The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization

The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization

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by Diana West

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Diana West sees a US filled with middle-age guys playing air guitar and thinks "No wonder we can't stop Islamic terrorism." She sees Moms Who Mosh and wonders "Is there a single adult left anywhere?" But, the grown-ups are all gone. The disease that killed them was incubated in the sixties to a rock-and-roll score, took hold in the seventies with the help of


Diana West sees a US filled with middle-age guys playing air guitar and thinks "No wonder we can't stop Islamic terrorism." She sees Moms Who Mosh and wonders "Is there a single adult left anywhere?" But, the grown-ups are all gone. The disease that killed them was incubated in the sixties to a rock-and-roll score, took hold in the seventies with the help of multiculturalism and left us with a nation of eternal adolescents who can't decide between "good" and "bad", a generation who can't say "no". From the inability to nix a sixteen year-old's request for Marilyn Manson concert tickets to offering adolescents parentally-funded motel rooms on prom night to rationalizing murderous acts of Islamic suicide bombers with platitudes of cultural equivalence, West sees us on a slippery slope that's lead to a time when America has forgotten its place in the world. In The Death of the Grown-Up Diana West serves up a provocative critique of our dangerously indecisive world leavened with humor and shot through with insight.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

West, a Washington Times columnist with a hard-line conservative's interest in culture, sounds a dire alarm over an age she sees marked by the "mainstreaming of countercultural behavior." An unprecedented reversal of priorities from parents to children has occurred since the 1950s, according to West, allowing for "structural failures that permitted the behavioral revolutions of the 1960s to go forward unimpeded." To support her case, West draws on sources generally weighted to the right end of the political spectrum, like Robert Bork and Daniel Pipes. Her examination of the social repercussions of a new "youth market" would be better grounded within the context of the transformations in postwar American society, but she focuses instead on the negative aspects of these large and complex changes, without reflecting on her underlying assumptions. In her view, the prolonged adolescence of baby boomers has left America open to an insidious "Islamization" of culture via a misconceived political correctness that can't recognize the dehumanizing ideology of that religion. West, a vocal purveyor of distrust toward Islamic cultures, lays nothing less than the decline of Western civilization on the American counterculture, making her argument compelling only to those already in her corner. (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Washington Times columnist West offers a bright, readable, often overwrought indictment of a popular culture that keeps Americans in a state of perpetual adolescence. Post-World War II affluence gave rise to the teen age, with Seventeen's 1944 launch marking the "end of growing up," she writes; Americans have idolized youth ever since. In the 1960s, parents and children reversed roles, the counterculture became the establishment and self-restraint vanished, leaving us bereft of refinement, forbearance, civility, decency and other adult virtues. Today, West avers, our shameless, anything-goes culture has us mired in "bestial decadence" and "media-bathed in a red light-district glow of sexual suggestiveness." Accepting of almost everything, we have become multiculturalists, forgetful of our identity as a Western civilization and unable to recognize, much less act on, the threat of Islamic terrorism. The author gives innumerable examples of youth going to hell in a parent-condoned hand basket, from spring break antics to drunken prom nights, and of adults engaging in juvenile, inappropriate behavior. Simpatico readers will be charmed; many others will nod in agreement that rules and boundaries have eroded in many quarters of American life. From her alarmist subtitle to her vicious attacks on the youth revolt of the 1960s, however, West may be a bit much to take for those on the lookout for shades of gray. Did all Baby Boomers really decide not to grow up? Were the courageous 9/11 firefighters shaped only by adult virtues as opposed to rock culture? Often the author moves from bracing to over the top, demonstrating why a reader of her column once told her to lighten up. Read at your peril,hippie scum.
From the Publisher
"Diana West's analysis of American culture and society is filled with sharp insights and critical judgments that are illuminating and provocative. The Death of the Grown-Up delivers an honest perspective on the many forces and pressures challenging 21st century Americans."

—Lou Dobbs, CNN

"The most intriguing question about American culture today—even more intriguing than, "When and why did men start to hug each other?"—is the question Diana West tackles in this penetrating and witty book: "When and why did Americans decide to stop growing up?" Actually, I have a depressing feeling that the two questions are related."

