In his classic book Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), Leslie Fiedler shows that American fiction centers on boys and men running from the civilizing control of women, epitomized in Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer and Holden Caulfield and other books found in the children’s section of the library. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott updates Fiedler, maintaining that the popularity of comics and teen young adult fiction like The Hunger Games for adults indicate the continuation of juvenile entertainment.[i] TV and films show the allegorical decline of the adult white male; “It seems that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.” Examples of bad men who don’t make it are Tony Soprano in The Sopranos, Don Draper in Mad Men, and Walter White in Breaking Bad. Film characters played by Adam Sandler and “bro comedy” films like The Hangover portray “the rebellious animus of the disaffected man-child directed not just against male authority but also against women,” with solace found in male buddies. Shows like Girls and Masters of Sex that indicate “nobody knows how to be a grown-up anymore.” That leaves girls as symbols of success and goodness.
[i] A.O. Scott, “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture,” New York Times, September 11, 2014.