Young men coming of age in 2012 live in an instant gratification super-gamification culture. Fueled by unlimited Internet sex images, sexy and violent games, and energy drinks designed to keep you awake for days, what's a teenage guy to do but get lost in fantasyland? Apparently, step away from the screen and learn to make friends with the real world. Stanford University psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan, co-authors of 'The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Struggle and What We Can Do About It' warn of the dangers of the unrealistic version of real-life relationships today's males develop within. With an entire generation growing up socially awkward and emotionally closed-off, it's time to look for the root causes embedded in our society. Simply put, too much time in front of a computer screen robs boys from developing the social and physical interaction skills required to relate to people in general, and women in particular.
Then again, Philip comes from a different generation of guys. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, guys fought, drank, found a woman, got a job and bought a home in the suburbs (back when they cost around 20 grand). The American alpha-male was alive and well, but these days he's suffering an identity crisis that would confuse even Don Draper. Watching Mad Men, we can admire Don Draper's confident swagger, but his serial cheating belongs to a bygone era, and the haze of alcohol helps to make it seem like that's what everyone did back then. James Bond, another cultural icon from the 1960s, has struggled to remain relevant over the decades as gender roles have shifted. Sean Connery played him as the eternal playboy, careening through a world of international intrigue, with martinis fixed just right, and a passionate whirl of one-night stands. Daniel Craig holds his own as the reinvented Bond, made for the twenty-first century. He comes complete with a capacity to be in a serious loving relationship, and not just bed numerous glamorous women just for the thrill of the chase.
In Tootsie, the gender-bending comedy from the early 1980s, Dustin Hoffman's character, Michael Dorsey disguised himself as a woman to get an acting job, and along the way he uses his unique disguise to discover how women really want to be treated by men. At one moment in the film, after being supplied with super secret intel (while disguised as Dorothy Michaels), he attempts to seduce Julie, Jessica Lange's character with blunt honesty. This tactic backfires, partly because the secret admission was made to another woman, not to Michael Dorsey. Near the end of Tootsie, Michael says to Julie, "I was a better man with you than I ever was with a woman as a man. Know what I mean?"
It's been 30 years since Tootsie was released, and the gender divide now seems more like a fragmented Christopher Nolan mystery, and less like an inspired screwball comedy. Far-right pundits shout at listeners that feminism is the cause of all evils in society, while having less and less influence on the airwaves. A great many younger women seem to accept that the women's rights war is over, done, and won. Is the truth somewhere in the middle, or are there simply millions of versions of feminism, and all have as much to do with male/female relations in society as they do with deeply held beliefs? Is it even accurate to say we're in a post-feminist world, or simply we're in a world with many subtle and not-so-subtle variations on what the word means. With our move into a socially-driven online society, social skills and emotional intelligence are more highly prized skills than the male skills of conquering, and using blunt force to overpower others. And while both sexes are currently distracted by the tough economy, when the smoke clears and fighting for equal pay becomes possible, women will once again realize workplace sexism is alive and well in the early twenty-first century, and has just been buried under the ashes of political correctness.
Part of the fun and charm of Don Draper's character is his mysterious backstory, which took the first three seasons to unravel. As an ad man on Madison Ave., Don was in the perfect position for a front seat in the cultural upheavals about to begin in the 1960s. The Mad Men series began on the cusp of the 1960 election between JFK and Nixon, often cited as the first election to be decided by images on a TV screen. Don Draper fit into the mold of the 1960s breadwinner, with a house in the suburbs, two young children, and a good job in the city. He also had a secret past, and a beatnik mistress. And as the series and the 1960s progressed, Don's life unravels and he must reinvent himself into a more compassionate version of the guy we first met. The women in his life are waking up, and the women's rights movement is just around the corner. One of the enjoyable aspects of the series is how we always know what will happen culturally before the characters do. Viewing Mad Men is at times like cheating on a history exam. And while the beginning of the turbulent decade hasn't been shown with this type of attention to detail in a series before, it's the bang-up ending of the 1960s everyone remembers. I wonder if they're going to let Don grow his hair out, and wear love beads and a Nehru jacket.
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