Professor Gary Cross, of the University of Pennsylvania, has a new book out, called Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity. In it he traces concepts of adult masculinity from Victorian gentlemen to the man in the gray suit of the 1950’s through the deconstruction of tradition in the 1960’s counter culture and culminating in the modern boy-man, exemplified by the genial slackers portrayed by Seth Rogan in virtually every movie he has ever been in.
What does that have to do with the mortgage crisis? I place Professor Cross’ cogent analysis in a broader context of evading responsibility, which has become more and more the American paradigm during the period Dr. Cross analyzes. As men have transitioned from working downtown to getting stoned while they play video games…
….so too Americans have transformed themselves from a thrifty nation of hard workers into a society of debtors who leapt at the “free money” given them by cheap mortgages and (falsely) rising house prices.
Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis
And while Mr. Rogan’s character in Knocked Up became responsible toward the end of the film, it took the crisis of Katherine Heigl’s pregnancy to force that maturation. In the same way, not until this year’s financial crisis did Americans recognize that they were living beyond their means. They would have continued to toke at the mortgage-backed bong, one hand on the joystick and the other in the Cheetos bag, had not Fannie and Freddie’s financial water suddenly broke, uncomfortably thrusting us all into mandatory adulthood.
None of this should be taken as an attack on Seth Rogan himself. He is clearly way too busy to actually be a stoned slacker, and I’m sure he now has more than enough money to support several giant mortgages.
Also, lest you think Professor Gary Cross is something of a dilettante, you can download his extensive publication list from the Penn website. Full disclosure, however: he is a fellow graduate of Harvard Divinity School, so I tend to support him.