“The Perpetual Adolescent” is an observational piece by Joseph Epstein. He suggests that modern adult acts much more childish than the previous generations of middle aged people. A big part of acting like a younger person is dressing like a younger person. According to Epstein, the dressed down adult is the immature adult, which in turn leads to many adults trying to copy the modern and hip youth culture. This in turn created more relaxed environments across all career fields, leaving less “true” adults.
He feels that American now want to stay young forever instead of maturing into the adults of their parent’s generations. Epstein believes that this mentality is flawed, leaving the people in positions of power striving to act like their children. Since pop culture permeates into every corner of American society, the focus of staying youthful in America started, and has continued to stay, there. In the 1940’s, every adult male was dressed nicely at a sporting event, but now, a “good part of the crowd… is wearing jeans and team caps and T-shirts… (par. 2). Life in America has become more casual, due to the relaxed attitude stemming from the 1950’s. Epstein does not like this. He seems to feel like America is losing strength as a respectable nation because most of the adults in the country do not want to grow up and take on their adult responsibilities and dress codes. Epstein has not completely given up on middle aged America yet. According to him, “There still are adults in America… Alan Greenspan, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Robert Rubin, Warren Buffett, Sol Linowitz… ”(par. 8).
This list seems impressive, but since the average teenage reader may not recognize any of the names his list, the allusion he presents is wasted on a younger audience. It may work on the older readers who the author may be trying to alert of the youth culture shift, but the list may still be outdated. According to Epstein, “The shift into youth culture began in… [with] the publication of Catcher in the Rye” (par. 9). J. D Salinger’s timeless classic Catcher in the Rye was not written for youth, but was originally for middle age adults.
Holden Caulfield, the novel’s main character, later became a symbol of rebellion and youth culture, but his tale was designed for the same “phonies” that Epstein claims he persuaded to stay young forever. Literature has always been a part of molding future generations, but to put an entire culture shift as the result of one work is a little outlandish. Music has also had an important impact on creating the “perpetual adolescent” and Epstein agrees. With the advent of rock and roll music came a more widespread rebellious attitude among middle class youth like America had never seen before.
Epstein has pinpointed “The dividing moment here is the advent of Elvis” (par. 12). Upon first sight of Elvis, many parents and guardians were upset with what music had become. Since Elvis, music has developed into many other genres, including rap and hip hop. Rap and hip hop are two musically genres that are almost entirely focused of staying youthful. In their new music video for the song “Otis”, performing artists Kanye West and Sean “”Jay-Z” Combs are dressed like average seventeen year old males and cause explosions in between riding around the desert in a car packed with supermodels and comic Aziz Anzari.
Even though the way they dress and their actions may be considered immature and childish, both West and Combs are extremely successful individuals. They are in the public eye acting like fools, but still maintain the same lavish lifestyle and business sense of some of the top minds in Fortune 500 companies. With the transition of radio into film, adults that have attempted to stay youthful have seeped into the average American living room. Many shows follow the basic plot of never growing up, but the most widely accepted and watched television programs of this genre are “Seinfeld” and “Friends”.
Epstein states in paragraph 21 that “ though each is different in its comic tone, are united by the theme of the permanent adolescent loose in the big city. ” What Epstein fails to realize is that even though both programs are about goofy adults, the actions taken by the characters of Seinfeld and Friends are drastically different. Seinfeld is almost exactly what Epstein pinned it as: adults who find scruples in the oddest things, who seem to do nothing but adventure all day and have no cares or worries about “real life”. mong the friends are a respected paleontologist, a daytime actor and a spoiled daddy’s girl who learn how to adjust to the real world with the help of the est of the buddies. She finds a job and learns how to be independent through the course of the show, which are very adult things to do. Even though the apartment dwellers enjoy each other’s company and find themselves in wacky situations week after week, they still mean business when it comes down to it. Their youthful charm is what keeps them interesting, not hinders their growth as people.
In Friends, the group consists of responsible adults. Epstein is not the only person who believes that modern Americans, especially the middle age, middle America demographic, has been seduced by the idea of staying youthful and carefree forever. In late 2001, the American energy supergiant Enron declared bankruptcy. The company had been faking profits and destroying its shared stock and clientele base without its investors knowing. According to an Enron Employee, “The trouble with Enron,… is that there weren’t any grown-ups. “(par. 17).
