In defense of the male ‘Entourage’ generationPosted: Tuesday, May 20, 2008
In an op-ed piece in January in the Dallas Morning News — linked via NPR and appearing in longer-form in City Journal, the conservative Manhattan Institute’s self-described “premier urban-policy magazine” — Brooklyn author Kay Hymowitz is upset: “Not so long ago, the average mid-twentysomething had achieved most of adulthood’s milestones — high school degree, financial independence, marriage and children. These days he lingers — happily — in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.”
Oh, shit, where do I start on this one?
The author goes on: “It’s time to state what is now obvious to the legions of frustrated young women: The limbo doesn’t bring out the best in them.”
First off, I’m a little old for this generation — my Generation X is older than this unnamed generation (please do not call them Generation Y — what are we going to do next: call the succeeding kids Generation Z, followed by Generation A1 or AA?) Even so, my “older” generation of workers mostly in their 30s (let’s say 28 to 42 (UPDATE: I’d go as old as 47 on this one)) is barely struggling to maintain financial independence at an age when our parents had more securely achieved that goal. Given that, and given that the Baby Boomers are living longer, working longer and holding on to the better jobs longer, is there any surprise for this apparent extended adolescence, and is that such a bad thing?
(Digression: With a lack of advancement opportunities — or an effective outright blockage to enter into certain fields because of lingering Boomer hoarding — workers under 40 have shown they can and must excel in new industries and media, shunning the traditional roles and companies that Boomers have clung to for so long. Members of Generation X and this succeeding generation have long known they must carve out their own niche and hustle to get what they can — the good ones do this, anyway. Hymowitz is correct about that “responsible self-reliance” she mentions. The others are idle and waiting, and, yes, perhaps lapse into wasting. But for both the hustlers and the idle ones, their daily decompression, like the new economy, is new, perhaps raw, and it is fueled by the easy retail credit creating this false affluence in this country. It is a way of dealing with growing into flexible careers in-flux unlike anything their parents dealt with. If anything, the next battle will be between the older Gen X’ers and the Next Gen of workers 10 to 15 years younger looking to take their jobs).
Curiously though, author Hymowitz excludes criticizing women from this prolonged adolescence phase, and focuses her attention on the deficiencies of men. In her argument, your average modern 20-something woman is an overachiever who spends her disposable income on evidently worthy and traditional pursuits such as shopping, travel and dining with friends. So in her world, “Sex and the City” = good. “Entourage” = bad.
Meanwhile, she seems to long for the days of the 1950s and ’60s while at the same time clearly seems to be praising the “hyperachieving” “New Girl Order” (her words) and rising female power in the workplace. So she seems to want men who are breadwinners and do the laundry. Well, I suppose that’s essentially what every man wants, too, so I guess we’re even.
Except a man’s pursuits, be it today’s XBox and “Maxim” magazine or the social clubs and “Field and Stream” magazines of yore are unworthy. Side note: one of her good points is that men’s aversion to settling down is not an entirely new phenomenon — past generations of men simply got married then avoided their wives in social (and exclusionary) clubs. But at least those men got married and had kids, she seems to be praising.
I mean, didn’t she ever see “Mad Men”? Oh sure, let’s bring back the ’60s, when white men only had to compete with other white men in the workplace marketplace. Is this what she is arguing for? A return to the repressed old days, when a woman like her would not be able to find a place in the marketplace, because there was largely no marketplace for women professionals? How many happy marriages from the 1950s made by teenagers and kids in their early 20s resulted in divorce, broken homes, affairs, or, perhaps as bad, a lifetime of general unhappiness, unfulfillment and uncomfortable silences? On the one hand she is praising modern women’s power, ingenuity and drive and on the other she is asking for a return to young marriage when an inexperienced woman on her wedding night was as likely to been given the following advice by her own mother: just lie back, think of old England and let him do his thing on you.
If these men should in their 20s simply need to “grow up,” then whom should they marry and have children with but women in the same age? And anyone from my mother’s generation to my wife’s will tell you how much harder it is to build a career with a child. So, this writer’s response would be is to tell the man to help shoulder the burden of childrearing so the woman can continue with her career. The predictable next criticism (based on this logic) would be that the man would next be criticized for not being enough of a bread-winner.
Even today’s men who do becomes ostensibly good dads today aren’t good enough for her. Far be it from me to defend shameless self-promoting author Neal Pollack (Alternadad), but she nails him for being a doting father by focusing on his urge to turn his son into a little version of himself — um, so you’re not supposed to share interests with your kids? In her world, she’d rather have the distant, unemotive, cold and tactical male leader as a dad, sort of like Hugh Beaumont on “Leave it To Beaver” or the guy on “Father Knows Best,” presumably so he ran raise a daughter or son who will grow up hating him for being so distant, unemotive and male-dominant.