—George F. Will

"This is a vigorously argued, far-reaching and timely book which should be read especially by those content to drift along with the noxious tide of fashion."—Paul Johnson

"Diana West's brilliant and irreverent skewering of America's fixation on youth is a wake-up call for every individual who wants to see Western civilization endure. West makes the provocative case that a mass cultural obsession with perpetual adolescence has eliminated adulthood from the human experience, leaving our society effectively undefended as we confront the challenges ahead, especially the menace of Islamofascism."—Tony Blankley

"With keen wit and unparalleled insight, Diana West traces the national decline of adulthood and the rise of the permanent adolescent class in American life. From James Dean to Elvis to Bill Clinton, from "anything goes" to "whatever," un-parents have succumbed to the Teen Age. But what makes West's invaluable analysis stand apart is her connection of the death of the grown-up to the post-9/11 political, intellectual, and moral paralysis that imperils us today. Her impassioned message: We cannot defend our identity if we have no clue about who we were and are and should be. We cannot defend our existence as long as we mollycoddle a generation of self-absorbed brats. West administers an overdue spanking to the cultural relativists: Wise up or we will all pay dearly."

—Michelle Malkin

"This is a brilliant book that devastatingly dissects our politically correct society. In a book that will be read for generations, Diana West has written one of the most important books on our culture, politics and society that I have ever read. Diana has masterfully recognized and explained how certain trends within Western culture have fundamentally altered Western identity and weakened our resolve to combat a fierce enemy, radical Islam. A must read for anyone who wants to understand why, all too often, many in the West are apologetic when confronted with the excesses of radical Islam and what we need to do to win the war on terror. This is a phenomenal book that will truly alter the way you view society. It is masterful."—Steven Emerson

"Diana West has written a book not to be missed by anyone concerned about the future of America and the West. With wide- ranging scholarship and a lucid and sprightly prose style, she chronicles and analyzes the unprecedented transfer of cultural authority from adults to teenagers. The unhappy consequences range from the obliteration of traditional standards in almost all areas of life to a multicultural relativism that lowers our defenses against elements of a civilization that would destroy us. West has mounted a much-needed counterattack in the service of Western values and common sense."—Judge Robert Bork

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The Death of the Grown-up

How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization
By West, Diana

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2007 West, Diana
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312340483

