Thursday, March 3, 2011

Nathan Rabin - Two Cheers for the Maligned Slacker Dude

Rabin offers a rebuttal to the recent article from Kay Hymowitz, Where Have The Good Men Gone?, which has generated quite a bit of discussion around the internet. If we ignore the whole false notion that men are defined by marriage and raising kids (which is her version of how we become mature men), there is also the falsity that men in their 20s are little more than computer game playing slackers.

I'm sure that's true for some guys - I work with some of them. But I'm sure there are women in their 20s who do little more than go shopping, go out to clubs, or some other nonsense. Why have young men become the targets for everyone's concern, or worse, their scorn?

Anyway, this is a good response from one the editors at The Onion: America's Finest News Source.

Two Cheers for the Maligned Slacker Dude


Thanks to the movie "Knocked Up," the actor Seth Rogen became the chubby, curly-haired face of male arrested development and an unexpected flashpoint in the war of the sexes. A good percentage of American opinion was apoplectic at the notion that a pot-smoking, ambition-free loser like Mr. Rogen's slacker antihero would even hook up with a hot, put-together young woman like the television journalist played by Katherine Heigl, let alone agree to raise a child with her.

No one would suggest that the antihero of "Knocked Up" is the apogee of masculinity, but he does possess an admirable quality shared by many members of his generation: He creates. He creates because he's too young and naïve to realize that the odds are stacked against him. He's also too green to realize that he's creating something (a database of celebrity nudity) that has already been created (a website called Mr. Skin), but that doesn't change the fact that he's showing real initiative.


MEN AT WORK. From left to right, Bebo co-founder Michael Birch, Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom, YouTube cofounder Chad Hurley, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and Directi co-founder Divyank Turakhia, at an event last year.

Men in their late teens and 20s have historically accomplished great things. They have started record labels and newspapers and zines and social networking sites that help other men in their teens and late 20s accomplish great things. It's telling that the most talked-about businessman in the world right now isn't Warren Buffett or Bill Gates—it's Mark Zuckerberg, a 26-year-old, scruffily dressed Jewish kid who started a cultural revolution in his dorm room and inspired a movie that just may win the Oscar for best picture.

Mr. Zuckerberg isn't the only 20-something achiever who has changed the world at an age when our fathers and grandfathers were still trying to scramble up the first few rungs of the corporate ladder. In 2005, a trio of 20-something PayPal employees named Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim were too young and green to realize that you can't start putting television shows and movies and seemingly every piece of filmed entertainment from the past century online just because you think it'd be cool to share, say, a clip of Johnny Cash playing a Jimmie Rodgers number alongside Louis Armstrong.

Yet Messrs. Chen, Hurley and Karim went ahead and started YouTube so that they could share the media they loved with the entire world. YouTube proved a powerful catalyst for creativity; it gave the world Justin Bieber (but don't hold that against it!) but also improbable success stories like the Lonely Island, a comedy troupe of three guys in their 20s who parlayed making goofy homemade videos with their buddies into hit albums and gigs on "Saturday Night Live" (a show that has made television history by relying on the comic energy of several generations of ambitious 20-somethings).

On a more personal note, in the late 1980s a group of slackers in Madison, Wis., didn't know that sophisticated satire was supposed to be the exclusive domain of Harvard Lampoon types, not of depressive college dropouts, and they founded the Onion. A decade later, as a 22-year-old college junior, I was (thankfully) too naïve to realize I had no business being the paper's first head entertainment writer.

It's remarkable what you can achieve when you're too young to realize your limitations, or even to know that limitations exist. Men who put off marriage and fatherhood and home ownership until their 30s might be immersing themselves in work or they might be trying to extend the college experience as long as possible. Is that necessarily a bad thing? People do a whole lot more in college than down shots and hit bongs. College is also a place for experimentation, for reflection, for figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life. Those kinds of issues and questions shouldn't end with college graduation.

If men are getting married and having children later than at any time in human history that's probably because men in their 30s are almost invariably better prepared to tackle the responsibilities of adulthood than men in their 20s. Do we really want more generations of 23-year-old men who drink themselves to sleep every night dreaming about what they might have done if they hadn't gotten married and had kids right out of school? Do we want to repeat the mistakes of our fathers or learn from them?

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter foster a certain level of narcissism. They make each of us the star of our own little universe and create the illusion that the world is interested in what we have to say. The Holy Trinity of social networking titans reflects the self-absorption of a generation that increasingly defines itself by the media it consumes.

We're part of a generation that is not content to passively consume culture. We're creators: of memes, hashtags, Twitter one-liners and homemade videos that take the pop culture of our collective past and recreate it in our own image. Marriage and parenting and mortgages can wait; we're all about living in the sacred present tense and chronicling its key moments 140 characters at a time.

So you can scoff and snicker all you like at the shaggy, hangdog 27-year-old next door dressed in a baggy college sweatshirt and cargo shorts, taking empty pizza boxes and beer bottles to the dumpster. He could be a loser just trying to extend his adolescence indefinitely—or he might just be getting ready to change the world with what he creates in his unkempt guy lair.

—Mr. Rabin is the head writer of A.V. Club, the entertainment section of the Onion, and the author of "My Year of Flops" and "The Big Rewind."

No comments: