Relaxing on my deck, I can hear them approaching from a mile away, their constipated machines roaring, rumbling and farting like the coming of the Apocalypse, the opening bars of “Born to be Wild” doubtless echoing through their empty heads. They are the Benefiber Rebels, the Permanent Adolescent Angels, the Technology-challenged Pagans — Harley-riding geezers not so much terrorizing as annoying the heck out of everyone, revving up their unmuffled engines like they were the teen rebels in The Wild One (Brando and his Black Rebels, by the way, rode Triumphs). Is this any way for Grandpa and Grandma to behave?
Some would call it a sickness, and whether you label it the Peter Pan Syndrome, the Forever Young Syndrome, or Permanent Adolescence all suggest the refusal or inability of adults to act their age. The phenomenon has been well documented of late, but nowhere more thoroughly than in Diana West’s new book, The Death of the Grown-up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization. The title may smack of hyperbole, but West makes a convincing case that big babies make lousy citizens. My grandparents’ generation, for instance, could appreciate St. Paul’s meaning when he wrote, “when I became a man, I put away childish things”; nowadays we would consider Paul of Tarsus a wet blanket and a preachy bore. No doubt a Republican too. What is to account for this generational shift?
West begins with the birth of the teen-ager, a historical event that occurred some time round mid-century. Prior to World War II, a clear line of demarcation divided childhood from adulthood. Upon entering puberty most children were pulled out of school and made to pull their weight. In exchange you received room and board and the family staved off starvation for another winter. (That is how it was for my grandparents on their southern Illinois dirt farm, and, so far as I know, that is how it has always been.) Naturally, few adolescents had much in the way of disposable income, nor was there anything even resembling a teen market. All of that changed in the 1950s, as more teen-agers stayed in school — sometimes through college — and fewer kids were expected to help with the family finances. Postwar affluence more than trickled down, it showered disposable income on record, magazine and hairspray-buying adolescents, and Hollywood and Madison Avenue took notice. Youth culture was commercialized, capitalized, and institutionalized and overnight a whole low-brow culture grew up round the teenybopper.
The general population, however, was still a long way from to the idea that growing up was too limiting, that father did not in fact know best. Even in the mid-1950s, a film like Rebel Without a Cause could still portray teens in search of a father figure — and do so without irony. But by the late Sixties a decade-long temper tantrum was well underway. Leftist intellectuals blamed their parents for racism, sexism, segregation, poverty, war, colonialism, Vietnam, the whole “Air-conditioned Nightmare.” The maturation process was not only too restrictive, it seemed to turn human beings into something dark and sinister. Only the young remained untainted by the original sin of Western Civilization. The Sixties Generation’s aesthetic could be summed in the refrain of the rock anthem “My Generation”: “Hope I die before I get old,” or the Free Speech Movement’s slogan “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”
With the triumph of Youth Culture, the traditional virtues of adulthood — “forbearance and honor, patience and responsibility, perspective and wisdom, sobriety, decorum, and manners — and the wisdom to know what is “appropriate,” and when, were deemed passe. Even those virtues that shaped liberal democracy — like rugged individualism — were radicalized or infantilized. As the wild flower children morphed into the Me Generation the worst excesses of the adolescent were mainstreamed. Rebellion became cool. Self-absorption was the new religion. Within a generation behaviors once seen as anti-social (instant gratification, irresponsibility, anger, narcissism, dependency, manipulativeness, and nonconformity) became acceptable behavior.
Arrested development was liberating, and it never had to end. Not even after your second hip replacement surgery. Marriage — with all its attendant responsibilities, sobriety, mortgages, kids — was for people in their 50s. Even in your 60s you could still dress like a teen in “No Boundaries” jeans and “Porn Star” T-shirts, maybe even afford Botox, a facelift, and a tummy tuck. Then all you have to do is put what is left of your hair up in a ponytail under your Harley rider helmet and you are good to go.p>The permanent adolescent was a boon to leftist intellectuals and politicians who were able to take advantage of the adolescent mindset in their march to undermine the “corrupt” foundations of Western society. In a 2004 Weekly Standard
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?