December 16, 2013

Boy trouble, male friendship, the daughter theory and Harry Potter vs the Hunger Games

In City Journal, Boy Trouble by Kay Hymowitz

Family breakdown disproportionately harms young males—and they’re falling further behind.

Whatever Happened to Male Friendship?  and a gorgeous ad for Irish whiskey

these four young men represent i a challenge to the common portrayal of male friendship in our popular culture.  It is difficult to find, especially on television, an example of male friendship (outside of the military or law enforcement) that is neither transactional nor idiotic.  For cheap beer, it’s the wingman trope.  In sitcoms, it’s stupid men doing stupid things in stupid attempts at liberation from wives or girlfriends.  Male friendships, we’re taught, are about finding or fleeing women; they are not valuable in themselves.
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The implicit promise that is so appealing is not that this whiskey will bring you a beautiful wife, but that it will bring you worthy friends to see you off on that marital journey.

And most men desire this friendship—this tender, warm, (dare we say it?) loving friendship—but that desire receives no affirmation in our culture. 

The Daughter Theory by Ross Douthat

“Study: Having daughters makes parents more likely to be Republican.”
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Things are more complicated than you thought, liberals! You can love your daughters, want the best for them, and find yourself drawn to … conservative ideas! Especially if you’re highly educated, which is where the effect was strongest!
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But as a father of girls and a parent whose adult social set still overlaps with the unmarried, I do have a sense of where a daughter-inspired conservatism might come from, whatever political form it takes.

It comes from thinking about their future happiness, and about a young man named Nathaniel P.

This character, Nate to his friends, doesn’t technically exist: He’s the protagonist in Adelle Waldman’s recent novel of young-Brooklynite manners, “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.”

But his type does exist, in multitudinous forms, wherever successful young people congregate, socialize, pair off. He’s not the worst sort of guy by any means — not a toxic bachelor or an obnoxious pick-up artist. He’s well intentioned, sensitive, mildly idealistic. Yet he’s also a source of immense misery — both short-term and potentially lifelong — for the young women in his circle.

“Contrary to what these women seemed to think,” Waldman writes of Nathaniel P.’s flings and semi-steady girlfriends, “he was not indifferent to their unhappiness. And yet he seemed, in spite of himself, to provoke it.”

He provokes it by taking advantage of a social landscape in which sex has been decoupled from marriage but biology hasn’t been abolished, which means women still operate on a shorter time horizon for crucial life choices — marriage, kids — than do men. In this landscape, what Nate wants — sex, and the validation that comes with being wanted — he reliably gets. But what his lovers want, increasingly, as their cohort grows older — a more permanent commitment — he can afford to persistently withhold, feeling guilty but not that guilty about doing so.

“Remember Who the Real Enemy Is” by Peter Blair

There’s a popular feeling in the air that America has become decadent. Contrasting Harry Potter to the Hunger Games shows what a difference a decade can make.
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The moral universe of Harry Potter might best be summed up by a quote from the movie version of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. In that movie, one of the characters say that some believe “it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I’ve found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness, and love.”
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The political system is broken in Harry Potter, and only by working as renegades outside it can our heroes ultimately save it. But revolution or rebellion is never seriously considered; the state isn’t the enemy to be fought as much as it is an impediment to achieving righteous goals.
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With the Hunger Games, we’re in a much darker and more complicated universe. Harry Potter features scenes of torture and death, but in the Hunger Games the violence has systematic, state backing from beginning to end. The state isn’t just hidebound and inefficient; rather, it’s the very actor that sets up and sustains structures of violence (the eponymous “hunger games,” deadly contests in which children are forced to fight to the death in order to remind defeated rebels of the government’s power).
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In the larger context of the series, the real enemy isn’t just one particular tyrant, but political authority in general.
Posted by Jill Fallon at December 16, 2013 1:57 PM | Permalink