Lena Dunham is an actress whose name I recognize, though I have never seen her perform, because she gets into the news now and then. She attracted some attention during the 2012 election for some asinine comments comparing voting for the first time to losing one's virginity to a special someone, with the special guy in this case being, naturally, Barack Obama.
A few days ago she attracted the attention of Kevin Williamson of National Review by publishing a list of five reasons for voting, most of which are as asinine as her 2012 remarks. Reason #1: "When you vote, you feel so, so good." Williamson's scathing response is "Five Reasons You're Too Dumb to Vote", and if you want to skip his scath and see what she said, it's here.
There are two things that principally strike me about her piece: 1) its generally vapid and childish tone, which seems deliberate; 2) the fact that its chief political concern is the preservation of the right to sexual freedom without consequence.
Surely these are connected. Miss Dunham is 28 years old. Two generations ago that would have been considered mature. The typical 28-year-old would have been married with children and therefore holding some responsible position in the world, whether as breadwinner or housekeeper. It was still the case more often than not for my generation, though the large contingent of bohemians and quasi-bohemians were holding on to their adolescence for as long as they could. Now, at least if you judge by popular culture--not necessarily a valid approach--that attempt seems to be the norm for a lot of people. And of course sexual indulgence is at the core of it.
We were talking here a week or so ago about the diminishment of the concept of adulthood, and I mentioned a New York Times piece on the subject. I had not at the time read the whole thing, but now I have--it's here--and it more than confirms the impression I've had for some years now, that the dimishment is real, and that it's actively encouraged and applauded by many influential voices. The piece is by a film critic, and there's a lot of the sort of silly stuff I've come to expect in popular culture--he can use the word "era" to describe a period within the last decade when certain TV shows were current--but there is some real perception there, too, and a worrisome appraisal of the culture--worrisome because of what it says, and because the author seems to approve, though with some qualifications, as in this typical paragraph (the "figures" referred to are adults in American literature going back to Huckleberry Finn and further):
Looking at those figures and their descendants in more recent times — and at the vulnerable patriarchs lumbering across the screens to die — we can see that to be an American adult has always been to be a symbolic figure in someone else’s coming-of-age story. And that’s no way to live. It is a kind of moral death in a culture that claims youthful self-invention as the greatest value. We can now avoid this fate. The elevation of every individual’s inarguable likes and dislikes over formal critical discourse, the unassailable ascendancy of the fan, has made children of us all. We have our favorite toys, books, movies, video games, songs, and we are as apt to turn to them for comfort as for challenge or enlightenment.
As is suggested by "vulnerable patriarchs," the writer through most of the piece comes close to making "adult" and "patriarch" synonymous, which is pretty significant. The implications of all this for our future are as disturbing as the extent to which they actually represent social reality, and not just the daydreams of people immersed in pop culture.
(Why is this The Waning of Adulthood (2)? Because I wrote about the same thing back in 2012.)