How many times in popular culture have you heard some self important dude with hair all over his face, albeit shaved into cunning little shapes and corners, shout about how he’s such a “GROWN ASS MAN” replete with gang sign hand gestures, freeze posed in your face for effect?
Aren’t ya sick of it? I am.
I have been reading articles for weeks about the newest trend in America: young people [ aged 16-25 and aged 26-39 key demographics ] are NOT getting their driver’s licenses, citing a [ lame ass ] variety of reasons.
I’ve had an ongoing sociological rant about the psychological “infantile-ization” of America since the early 90s, when I first began to notice that something was not quite right with America’s young people. I journaled about it at the time.
These were the last few years of a mostly innocent pre-internet era pop culture, and there was a lingering afterglow of old American style normalcy still hovering over the country. Families were mostly still intact. Detroit was still in one piece, although the fraying around it’s edges had begun. Bankrupt cities were practically unheard of. People went shopping in malls without even pausing to consider – EVER – that they could be gunned down by a lost and quietly beserk young American male.
The crystal-meth epidemic was percolating but had not exploded yet. 34% of everyone you knew HAD NOT smoked crack, shot heroin, or used crystal meth and MDMA the same way I regularly use toothpaste, which is daily.
Already something was happening that really bothered me spiritually but I couldn’t understand WHY it was happening. I noticed it more in young males than in young females, although it did pop up there too, from time to time. The only way I knew how to describe it at the time was as a kind of halted, stunted emotional maturity in late teens / early twenty-somethings. They even named a TV show after this sociological phenomenon: “Arrested Development.” How telling.
American young people were maturing biologically in all the right ways. Hormones still kicked in between ages 12 – 16 and these young people biologically began to grow up. But in many cases, the inner parts and pieces of them that should have emotionally grown up with their other physical parts, didn’t move forward. Those parts stayed pretty much right where they were at the emotional age of 11, 12, 13 or 14.
I kept wondering why this was happening. I also wondered if anyone else saw what I saw. Keep in mind as you read this that it was 1991, 1992 when I started really noticing that large numbers of young people had this visible emotional missing piece in their movement toward adulthood that showed instantly when they opened their mouths, just like a missing tooth would show. At least it showed instantly to me. Something was askew. The absence of this emotional adulthood glared if the conversation strayed into any territory other than Self, Recreation, Sports, Pop Culture, Fashion or Celebrities. Isn’t it interesting to note that as time has passed these 6 topics have become the mega billion dollar corporate behemoths which now pass for “American culture”?
It was VERY evident when you would strike up a conversation with a young 20-something, about anything, that where they were emotionally was mostly right where they had been when they were still in junior high school. They may as well have still been standing in the hall at their locker, wondering who they would sit with at lunch. Nothing inside had changed much, while their exteriors had changed considerably.
There were, of course, exceptions to this rule, and I delighted in finding these wonderful young people who loved to discuss everything from European Renaissance painting to marine biology – and their possible future place in it. There was hope for my sagging perception of the next generation coming up behind me when I chatted with these sparkling “exceptions to the rule.”
I pondered this phenomenon with regularity while life flew by. I was already seeing it everywhere. There was an entire army of young men, mostly white, who were in their late 20s to late 30s who traveled the streets of my city via skateboard. That was it. They didn’t own a car, and apparently never intended to. I recall how jarring it was to watch a man in his late 30s with a full beard flying down the road, in all seriousness, scooting his skateboard along with daily traffic. His bearded buddies, all late thirty-something “grown ass men” like him, scooted along behind him. Some of them were dressed like they might be going in for a job interview, or going to work in an office. I tried to imagine everyone else parking their cars in the paved lot [ a la “The Office” in Scranton PA ] while these jokers scooted up, popped their boards into one hand, briefcase clutched in the other, and strolled inside, ready to face another ‘grown-up” day at the office with their co-workers. Really??? Something was just not quite right about that scene. It was a scene I would find that I was accidental witness to with increasing regularity as the 1990s yawned open and the world whirled through toward the new century.
I was accustomed to seeing little boys playing on their skateboards, traversing our neighborhood via the one footed scoot. I had seen that for decades. What I COULD NOT get used to was a man who was 38 years old scooting down the street on a skateboard with no more concern for how ridiculous he looked than if he was curled in half onto a kid’s tricycle, trying to peddle it.
