Yesterday I talked about the men of Friends and how I disliked the image of manhood they each represent. Today I turn my attention to another masculine character, the character of Zach Braff in Garden State.
For those who haven’t seen this movie, it’s a coming-home story of a young postmodern man struggling to deal with the darker realities of life: familial death, broken relationships, and over-medication. Braff stumbles his way through the movie before he realizes he’s found true love and a very happy ending results. It’s a well-acted, well-made movie with a serious flaw: its lead character is a ninny. Despite having been out of high school for a number of years (seven, I believe), Braff’s character has no clear idea of where he’s going, no intention to marry, no greater purpose for living. He’s like alot of young men today, even young men in the church: he’s just coasting passively by, waiting for life to raise up and shower him with a blessing he doesn’t deserve. Interestingly, this isn’t simply a character Braff plays in angsty movies. He lives this part, having confided to Time magazine in its “Twixters” article about twentysomethings who won’t grow up that there’s a “new ten years” post-college in which young people find themselves. This comment, which is of the variety that doubtlessly leads many cool dudes of my generation to mutter, “whoa, dude, right on” represents a revolt from traditional gender roles and–what’s more–a revolt from maturity.
Somewhere along the line, college guys decided that life was going to be an exercise in drifting but pleasurable passivity. No longer would they go out and join a transcendent cause or fight for noble aims. No longer would they pass up the fleeting flirtations of youth and marry a woman anxious to fill her role as wife and mom. No, they would live life in college-extended mode, making 25 the new 18. After graduation, instead of thinking hard about what to do and where to go, they would simply drift along, goofing off, traveling a good bit, working lightly, flirting heavily, while the worthy women of their peer group tapped their toes impatiently and waited for them to grow up. Sadly, I see this type of man in strong numbers even at my seminary, a place one would think would be a bastion of generation-defying maturity. Nope. Many guys are content to drift along, never really getting their act together, waiting for girls to go after them, content to take a pass on maturity for awhile. This is not right. There is a break in the system. Men, like the film characters they consciously like and unconsciously emulate, are passive, immature, and allergic to responsibility. I’m not sure where the counter-Reformation will come from. I’m not counting on Zach Braff or his peers to start it, that’s for sure.