Her opening financial arguments are equally as weak. You work in a cubicle and live in an apartment because the Baby Boomers took up all the good fucking housing and then drove the market nuts in buying second homes and McMasions. The only way you could get your own home was to take out a variable-rate mortgage, with unfortunately predictable results (read: U.S. Economy, January 2008).
Her selective use of statistics is also interesting, and the classic ruse of someone with nothing real to say. She cites the rise in the median age of marriage for men and the percentage of married 25- and 30-year-olds — and runs with it. Everything else is anecdotal evidence and riffs against box-office and best-selling successes targeted at the audience she criticizes. Excluding for same-sex marriages, more unmarried men means more unmarried women. But somehow this only the fault of men, based on her conversational evidence — “in contemporary female writing and conversation, the words ‘immature’ and ‘men’ seem united in perpetutity.” No stats to back this up, of course (it “seems” indeed). And is the “contemporary female writing” she cites the same as “chit lit,” that genre that celebrates single, unmarried women of the “Sex and the City” variety? If this is a problem (and I am in no way saying it is) this is a problem for both genders.
(I, myself, use no statistics in presenting my argument, but I’m a blogger, not a senior fellow at an important conservative think tank whose stuff shows up on NPR occasionally and who, incidentally, I can’t get a handle on: in 1994 she evidently argued in the New York Times against sex education in schools (in favor of apparently benign ignorance) but also smartly argued against marketing to young children (she told the Times in 1999: “One of the great things about childhood in the U.S. used to be that kids were protected by the market and allowed to grow their own ideas. Now there is no time to be a kid separate from those pressures. You may have always had kids who are little princesses, but now there are 8-year-old boys that are extremely uptight if they don’t get the right Abercrombie & Fitch sweat shirt.”).)
(A digression: where can I get one of these research and writing jobs at a Manhattan institute or some other think-tank? Or were the last ones swallowed up by Baby Boomers, who again locked the door on the way in?)
(One other side note that I can’t argue with her is the inner-city atmosphere of young boys going out to the corner in their teens to “be a man” and support their single mothers (with dads largely absent). Though not addressed in her “child-man” piece, in fairness to author Hymowitz, a Google search shows that she has addressed this issue many times elsewhere, so we’ll call it a wash on this matter.)
Where are the men still living with their parents? Most of them are out by 24, and if they remain, or if they room up with a few other guys in an apartment — it’s only because a Baby Boomer-favored real estate market conspires against them. Most of them are saving for their own place. The rest of them are the small-majority who will continue to live with their parents, remain unmarried into their peak earning years and then still live at home to care for their sickly and now-burdensome parents in their late-twilight years.
The author strangely attributes the ground-zero event of this generation to the debut of “Maxim” magazine in April 1997. Strange that an entire generation can be ruined (in her implication) in the debut of a magazine that featured the girl from the Drew Carrey Show (the hot one, not his plus-sized heavily made-up co-worker) on the cover.
Let’s take a final look at these irresponsible 20-something lads. The newest television show to appeal to this grouping (a show she curiously doesn’t mention, though it would seem to fall exactly into her category) is “Entourage.” At first glance, it is seems to be everything she hates — a male wish-fulfillment fantasy depicting 20- or 30-something men with outlandish money at their disposal (the main character is a Hollywood actor) and obscene access to beautiful women. It celebrates partying, hanging with your bros, even video game-playing. The only married guy on the show (the agent Ari) envies the young men’s unmarried freedom.
But what this author forgets, and on closer glance this series depcits, is the hustle that is needed to make it in this world domianted by the Boomer economy. The main actor, his best friend and manager, the less-talented brother, especially the agent but even the lackey friend are all constantly hustling, either for the next movie deal or simply to make a buck. It’s a comedy, so often this hustling is humorous or pitiful, but the show doesn’t condemn the characters’ efforts. That some of this scheming often involves bedding other women is part of this wish-fulfillment scheme of the show.
But you’re telling me sex and the opposite sex are not on the minds of any same-aged single women?
(Special thanks to WAMC.org’s “Roundtable” for linking to the original Dallas article on its Web site.)
(One final point: the photo that City Journal uses for this article? Is that from, like, 1999? Those controllers are so PSOne.)
This post was originally published on my old blog at 4:46 p.m. on Jan. 30, 2008. The original now resides at The Icepick Cometh Blogger site. With Knocked Up on HBO this week — the Old Man loved it — and the summer blockbuster movie season upon us, it seemed like a good time to revist this topic by posting my thoughts on this blog.