In The New York Times Magazine this weekend, A.O. Scott writes at length about the death of adulthood in American (mostly popular) culture. In so doing, he takes a well-informed look at the evolution of both men and women in American literature and culture (“We Americans,” he points out, “have never been all that comfortable with patriarchy in the strict sense of the word”), along with the influence of feminism, the popularity of YA fiction and film, and about a hundred other things. You should just go read it.
In (very) brief, Scott argues persuasively that this evolution has certainly taken place, but that it’s something that may be positive for our cultural production at large—that the sort of playfulness that evolves out of role reinvention (and not “gender” so much as what it means to be an adult or a child) can result in more imaginative works of culture, precisely because who gets to say what is good is often up for grabs:
I do feel the loss of something here, but bemoaning the general immaturity of contemporary culture would be as obtuse as declaring it the coolest thing ever. A crisis of authority is not for the faint of heart. It can be scary and weird and ambiguous. But it can be a lot of fun, too. The best and most authentic cultural products of our time manage to be all of those things. They imagine a world where no one is in charge and no one necessarily knows what’s going on, where identities are in perpetual flux. Mothers and fathers act like teenagers; little children are wise beyond their years. Girls light out for the territory and boys cloister themselves in secret gardens. We have more stories, pictures and arguments than we know what to do with, ...1