Earlier this summer, the blockbuster movie Ted opened to bring in an amazing $54 million, one of the best opening weekends ever for an R-rated comedy. Distributing company Universal Pictures believes the film could bring in as much as $200 million in the U.S. alone. Ted is the story of a 35 year-old man-child named John Bennett, played by six-pack hunk Mark Wahlberg, whose best friend is a garbage-talking teddy bear named Ted. Of course the perpetually adolescent Bennett has a beautiful girlfriend named Lori Collins (played by Mila Kunis) whom Bennett has been dating a mere four years. (I have not seen Ted).
The plot of Ted is really nothing new. Ted is just one more on a long list of movies where the male character never grows up and behaves like a confused junior high student. Wahlberg’s character seems to be most happy just hanging out on the couch with his talking teddy bear Ted, smoking pot and watching old sci-fi TV shows from the ‘80s. Scene after scene depicts this juvenile behavior. At one point in the film, an exasperated Lori (Kunis) protests, I need a man, not a little boy with a teddy bear. The message of the movie, however, seems to be that it is really preferable to stay in adolescence.
Ted has lots of good company. Films abound that make us laugh at men who refuse to embrace maturity, work hard to flee from responsibility, tend to think with their genitals, abuse drugs and alcohol, avoid the commitment of marriage, and are so inept that they have a hard time getting through life. Going back to the ‘70s and ‘80s we need only think of movies like Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes, Dumb & Dumber, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. More recently films such as Knocked Up, The Hangover, Steve Carell’s The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Will Ferrell in Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Wedding Crashers tell us that the genre is alive and well.
So why are films like Ted so popular and appealing? Well, for starters, they are often really funny, even if inappropriately so. Recently, I was asked by a friend what my all-time favorite film was. Without hesitation, and without thinking, I blurted out, School of Rock (Jack Black). School of Rock made me laugh. (I also liked the music.) But the allure of these films is greater than simple humor. Often times they reinforce stereotypes of male angst and provide a plausibility structure for continued adolescence.
In addition to simply being funny, these films point to a deeper problem in our culture and in the current male psyche. The sociological culprits that feed the material for these films are many. Currently, there is a larger percentage of 25-34 year old males still living at home with their parents than ever before. Think of Failure to Launch. It’s one example of a film where this theme is the foundation of the plot. Yes, the economy is crummy. Yes, feminism may have emasculated some men. Sadly, though, it seems that many chronologically adult men prefer perpetual adolescence, subsisting on a steady diet of video games and mom’s cooking.
Psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo, professor emeritus at Stanford University, and Nikita Duncan, artist and psychologist, have written an intriguing article called, The Demise of Guys: How Video Games and Porn Are Ruining a Generation.The article points out that the use of video games and online porn is so damaging that it is creating a generation of risk-adverse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school, and employment. Essentially, they are unable to grow up and they remain content to hang out on the couch with Ted.
Zimbardo and Duncan suggest that,
. . . we are in a national, and perhaps global, Guy Disaster Mode that needs to be noticed and solutions advanced to fix a totally novel phenomenon, which will only increase in intensity and breadth without the concerted efforts of educators, gamemakers, parents, guys and gals. It’s time to press play and get started reversing these trends.
The lure of remaining immature is not only due to a variety of cultural and social factors but may be reinforced by behaviors that rewire the brain, encouraging a man-child lifestyle. Zimbardo and Duncan continue,
Young men – who play video games and use porn the most – are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation. And those delicate, developing brains are being catered to by video games and porn-on-demand, with a click of the mouse, in endless variety.
So what is a young man to do in a culture in which immaturity is all the rage and is replete with sports heroes, political leaders, and rock stars who have an arrested development that stagnates somewhere between Junior High and freshman frat boy? Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald said at one point, Being a grown-up, mature, is a terribly hard thing to do. It is easier to skip it and go from one childhood to another. It appears that a large number of young males have decided to do just that and hop from one childhood to another.
For the Christian man, sitting on the couch with Ted should never be an option. There is a consistent cry in the New Testament for believers to press on to spiritual maturity and grow up into a full relationship with Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:1-2, 13:11, Ephesians 4:13-14, Colossians 1:28, 2:6, Hebrews 6:1) While spiritual maturity and social maturity are not identical, often there is an overlap between the two. It is difficult to grow in spiritual maturity while remaining a cultural adolescent.
One of the pernicious contemporary myths that needs debunking is that adolescence is more fun than maturity. I write as one who loves a good time. I am an enthusiastic participant in the next volleyball game, backpacking trip, bike ride, or surf trip. Invite me to a BBQ (I’m a vegetarian so please be sensitive), or for that matter any party, and I am often the first to arrive and the last to leave. Vacations are sacred and I have enough dreams and plans to keep me busy until I am about 200 years old. But the greatest joys in my life have been steadily growing in my relationship with Christ, being married to the same wonderful woman for 39 years, raising two daughters, going to work every day, leading a church for 33 years, and mowing the lawn on Saturdays (after a bike ride or surfing).
I am calling Christian men to be just this: men who grow out of childish behavior and mind sets and press on to spiritual and personal maturity. Get off the couch and leave Ted to play the video games by himself. Let me offer a few concrete suggestions.
1. Be intentional about an adult male mentor-discipler. Spend time with an adult male who is mature and loves Jesus. Ask questions. Imitate him.
2. Be intentional about getting married. Yes, marriage can be difficult, but it sure beats eating day old pizza while playing video games with Ted. Search for a woman (there are lots of them out their) who you can love and built a life and family with. Learn to be committed to her for the next, 60 or so years. Find a good woman and you will not be sorry.
3. Be intentional about making babies. Yes, you read this correctly. Children are about the best thing since . . . well a surfing trip to Indo, or hiking the John Muir Trail. Plus it is a lot of fun trying to make them. If making babies is a physical difficulty then adopt. Marriage and children are the best safeguard to keep you from becoming an unalterably selfish old man. They will make you more like Jesus.
4. Be intentional in laughing (mocking?) a silly culture that portrays immaturity as attractive. It is a joke. Let’s just name it for what it is.