You know summer is turning to autumn when you come home from a decent walk and realize you’re now Cold Hands McGillicuddy instead of Dusty Hands O’Halloran.
"A line from the poem is quoted by Caucasian-American rapper, Watsky, in his song ‘SWAG’ in comparing The chorus from Justin Beiber’s song to [Walt] Whitman’s line: ‘I cock my hat as I please.’"
Another day, another dollar, another ginger jihadi…
The Death of Adulthood in American Culture (NYT)
[The article above was posted on a forum I frequent. What follows is my response.]
Heads in the right direction but ultimately veers off track.
From the start, American culture was notably resistant to the claims of parental authority and the imperatives of adulthood. Surveying the canon of American literature in his magisterial “Love and Death in the American Novel,” Leslie A. Fiedler suggested, more than half a century before Ruth Graham, that “the great works of American fiction are notoriously at home in the children’s section of the library.” Musing on the legacy of Rip Van Winkle and Huckleberry Finn (fig. 4), he broadened this observation into a sweeping (and still very much relevant) diagnosis of the national personality: “The typical male protagonist of our fiction has been a man on the run, harried into the forest and out to sea, down the river or into combat — anywhere to avoid ‘civilization,’ which is to say the confrontation of a man and woman which leads to the fall to sex, marriage and responsibility. One of the factors that determine theme and form in our great books is this strategy of evasion, this retreat to nature and childhood which makes our literature (and life!) so charmingly and infuriatingly ‘boyish.’ ”
What Scott fails to recognize is that there is a distinct difference between this earlier American form of perpetual boyishness and the slothful extended adolescence of today. The former sought to avoid the stifling nature of bourgeois home life by way of adventure as the bold portion makes clear. The latter is about enjoying the comforts of bourgeois complacency but without doing the work it takes to get there including some minimal form of sacrifice, like not staying up late every night playing video games and getting high. Scott also neglects to mention that the adventure-seeking heroic individualism of Huck Finn does have a more adult counterpart notably in Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman. This is also connected to nature and it should be noted that the United States was not fully industrialized at the time that these fellows were writing. The return to the wild, the primordial essence of the North American landmass, in opposition to the continued development of bourgeois civilization is seen as the source of a new spirituality. Scott is either being willfully ignorant of the subject matter or is simply too indoctrinated to notice the differences because a few paragraphs later he writes,
From there it is but a quick ride on the Pineapple Express to Apatow. The Updikean and Rothian heroes of the 1960s and 1970s chafed against the demands of marriage, career and bureaucratic conformity and played the games of seduction and abandonment, of adultery and divorce, for high existential stakes, only to return a generation later as the protagonists of bro comedies. We devolve from Lenny Bruce to Adam Sandler, from “Catch-22” to “The Hangover,” from “Goodbye, Columbus” to “The Forty-Year-Old Virgin.”
His mention of Updike is interesting as he is known for including Emersonian themes in his works and even gave a lecture on Emersonianism at UC-Davis in 1983. Suffice to say, these themes are not present in the works of the other writers and comedians mentioned in the passage for reasons that should be obvious. There is a difference between an individualism which revolts against the confines of the herd and one which states we are solely the sum of our neuroses, drifting aimlessly amidst the dark absurdity of reality.
Scott starts off his article by discussing how Americans primarily view themselves as “empowered cultural consumers” but then wavers on wether or not his criticism of this is valid or simply curmudgeonly. His reluctance to criticize this is understandable as the article veers off from the word feminism (note: I only skimmed the latter half of the article, taking heed of Nic’s warning of when critical river flows into the estuary of bullshit). While the process by which Americans went from viewing themselves as citizens to consumers started long before the social revolutions of 1968, this date is important for it can be used to pinpoint the birthplace of the politicized self (a morally concerned ancestor of the quantified self) which is of course simply a more sophisticated or at least nuanced type of consumer, one whose lifestyle, opinions and purchases are set to align with one’s self-interest masquerading as part of some larger movement. What this is in essence is the process by which one cocoons themselves so they only have to see and hear what they want. This is of course just another form of childishness and the petulance that one sees whenever these politicized selves are faced with an alternate opinion or lifestyle is further proof of it.