre-adulthood men.” These are guys who aren’t adolescents but are not yet men. Hymowitz: “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.” Hymowitz blames an economy that requires more years of schooling, thus preventing maturity, and condemns the usual suspects: video games, fart jokes, Animal House.
Two thoughts: 1. Fart jokes aren’t the problem. 2. Women are just as bad.
“The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad,” G. K. Chesterton once wrote. “The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.” I believe the problem with the “pre-adulthood” phenomenon is that young men are no longer raised to be renaissance men. In a world that is increasingly secular and illiterate, they are taught to find their niche, hit it hard, and not worry about anything else. Thus, you have Big Bang Theory nerds who cannot name a single contemporary jazz artist; sports junkies who don’t know who John Paul II was; Bible thumpers who don’t own a single Beatles record; politicians who have never read a novel. These days no one tries to take on anything different for the simple pleasure of trying to improve themselves. They don’t stretch themselves.
This is why it gets tiresome when conservative critics keep circling back to the same scapegoats: Adam Sandler, Hollywood, toilet humor. They act as if these things are bad in and of themselves, when the problem is that they are not balanced out with anything more noble. I mean, Chaucer made fart jokes in The Canterbury Tales. But there were some other ideas in there as well. Also–and this is crucial–there was once a time when men kept ribald humor to their circle of male peers. There was just certain stuff you didn’t talk about in front of women. With the sexual revolution, those zones of healthy segregation began to collapse.
These days the problem isn’t as much pre-adulthood males as it is uncultured people–including women. When I was in high school at Georgetown Prep, a Jesuit school that prided itself on producing men who could both lay down a block and conjugate Latin, we had a term for well-rounded women: “cool chicks.” Yeah, she’s a cool chick. A cool chick would go to a baseball game with you, maybe liked a cool band, and also had a favorite museum and novel. They were cool because they weren’t just one thing–the Lena Dunham hipster, the scholarship-obsessed athlete, the Ally Sheedy Breakfast Club basket case. Do cool chicks exist anymore? Is there a Dianne Keaton of this generation?
My high school reunion is this year. Georgetown Prep is an all boys school, and there will be drinking, sports, conversations about family and movies and books and politics. Oh, and maybe even a fart joke. But it won’t dominate the proceedings.
Editor’s note: This piece is part of a symposium in which a variety of writers and thinkers weigh in on the question: “Can men be men again?” See earlier takes by Emily Esfahani Smith, Ryan Duffy, Mark Tapson, R. J. Moeller, Ben Domenech, a second post by Emily Esfahani Smith, Abby Schachter, and Anthony Dent. All of the posts are compiled here.