Chapter One RISE OF THE TEEN AGE If a society is to preserve its stability and a degree of continuity, it must know how to keep its adolescents from imposing their tastes, attitudes, values, and fantasies on everyday life. —Eric Hoffer, 19731  Once, there was a world without teenagers. Literally. “Teenager,” the word itself, doesn’t pop into the lexicon much before 1941. This speaks volumes about the last few millennia. In all those many centuries, nobody thought to mention “teenagers” because there was nothing, apparently, to think of mentioning. In considering what I like to call “the death of the grown-up,” it’s important to keep a fix on this fact: that for all but this most recent episode of human history, there were children and there were adults. Children in their teen years aspired to adulthood; significantly, they didn’t aspire to adolescence. Certainly, adults didn’t aspire to remain teenagers. That doesn’t mean youth hasn’t always been a source of adult interest: Just think in five hundred years what Shakespeare, Dickens, the Brontës, Mark Twain,Booth Tarkington, Eugene O’Neill, and Leonard Bernstein have done with teen material. But something has changed. Actually, a lot of things have changed. For one thing, turning thirteen, instead of bringing children closer to an adult world, now launches them into a teen universe. For another, due to the permanent hold our culture has placed on the maturation process, that’s where they’re likely to find most adults. This generational intersection yields plenty of statistics. More adults, ages eighteen to forty-nine, watch the Cartoon Network than watch CNN.2 Readers as old as twenty-five are buying “young adult” fiction written expressly for teens.3 The average video gamester was eighteen in 1990; now he’s going on thirty.4 And no wonder: The National Academy of Sciences has, in 2002, redefined adolescence as the period extending from the onset of puberty, around twelve, to age thirty.5 The MacArthur Foundation has gone farther still, funding a major research project that argues that the “transition to adulthood” doesn’t end until age thirty-four.6 This long, drawn-out “transition” jibes perfectly with two British surveys showing that 27 percent of adult children striking out on their own return home to live at least once; and that 46 percent of adult couples regard their parents’ houses as their “real” homes.7 Over in Italy, nearly one in three thirty-somethings never leave that “real” home in the first place.8 Neither have 25 percent of American men, ages eighteen to thirty.9 Maybe this helps explain why about one-third of the fifty-six million Americans sitting down to watch SpongeBob SquarePants on Nickelodeon each month in 2002 were between the ages of eighteen and forty-nine.10 (Nickelodeon’s core demographic group is between the ages of six and eleven.) These are grown-ups who haven’t left childhood.
Then again, why should they? As movie producer and former Universal marketing executive Kathy Jones put it, “There isn’t any clear demarcation of what’s for parents and what’s for kids. We like the same music, we dress similarly.”11 How did this happen? When did this happen? And why? More than a little cultural detective work is required to answer these questions. It’s one thing to sift through the decades looking for clues; it’s quite another to evaluate them from a distance that is more than merely temporal. We have changed. Our conceptions of life have changed. Just as we may read with a detached noncomprehension how man lived under the divine right of monarchs, for example, it may be that difficult to relate to a time when the adolescent wasn’t king. About a hundred years ago, Booth Tarkington wrote Seventeen, probably the first novel about adolescence. Set in small-town America, the plot hinges on seventeen-year-old William Baxter’s ability to borrow, on the sly, his father’s dinner jacket, which the teenager wants to wear to impress the new girl in town. In other words, it’s not a pierced tongue or a tattoo that wins the babe: it’s a tuxedo. William dons the ceremonial guise of adulthood to stand out—favorably—from the other boys. That was then. These days, of course, father and son dress more or less alike, from message-emblazoned T-shirts to chunky athletic shoes, both equally at ease in the baggy rumple of eternal summer camp. In the mature male, these trappings of adolescence have become more than a matter of comfort or style; they reveal a state of mind, a reflection of a personality that hasn’t fully developed, and doesn’t want to—or worse, doesn’t know how. By now, the ubiquity of the mind-set provides cover, making it unremarkable, indeed, the norm. But there is something jarring in the everyday, ordinary sight of adults, full-grown men and women both, outfitted in crop tops and flip-flops, spandex and fanny packs, T-shirts, hip-huggers, sweatpants, and running shoes. And what’s with the captain of industry (Bill Gates), the movie mogul (Steven Spielberg), the president (Bill Clinton), the financier (Warren Buffet), all being as likely to walk out the door in a baseball cap as the Beave? The leading man (Leonardo DiCaprio) even wears it backward. “Though he will leave the hotel later with a baseball cap turned backwards . . . he is not so much the boy anmore,” The Washington Post observes of the thirty-year-old actor. No, not so much.12 If you’ve grown up with—or just grown with—the perpetual adolescent, you see nothing amiss in these familiar images. It is the mature look of men from Joe DiMaggio to FDR—the camel hair coats, the double-breasted suits, the fedoras—that seems only slightly less fantastic to the modern eye than lace-collared Elizabethan dandies. The image of man, particularly as it has been made indelible on the movie screen, has changed from when Cary Grant starred in The Philadelphia Story, or William Powell starred in anything. In an essay called “The Children Who Won’t Grow Up,” British sociology professor Frank Furedi sums up the difference. John Travolta nearly bust a gut being cute in Look Who’s Talking, while Robin Williams demonstrated he was adorable as Peter Pan in Hook. Tom Hanks is always cute—a child trapped in a man’s body in Big, and then Forrest Gump, the child-man that personifies the new virtues of infantilism.13 Such virtues require little effort besides dodging maturity. “I’m not old enough to be a ‘mister,’” goes the middle-aged refrain, a reflexive denial of the difference between old and young. This plaintive little protest is no throwaway line.
