I’m sure we’ve all seen it on TV: a news item about some prominent person who died. As the camera pans the funeral party standing about the casket, we spot a 20-something guy, probably a nephew or cousin. He is standing in the second row. He is wearing baggy pants, a sweatshirt, and a baseball cap – on backwards.

The backwards baseball cap was also seen on Leonardo DiCaprio as he was leaving a posh Washington restaurant. He is 30 years old. The backwards baseball cap is also on the cover of The Death of the Grown-Up, a book about America’s fixation on youth and the mass cultural obsession with perpetual adolescence. The author, Diana West, who writes for The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, and other publications, zeros in middle-age guys playing air guitar, who also watch the Cartoon Network more often than the nightly news. In other words, the “dumbing down” of American is more than watching cretins on Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segment, who can’t identify a single nation that fought in World War II. It is, in West’s words, “The behavioral revolutions of the 1960s going forward unimpeded.”

Today’s culture, according to West, disavows the time-honored notions of adulthood: modesty, self-discipline, and respect for authority. The baby boomers have instead “inaugurated a culture of perpetual adolescence.” We no longer have parents – we have “un-parents who mollycoddle a generation of self-absorbed brats. From James Dean to Elvis to Bill Clinton, from ‘anything goes’ to ‘whatever,’ America has succumbed to the Teen Age.”

This state of perpetual adolescence comes with a price. A recent survey by the Rubber Manufacturers Association found that 85% of motorists don’t know how to check their tire pressure. Two-thirds of the high school graduates in Washington, D.C. couldn’t understand the cooking directions on a can of soup, according to the National Education Association. In that same group, 35% of high school seniors could not name the president of the United States, and 92% could not name the vice president.

The tastes, attitudes, values, and fantasies on everyday life are being imposed on society by these same adult/adolescents, according to West. She notes that the word “teenager” didn’t even come into being much before the early 1940s. Now, writes West, “Turning thirteen, instead of bringing children closer to an adult world, now launches them into a teen universe.”

It’s self-evident that Americans are neither as religious as they once were, nor do they seem to have the same sense of purpose. Huge blocks of time are spent glued to the TV screen watching mindless drivel, or listening endlessly to music that tortures the trained ear. The perpetual adolescents have few cultural or intellectual interests. What interests they do have rarely fall outside their private lives and personal gratification.

As the blogs of the perpetual adolescents reveal, “it’s all about me.” A typical perpetual adolescent blog might read something like this: “Slept till noon today. Got up. Nobody to fix breakfast. Bummer. Thought about getting another piercing. It’s either that or a fanny pack (short on cash as usual). Well, that’s about it for now. Life sucks.”

Please note there is no mention by our perpetually adolescent blogger of how we might stop Islamic terrorism – or what might happen to the economy when gasoline reaches five dollars a gallon – or how to staunch a national debt that has grown 70 percent in the last seven years. As in the baby boomer years, perpetual adolescents, some now in their 30s, view each day, in Diana West’s phrase, “as a perpetual summer camp.” What this transfer of cultural authority portends for the future can only be disheartening as we ponder when and why did Americans decide to stop growing up.

– Chase.Hamil

 

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