Via Metafilter, I found this article in the New York Times: “Adam Sandler Still Refuses to Grow Up, and So Do Most Hollywood Comedies.” Here’s an excerpt:
The male rejection of adulthood is now the dominant attitude in Hollywood comedy, even (or perhaps especially) in movies whose sexual frankness makes them officially unsuitable for children. Occasionally you will see a functioning if beleaguered dad, usually a widower, like Steve Carell’s character in “Dan in Real Life.” And sometimes, as in “Little Miss Sunshine,” a coeducational, multigenerational ensemble will carry the therapeutic and satirical burdens of the genre.
But far more often the center of attention will be a guy, his buddies and his toys. He will, most of the time, be nudged toward responsibility, forgiven for his quirks and nurtured in his needs and neuroses by a woman who represents an ideal amalgam of supermodel and mom.
A.O. Scott calls Adam Sandler an “overgrown man-child,” which naturally reminded me of the fact that I place most of the movies Scott is referring to in what I call “the man-child genre.” As in, “After seeing Old School, I am forever done with the man-child genre.” Or, “I didn’t like Anchorman. And I keep forgetting how much I hate the man-child genre.” For me, the man-child genre includes most movies starring Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, as well as any Judd Apatow film that isn’t The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
But a few Metafilter users took exception to the characterization of some men as men-children:
Besides vaguely mentioning “duty and responsibility”, this article never really defines what it means to be grown up or adult. Clearly these characters can function in society – with the exception of Billy Madison, they usually have jobs and active social lives and pay their own way – so what is it that they lack, precisely?
Since the previous concept of male adulthood pretty much involved working yourself to death for the benefit of everyone else, I’m not surprised that people are running away from it now that it’s socially acceptable.
For all the complaints that men have become man children gripped by consumerism, the alternative exhorted for them is to go have a wife and kids, and a house. The traditional American dream is a bill of goods in and of itself, one that was advertised on TV, in the pulpit, in the movies. For many, the sense of security and purpose was false. The secure job of yesteryear ended with a layoff, the security of marriage ended with a divorce, and the house….
When the previous situation no longer offers the benefits that it traditionally did, why is it a surprise that it is met with rejection?
Interesting. If this is really true–if the men in these movies are considered men-children solely by virtue of the fact that they lack spouses and offspring–then I’ve been remiss in my labeling. Which is interesting because I myself lack a lot of the things that are supposed to make one an “adult”: a husband, children, and a house. Does that make me a woman-child? I don’t think so. I lack these things on purpose; they’re not what I want out of life right now, and I resent any implication that I’m deficient because of that.
But I do still see the characters in those movies as man-children. While it’s fine with me that they don’t have the stereotypical signs of “maturity” like spouses or kids or houses, they have an emotional immaturity that I think is really what turns me off. That, and the man-child movies always manage to tap into my revulsion toward so-called dick and fart jokes, which I see as immature even if they aren’t always.
This Mefi user taps into another one of my pet issues:
I think throwing in “not having kids” as a sign of not achieving adulthood is a canard that prevents the more serious underlying issue from getting addressed.
There’s an instant gratification impulse that fuels consumerism and is a symptom of an extended adolescence. It leads most people to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need. As resources become scarcer though (especially oil and in turn plastic), this impulse is going to meet a very hard brick wall.