Rather, it’s a motto, even a prayer, that attests to our civilization’s near-religious devotion to perpetual adolescence. Such devotion is quickly caricatured in the adulation of the craggy rock star, age sixty-three, still singing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” But the desiccated oldster cavorting like the restless youngster is hardly the end of the phenomenon. In a world where distinctions between child and adult have eroded, giving rise to a universal mode of behavior more infantile than mature, Old Micks are no more prevalent than Baby Britneys—which is as good a name as any for the artless five-  or six-year-olds taught to orgasmo-writhe (à la poppette du jour), belly bare and buttocks wrapped like sausages. At one time, so sexually charged a display by a child would have appalled the adults around her; now, Baby Britneys—and they are legion—delight their elders, winning from them praise, Halloween candy, even Girl Scout music badges. What caused the change? Even now, the Baby Boom figures into any explanation of our cultural mentality. But before the first Boomers came of age, a tectonic shift in sensibilities was already taking place that the multitudes of adolescents in the making would later magnify, accelerate, and institutionalize. To make a snapshot case, consider the respective images of two screen goddesses that took shape on either side of World War II: Jean Harlow, the archetypal platinum blonde of the 1930s, and Marilyn Monroe, the definitive 1950s sexpot. While both women’s lives ended prematurely, Harlow from illness, Monroe from suicide, it is Monroe who lives on as the “icon” everlasting, the symbol of an industry to which her contributions are surprisingly limited. The salient point is this: Prewar Harlow, who began her career at age nineteen (and died at age twenty-six), never played anything but womanly roles. Prostitute, stage star, executive secretary, or social climber, she always projected an adult sensibility. Postwar Monroe, on the other hand, made a career out of exuding a breathy, helpless sexuality that, in spite of her mature age (she died at thirty-five), was consistently and relentlessly childlike. There’s a reason movie audiences were willing to redirect their screen idolatry from the younger femme fatale (emphasis on “femme”) to the older sex kitten (emphasis on “kitten”). That is, the sequential popularity of such actresses reflects more than a simple variation on a theme of blonde loveliness. Rather, it reflects a changing paradigm of womanhood itself, a shift that signifies, to borrow a phrase from the late Senator Moynihan, the dumbing down of sexuality, a force at the crux of the infantilizing process—and the sexual revolution to come. It came.
Instead of sifting through the rubble of the old social structure—blasted to bits, of course, as new sexual behaviors and attitudes volcanically emerged—let’s look at Baby Britney again. Some three decades after the sexual revolution, she rises from the ruins to symbolize the extent to which sexuality, particularly female sexuality, has been snatched from its traditional time and place in human development—as a rite of passage to adulthood, to marriage, to having children—and grafted onto girlhood, even toddlerhood, much to the regret of those among us who persist in costuming our wee ones on Halloween as cats, princesses, and cowgirls. Why the regret? Because not everyone has gone along with the new order. A sizable segment of the population still resists the pressure to transfer the milestones of maturity—including, besides sexuality, a large chunk of financial and other freedoms—to the very young. These are people who instinctively acknowledge differences between adults and children, and who harbor, maybe secretly, a nostalgic appreciation for the old-fashioned maturation process. Even as age has been eliminated from the aging process, they have a hunch that society has stamped out more than gray hair, smile lines, and cellulite. What has also disappeared is an appreciation for what goes along with maturity: forbearance and honor, patience and responsibility, perspective and wisdom, sobriety, decorum, and manners—and the wisdom to know what is “appropriate,” and when.  This is not to say that gray lives and blue noses offer the only anchors against the hedonistic currents of the times. There is a wide and complex range of experience—emotional, aesthetic, physical, mental, and spiritual—for which only the maturing human being is even eligible. Of this, of course, the immortal bards were well aware; today’s artists are numb to it. Etched onto our consciousnesses, in the universal shorthand of Hollywood and Madison Avenue, is the notion that life is either wild or boring; cool or uncool; unzipped or straitlaced; at least secretly licentious or just plain dead. And framing these stark and paltry choices for us is the same kind of black-and-white sermonizing that once preached milk-and-honey visions of heaven and fire-and-brimstone visions of hell. Instead of eternal salvation, of course, we now seek instant fulfillment; instead of damnation, we do anything it takes to avoid the deep, dark rut of middle-class convention. Or so we claim. That’s why, between the Very Beginning and Journey’s End, an important aspect of Middle Age has gone missing—the prime of “making a life.” The phrase is Lionel Trilling’s, the esteemed critic and English professor, who, in the shank of the 1960s, saw that this work of making a life, “once salient in Western culture,” as he put it, was effectively over. This act of conceiving of human existence, one’s own or another’s, as if it were a work of art that could be judged by established criteria, he wrote, “was what virtually all novels used to be about; how you were born, reared, and shaped, and then how you took over and managed for yourself as best you could. And cognate with the idea of making a life, a nicely proportioned one, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, was the idea of making a self, a good self.”14 We still, of course, have the beginning, but the middle only stretches on in a graceless vector that stops, one day, at an endpoint. Such a life is not, in Trilling’s words, nicely proportioned, but it is, as he shrewdly thought, propelled by a new cultural taboo against admitting personal limitation—one of the tribal beliefs that sets Baby Boomers apart from their parents. As Trilling could see, “If you set yourself to shaping a self, a life, you limit yourself to that self and that life.” And “limitation,” particularly to the perpetual adolescent, is bad. Copyright © 2007 by Diana West.
All rights reserved. 


