Used to be kids couldn’t wait to become adults. Why’d we throw that into reverse?
I’m scratching my head over the number of people in my age group who are acting out, suffering from debilitating self-doubt, or just consistently unable to face the consequences of their actions. Am I describing an ordinary midlife crisis? Maybe, but this is one of those rare times I’d argue that we are exceptional in terms of how ridiculously far we’ve managed to take this.
Now in all fairness, I should disclose the fact that my own interpretation of a so-called midlife crisis comes from Blake Edwards’ movies. Films such as 10, S.O.B., and Victor Victoria are filled with characters confronting their karma, concerns, and selfish choices with bourbon, schemes, and snappy comebacks. John Ritter’s “Zach” from Edwards’s Skin Deep was a hero of mine for a while, as were other characters played by Jack Lemon, Dudley Moore, Richard Mulligan, Julie Andrews, Robert Preston, William Holden, Lesley Ann Warren, Marilu Henner, and many others in whom Edwards showed faith. (BTW, if none of these names seem familiar, I’m referring to a span of about 1978-91. But don’t sweat it: they’re just here to help us stayers find context and fire up dormant synapses.)
Through this lens, a midlife crisis seemed exciting. And even when real life, predictably more mundane, taught me that crises of all sorts are usually more of a hassle than a thrill, I didn’t expect to find forward progress itself weirdly reversed. These days, far too many of my peers 35 and older act as if they can’t wait to be 13! And they’ve got society’s nod of approval for it, at least as far as media and entertainment are concerned. I mean sure, Edwards’s characters are boozy and denying, duplicitous and roguish, but they kept on living and learning, while so many of today’s 30- and 40-somethings can’t wipe their own asses, let alone resolve conflicts. How did we get this way, and how do we get back?
Maybe it’s that today’s public discourse insists that educated people (“they”) think they’re better than “us,” that true empowerment comes from bitch-slaps and blow-ups. Movies teach us that masculinity means being oafish, self-centered, and stoned (and they even manage to sell us on the idea that this is attractive to the opposite sex). We watch each other run up debt while trying not to sweat about continuing to outrun it. We worry about where our lives are going, but we only do something about it to the guy who cut us off in traffic.
If we remain so over-privileged and pathetic, self-doubt and unaccountability will continue to rule the day. Midlife means nothing when you’re always in crisis.