The real problem with Enron was that the people at the top were greedy businessmen who had few morals, much like the old west oil tycoons. They were all about profit and did not care about the little guy or consumer. Since this mentality has been instated in business practices since the industrial revolution, they childishness of it should not be questioned. It may seem immature to take as much money as possible from a company that is going under, but executives exploiting the companies they are in charge of is not a new idea that was created after the obsession with youth culture in America was developed.
During childhood, many young Americans (most prominently young boys) idolize the stars of their favorite sports teams. According to Epstein, “The model of the type may be the professional athlete. ” (par. 25). This seems to be the biggest problem that Epstein addresses relating to the obsession with youth culture. Since it is true that many young males aspire to become professional athletes once they become old enough, the vast majority who does not complete their goal still follow their favorite team.
The professional athletes they admire live in utter excess, living with careers that require little effort more than perfecting plays and passes to entertain the masses. This relaxed lifestyle allows them to spend their (almost entirely) disposable incomes on whatever they want. The professionals who have made it seem to have kept the “stay young” mindset. The others who watch the stars remember how they could be living that life if they worked harder on that layup or could have done that 40 yard dash faster still want to replicate the lifestyle of their idols.
According to Rebecca Mead, “The growth of professional basketball over the past twenty-odd years… is an example of the way in which all of American culture is increasingly geared to the tastes of teenage boys. ” (par. 25). As basketball has gotten older, the players seem to be acting younger, allowing the fans to follow suit. Epstein has made a correct inference in this case, but had one major oversight. Many fans who act like professional athletes only do so at the games, many times after a drink or few of overpriced alcohol has been consumed.
Sports fans have real careers too. many fans use the entertainment factor or the celebrities and watching their favorite team win as a stress reliever for their daily lives. The spending and lackadaisical lifestyles of professional athletes does have an impact on a chunk of consumers, but another giant section remains unbrainwashed and works hard for their money in a lifelong profession, much like their “grown up” parents and grandparents did. Actors are another sect of society that tends to stay perpetually young.
An actor Epstein chose to use as an example was Jim Carrey, who said”You’ve got that hole you’re left with by whatever your parents couldn’t give you. “(par. 14). This may explain why many actors spend their earnings frivolously like teenagers do, but more experienced (generally older, but within the realm of adults that Epstein says wants to stay youthful) create various charities and organizations which donate money and objects to causes the actor sees as important.
These actors do enjoy spending their wages on seemingly stupid things, but they also know how to act like adults. Another factor that Epstein did not address regarding actors is that in the American film industry, many times the role of a teenager will be played be a person who is in their early twenties (or in Alan Ruck[the actor who played Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off]’s case, 30). The public image of an actor can influenced based on the roles they play, leaving them to either act like the characters they play or to disappoint their agents and fans.
This predicament may be what leads minds like Epstein to believe actors want to stay young forever, but since they are actors after all, it is nearly impossible to tell. To those who act younger than they are, W. H. Auden offers his words of advice:”Obviously it is normal to think of oneself as younger than one is but fatal to want to be younger”(par. 27). Both Auden and Epstein share the same idea, but most of America disagrees with them. They continue to try and stay hip, but also continue to raise their families and juggle careers.
Epstein’s writing style is not as old fashioned as the way he wants adults to behave. He keeps it interesting with his odd vocabulary and phrasing. In the fourth paragraph, Epstein mentions how“… dress became absolutely de rigueur… ”. This phrase may be almost nonexistent today, but the curiosity surrounding the phrase really piqued my interest. The use of the word loutish is paragraph ten also struck me as an interesting choice of vocabulary. Loutish is such a crude sounding word, which conveys Epstein’s opinion to the reader.
If the word loutish was replaced with a weaker word the emotions bundled with loutish may not reach the reader. To start off a sentence, Epstein rhymes “aimless” and “shameless”(par. 21). Both of these words have a negative connotation, which leaves the reader to look at the following ideas in a negative light, just because of the opening words of the sentence. Americans trying to stay “forever young” is not as big of a problem as Epstein suggests in “The Perpetual Adolescent”. .Just because an individual does not act like an adult constantly does not mean they are immature.
Plenty of successful Americans know how to have fun, but also are able to be serious when needed. As seen in paragraph 37, “The greatest sins, Santayana thought, are those that set out to strangle human nature”. This statement coupled with the thoughts of W. H. Auden say that is is human nature for an individual to imagine himself as younger and to go against the feelings of human nature is the worst.
Epstein, Joseph. “The Perpetual Adolescent. ” The Weekly Standard, 9. 26, 15 March 2004. LexisNexis Academic Universe. Web. 24 September 2007.