I kept wondering again and again how these men ever got a date. And if they did, what the hell did they do about it? Oh yeah, I forgot. They stayed at home and played video games on their own sofa and the date had to comply with this activity or leave. [ Were any babies even made in the 1990s? If so, how? ]
Video games had already altered the American landscape forever for a generation of young people by 1992. Next, the internet would emerge, and with it a virtual universe would open up – for better AND for worse – for young people around the world.
In 1994, of course, the term which was most often used to describe the fledgling computer network was “the world wide web.” The word “texting” was not a part of the English language and had not come into use yet. Cell phones were large cumbersome contraptions [ see early episodes of Seinfeld for examples of these hilarious boxes ] which looked like they ought to belong in a Dick Tracy comic, with an ostentatious sci-fi antennae poking out of the top. They were exorbitantly costly to own. They had already emerged as upper crust status symbols for the more affluent. I was still using a land line in 1994, 95 and saw no reason to own a cell phone as I worked at home on [ the brand new freshly invented ] internet and didn’t travel that much. Everyone I wanted to talk to usually came to the front door and rang the bell. Remember that? House guests? I even cooked for them. We served drinks. We talked face to face. We didn’t have to call that exchange “face time” yet. Talking face to face was part and parcel to the “old normal.”
No one ever said “the new normal” and if they had they would have been stared at politely with a mildly amused gaze, while the rest of the group waited to hear their explanation. Life was still quite civilized. Mostly.
But commuting around town I was bothered by the incessant “skate board men” which were always everywhere. Had they only been 20 years minus in age their mothers would have still been standing with a dish towel in her hand at the back screen door, calling them by all three of their given names to come in off the street with their boards, and eat dinner. I shuddered to think what the studio apartments of these guys might look like. Nope. Strike that sentence. These were guys who lived in their mother’s basements. A studio apartment is a very grown up thing to have. It often involves something called a driveway where a personal transit mobility device called an automobile is parked.
So we fast forward twenty years or so into the bulging, smelly, overwhelming, incomprehensible NOW of late 2013. “Grown Ass Men” can no longer be bothered with the troubling errand of going into the DMV to acquire their time honored American personal passport into adulthood which is also known as a “driver’s license.” These are the current statistics and they are NOT good:
SURVEY: “When we asked young people when they planned 2 get a driver’s license, 21.5% of 16 to 25 year olds said ‘Never.’ & 35.4% of people aged 30-39 also said ‘Never’.” http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/10/13/teen-drivers-license/2891701/ …
I’m not finished opining on this topic. The hour is late in America, and the situation is now urgent. I’m sending out the Clarion Call to all psychologists and sociologists everywhere to get your heads out of your own asses, or the sand on the beach, and begin writing papers on the long term sociological, societal and psychological effects of two generations of young people in America who, for the most part, absolutely REFUSE to grow up, yet biologically mature anyway, then marry and have offspring of their own. Hello? Does anyone out there see what I see coming? Oh wait. Wrong again. it’s already here. But now it’s worse. So much worse that I will have to cover that disintegration in another essay.
Somewhere along the road to the future which began in the early 90s with the birth of the web, and has brought us all here, to 2013, where the full effects of the first two generations of children who have grown up with the internet held in the palm of their hands has finally ripened and fallen off the tree with a definite rottening splat, our great thinkers and philosophers [ we used to have those, once upon a time ] have all looked the other way – while 30 million American young people have crept away back to mom’s basement.
There they have squatted, modern Neanderthals, texting their drool onto other tiny machines in umpteen trillion meaningless misspelled words, watching ever more violent video games until they snap, gunning down their neighbor’s kids, blowing their own brains out, doping incessantly on daddy’s executive credit card, building backpack bombs in the garage while dad plays golf, extolling the virtues of all of this darkening urban and turbaned Never-Never-Land of endlessly drugged, skateboarding Peter Pans and Pansies who now scoot one-footed around the detritus of America’s collapsing cities, tattered spray paint can in hand, looking for new gangland graffiti scat from rivals, which they will then blithely marr over with their own.