Excerpted from The Death of the Grown-up by West, Diana Copyright © 2007 by West, Diana. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

DIANA WEST is a Washington Times op-ed columnist, syndicated by United Media, who has contributed to many other publications including the Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, New Criterion, Public Interest, Women's Quarterly and Washington Post Magazine. She has also written fiction for Atlantic Monthly. She currently lives in Washington, D.C.

Diana West is the author of The Death of the Grown-Up. She writes a syndicated column that appears in about 120 newspapers and online sites weekly, including the Washington Examiner,, and She is also an online contributor to Breitbart's BigPeace. Her work has appeared in many publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The New Criterion, and The Washington Post Magazine, and her fiction has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. She has made numerous television appearances as a CNN contributor to Lou Dobbs Tonight and Lou Dobbs This Week. West is also vice president of The International Free Press Society, and co-author of Shariah: The Threat to America, a book-length study by 19 national security experts including former CIA director James Woolsey and former US Attorney Andrew C. McCarthy.

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Death of the Grown-up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
SEAL76 More than 1 year ago
I was interested in this book because of my work. I have been a public school teacher for 30 years. Diana West hits on the major problem that is causing our society to fall apart and eventually fail. She sites examples of the complete lack of maturity and responsibility that is plauging this country. Adults should act like they grew up not just grew older. Her writing is clear and concise and from where I sit so truthful it is frightening. Parents who spend as much time playing video games as their children do and don't realize the damage they are doing are suffering from a serious flaw. Fathers and mothers who make sure that their children make every team practice, every game, every dance or drama lesson but don't check their children's homework are not a rarity.These same parents make it to every game or recital but can't find the time to come to parent conferences or Back to School Night. Diana West has put into words exactly what my fellow teachers and I see daily. Every teacher, administrator and parent should read this book. Perhaps then the changes that need to happen will start.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you have found yourself muttering about all the social change over your lifetime 'that you only dimly comprehend' this book lays out a compelling case citing causes and effects. If you are a Conservative, you will be in deligthed with the results. If you are a Liberal, you will be delighted - then alarmed. Ms. West's polemic lapses carelessly into the snide which detracts from the seriousness of her argument - she's a better writer than that. But it is well worth reading as it reminds you of how we may have arrived at where we are - both socially and politically. What she's addressing is a confusing and disturbing place where Liberals and Conservatives could actually agree on th facts if they could just stop being Liberals and Conservatives for more than a minute. In this, Ms. West is the first offender. But, hey, it' her book and very interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
dtfamily5 More than 1 year ago
There is so much to LIKE about this book. As someone who comes in at the end of the "Gen X" era, I find a resonance with the basic premise. For some crazy reason, we have accentuated the teen years and have moved away from taking children into adulthood. What I found distracting was the constant feel of "whining" and "pining" for the way things were. West finally gets us to some possible solutions, but I found the whining to be a bit shrill at times. It reminded me of times when I was growing up listening to my parents talk with old friends about the "good ol' days," complaining about my generation, all while I was sitting there with them. There are parts of West's book I thought, "Dear God, I'm becoming my parents!"
JHepp More than 1 year ago
This is not a childrens book. It is an essay on the state of society today, now that teenagers have taken over leadership and direction. It follows some of the same comments made by the historian Lewis Mumford in his classic text "The Myth of the Machine" published 40 years ago.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago