It used to be we couldn’t wait to grow up. Now we strive for permanent adolescence.
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Then, too, there’s the entire Alien genre of gory horror movies and vampire films (indeed best-selling novels), once the province of drive-in spook shows. The rage for sequels, which began with Star Wars, is a version of the old cliffhanger Saturday matinee serial (“Next week at this theater: Part 16—Batman Meets the Monster!). It’s rare to find a genuinely scary adult suspense film not splattered with guts, calculated to thrill pop-eyed teens. Ninety percent of all comedies—all movies, really—appear to be aimed at teenagers. “Adult” films equal hardcore raunch and “adult content” is code for graphic sex. The very word “adult” is now thoroughly corrupted, passé, almost quaint.
Staid old Broadway, once the last bastion of civilized pop culture, is attracting crowds to its comic book extravaganza, Spider-Man; Avenue Q, a hit show about naughty Muppets from Sesame Street, won a Tony. We’ve hopscotched a long way from Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hammerstein, and Lerner & Loewe. No wonder Stephen Sondheim’s shows, which dare to deal in adult feelings, are so revered going up against musicals like Hairspray, Mary Poppins, and Wicked, or countless “jukebox musicals” that rerun teen classics of the '50s and '60s in shows that enshrine ABBA, Frankie Valli, Elvis, Little Richard, et al. Was our pop culture permanently stunted at 16?
Network television has long been notorious for catering to the 12-year-old mind, so nothing new there. I suspect one reason Mad Men made such an impact is that it’s about actual grownups (however messed up), with real jobs and serious problems, all dressed in business clothes, who inhabit a seemingly long-ago adult world; the series is light years from giddy sitcoms about 20-somethings still stuck in teenage love lives. There’s a lot of buzz over an upcoming TV show, Extreme Musical Chairs. I can’t wait for survival show versions of Spin the Bottle and Extreme Kick the Can.
Comedians who used to dress up like maitre d’s, in tuxes, bow ties, and French cuffs, now look like delivery boys on stage, wearing rumpled T-shirts and torn jeans, sporting a three-day stubble, toting the obligatory water bottle and liberally sprinkling monologues with sixth-grade “potty mouth” jokes that were already pretty lame in the fifth grade.
AND LET’S NOT leave out the two major pop figures of our day—Michael Jackson, a troubled Peter Pan of pop who never grew up and even called his ranch “Neverland,” and Lady Gaga, who looks like a bad little girl playing dress up in mommy’s party clothes—again, a long downhill road from former adult pop idols: Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, et al. The biggest pop phenomenon of the last few years? Justin Bieber, a national icon at 14.
Everyone’s favorite childhood holiday, Halloween, has got sort of taken over by gays, at least in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, where it’s celebrated like St. Patrick’s Day in drag, an excuse for grownup guys to dress in goofy outfits, strut through the streets, and get roaring drunk. Speaking of which, pro football and baseball games are excuses for aging frat boy beer parties, even gang fights, and every televised game reveals alleged adults with garishly painted faces garbed in trick-or-treat getups. Tattoos, formerly found only on young sailors, are suddenly plastered all over sagging bodies—some sort of bizarre “branding” exercise? Graying women now routinely go blonde at 50, trying for 25, if not 15, a clear signal that they’ve hit middle age.
And so the teening of America proceeds apace, part of the nation’s post–World War II youth fetish that gets increasingly adolescent every year. It’s almost as if much of the country’s grownup population can’t wait to grow down.
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?