This book is both more and less than I was expecting. "Less," in that I was hoping for a stronger critique -- not to say denunciation -- of today's "boy-men," as author Gary Cross calls them. The arrested-development adults-but-not-grown-ups like the suit-wearing, video game-playing guy in the cover art or, even more appropriate, the men in their forties, or older, who still run around in the same oversized T-shirts, baggy shorts, and huge sneakers as their 12-year-old sons. I was, as I say, hoping to see them called on the carpet somewhat more than they were. That probably says more about me than about Cross.
The area in which "Men to Boys" was more than I expected was in the author's thorough analysis of the archetypes of male adulthood over three generations -- the so-called Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers (the author's own cohort), and my Generation X -- and how "being a man" has evolved since the 1920s and '30s. Cross relies heavily on media portrayals of boys and men, in popular movies and TV shows as well as commercials, but also introduces when appropriate the influence of video games and why they are so powerfully attractive even for adult men.
Indeed, the power of the video game becomes an important signifier, if not explanation, for the "men to boys" phenomenon. As Cross writes, "modern toys have gradually lost their 'expiration dates,' the markers that designate the time that children are expected to abandon them after reaching a new developmental stage. ... their manufacturers design them to blur, even deny this historically essential transition from boyhood to manhood." "As a result," he continues, "male players seem to equate personal progress with increased sensual and emotional intensity." In other words, whereas Saint Paul put away childish things when he became a man, modern maturity, so to speak, means the cultivation of ever more powerful (and expensive) emotional and adrenaline rushes. "To be blunt," Cross concludes, "adult men obsessed with video games are in a state of arrested development because they can't see the difference between a toy and an adult pleasure" (p. 223-4). That's the closest Cross comes to a criticism, I think, but even he has to admit that for today's boy-men, there IS no difference between a "toy" and an "adult pleasure."
I would have liked if Cross had extended his analysis more broadly, including expanding some of his points about evolving musical tastes (the impact of, as Tom Lehrer described it in the late 1950s, "rock-and-roll and other children's records"), clothing styles, and other cultural expressions. But I cannot criticize the depth of analysis or good insight he brought to the areas he did focus on. While Susan Faludi and her commentary showed up more toward the end of this book than I was expecting, Gary Cross has tackled what I think is an important cultural topic and brought some very good ideas and conclusions to the table. Any reader interested in the question of what it means to be a man in this decade and beyond will find a lot in here worth considering.
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About the reviewer
Andrew S. Rogers (Cascadian)
Mostly, I'm a moderately prolific Amazon.com reviewer who's giving Lunch a try as another venue for my reviews.
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