The 20-something-year-old boy

A look into a spattering of pop culture and current events sheds light on the stunted maturity of young men.

by Andrew Johnson

A week ago, Saturday Night Live had a sketch of a made-up talk show called âÄúYou Can Do Anything!âÄù On it, guests brimming with âÄúunearned confidenceâÄù performed useless and pointless talents, all under the pretext that simply doing something âÄî anything âÄî made them productive individuals and their acts worthwhile. They were all guys.
Later on, musical guest Lana Del Rey sang her single âÄúVideo Games.âÄù In this pseudo-ballad, Del Rey melancholically romanticizes her boyfriendâÄôs behavior and their love as carefree rather than what it actually is: juvenile and empty. It may seem as if IâÄôm looking too deeply into a couple of segments from a late-night comedy variety show, but these examples do reflect a cultural trend among young American men. Study after study show that this demographic âÄî my demographic âÄî is declining in education and employment. This trend carries an impact on not just society but guysâÄô personal development as well.
Before some self-righteous student group leader or professor overreacts to this commentary as displaying pre-Suffragist thinking or anti-feminist advocacy, none of this is to engage in an âÄúAnything you can do, I can do betterâÄù back-and-forth about the capabilities of men and women. IâÄôm looking to address a downhill trajectory in maturity in hopes of re-motivating dallying chaps, a message everybody should encourage.
Anyway, according to the Department of Education, men are less likely to get a bachelorâÄôs degree than women nowadays, which isnâÄôt too surprising when only about 40 percent of college students have a Y chromosome, just a few decades removed from a near even 50-50 gender distribution. Here on campus, three-quarters of the colleges have over half female enrollment. Beyond just enrollment totals though, women are also getting better grades than men. This appropriately reflects how women have embraced the value of education, while guys have come to devalue it âÄî but why?
Canadian psychologist Perry Adler says âÄúthat weâÄôre dealing with [men who are] struggling with not feeling passionate about anythingâÄù and âÄúnot fulfilling academic responsibilities, not fulfilling their potential.âÄù He, along with others, point to reasons such as addiction to video games (of which 18 to 34 year olds are the leading players) as well as big screen examples of lovable, Seth Rogen-esque deadbeats. While these characters are affable, theyâÄôre more concerned with immature and self-interested pursuits rather than applying themselves to useful and positive purposes âÄînot living up to personal potential but living for youthful delights. Average teenage dudes are now more likely to see, idealize and mimic that archetype instead of one that represents the responsibilities of coming of age.
Peter Pan-ing through life no longer requires green tights or a chapeau, instead just baggy jeans and a backwards cap. In the music video for âÄúYoung, Wild & Free,âÄù Snoop Dogg, despite being âÄúover the hill,âÄù hangs out in a high school. HeâÄôs over twice the age of the oldest student there, but still associating with kids. Imagine if Kid Rock, Tom Green or Corey Feldman were still lurking around 16 year olds. Why not? TheyâÄôre the same age as Snoop. Wiz Khalifa, also in the song, is 24, older than I am. I feel out of place just sitting in the stands at my younger brotherâÄôs lacrosse games, let alone partying with those kids.    
Living in a perpetual state of adolescence cultivates a continuous neglect of individual responsibility. We still use excuses like âÄúBoys will be boysâÄù for not just twenty-somethings, but politicians in their 50s and 60s as defense for lewd and self-indulgent behavior.
The recent Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster serves as another example. Throughout the radio exchange between the Italian Coast Guard and the shipâÄôs capitano, the Coast Guard orders he return to the liner and report on the status of the remaining passengers onboard. His excuse for not going back: âÄú[i]t is dark.âÄù How dignified. On the Titanic, not only did the captain nobly go down with his ship, but more than three-quarters of the women and half the children survived thanks to the valiant efforts of 80 percent of the shipâÄôs men who sacrificed their lives. In the film, we hear the words âÄúIâÄôll never let goâÄù; now itâÄôs âÄúYouâÄôre on your own, honey. Tell the kids for me.âÄù This is not a call back to old-fashioned gender roles, but to look beyond yourself and be accountable to those around you, not uncaringly fending for yourself to survive. Perhaps itâÄôs a societal construct, but I prefer that to jungle rule.
In what may undo my credibility on âÄúmanlinessâÄù and âÄúmaturity,âÄù IâÄôll admit I saw âÄúBeauty and the Beast 3DâÄù this weekend. In it, the villageâÄôs favorite son, Gaston, oozes antiquated masculinity. âÄúNo oneâÄôs been like Gaston, a kingpin like Gaston,âÄù and thankfully so; heâÄôs a self-centered jerk, shamelessly looking to satisfy his own needs. As we know, he ultimately fails in becoming something worth idolizing.
In the end, the Beast is the hero. Sure, at first âÄúhe was mean, and he was coarse and unrefined,âÄù but âÄúnow heâÄôs dearâÄù because âÄúthere was something there that wasnâÄôt there beforeâÄù: a reason to put others, like Belle and friends, ahead of himself. Rather than lounge in a dreary physical and emotional stronghold, letting the outside world pass him by, the Beast goes on to live a happily ever after because he dedicated himself to a purpose and overcoming fearfulness. It took a complete and total transformation, but IâÄôm hopeful itâÄôs one that guys  not just in fairy tales, but in reality âÄî and not virtual reality âÄî will soon go through as well.

Andrew Johnson welcomes comments at
[email protected].