The American news media may finally be starting to cover a trend that they helped to create—the infantilization of American adults.
The infantilized adult continues the pursuits, hobbies, predilections, opinions and thought processes of youth instead of growing into mature, adult pursuits and activities. Reading Harry Potter and comic books, playing with Legos or My Little Pony dolls, collecting action hero paraphernalia, spending much of their free time playing video games, vacationing at Disney resorts and amusement parks—these are all signs that an adult is wallowing in callow youth instead of growing up. The mass media has of course glorified each and every one of the trends which together are creating the infantilized American adult.
For years, American comedy movies in particular have celebrated adults who refuse to grow up. The “Harold & Kumar” movies, “Old School,” “Big,” “Grandma’s Boy,” “Ted,” “The Wedding Crashers,” “Billy Madison,” “You, Me and Dupree,” “Dodgeball,””Step Brothers,” “The 40-year-old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” all three “Hangovers,” the “Jackass” movies, “Bridesmaids,” “Hall Pass” and “Identity Thief”—this off the top of my head list doesn’t even scratch the surface of the multitude of movies released over the past 20 years centered on men and women who refuse to grow up.
Now A.O. Scott, a New York Times film critic has realized that staying a child is a major theme of American comedy films.
Scott announces his discovery in his review of “Neighbors,” which explores the trick-filled feud between a suburban couple who retain an adolescent lifestyle and the unruly fraternity that moves next door.
He really does nail the current state of American comedy, so I want to give an extended quote:
“The central problem in American film comedy for the past 15 years or so — let’s say from middle-period Sandler through prime Apatow and late ‘Hangover’ — has been maturity, or, more precisely, its avoidance. In the old days, adulthood was a fact. Now it’s a vague, unproven theory. Adolescence used to represent constraint and frustration, to be left behind as quickly as possible. For the heroes of the New American Comedy, it represents a blissful state of hedonistic freedom, to be held onto for as long as possible.
“How to stay a child when the world expects otherwise — and how to make the world love you anyway — has usually been, in these movies, a male predicament. Women have been sirens or mommies, on hand to inflame the boys’ desires or soothe their fears. This has begun to change recently, although mainly on television, where shows like ‘Girls’ and ‘Broad City’ have extended the privileges of arrested development on a more or less equal-opportunity basis.”
It’s not Scott’s job to put the tide of comedies about adults remaining children into a broader social context, but it’s clear to me that these movies both reflect the cultural shift and help to shape it. In most of these movies, the immature heroes and heroines grow up a little bit in the end, but these movies are not cautionary tales about arrested development. No, they all glorify and endorse infantilization—it’s much more fun than behaving as an adult.
When you add the number of these comedies about men and women remaining boys and girls to the number of fantasy superhero movies, the conclusion is clear: Hollywood is dedicated to promoting the perpetual adolescence lifestyle to the American public.