The abdication of the duty to grow up
Friday, May 20, 2011
Welcome to the land of the freeloaders and the home of the depraved. No image captures America’s regressive ethos better than that of 30-year-old Stanley Thornton Jr., self-proclaimed “Adult Baby.” Profiled on a recent National Geographic reality-television show, Thornton claims to suffer from a bizarre infantilism that leads him to wear diapers, lounge around in an oversized crib, and seek constant coddling.
The nappies may be extreme, but let’s face it: Thornton Jr. — let’s just call him Junior — is a symptom of our Nanny State run amok, not an anomaly.
Junior came to Washington’s attention this week when Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) challenged the Social Security Administration to probe into how the baby-bottle-guzzling, 350-pound man qualified for federal disability benefits. A former security guard, Junior is handy enough to have crafted his own wooden high chair and playpen.
Junior can drive a car and has sense enough not to go out in public in his XXL footie pajamas. Yet, welfare administrators treat him as an incurable dependent. Also collecting taxpayer-subsidized paychecks: Thornton’s adult roommate, a former nurse, who has indulged Thornton’s baby role-playing for the past decade.
Junior, naturally, threw a tantrum when his government teat-sucking was called into question. He wiped his nose and un-balled his fists long enough to type out an e-mail to the Washington Times: “You wanna test how damn serious I am about leaving this world, screw with my check that pays for this apartment and food. Try it. See how serious I am. I don’t care,” Junior threatened. “I have no problem killing myself. Take away the last thing keeping me here, and see what happens. Next time you see me on the news, it will be me in a body bag.”
Not from nowhere has this stubborn, self-destructive sense of entitlement sprung. As I reported last month, a record-breaking 12 million Americans have been added to the federal food-stamp rolls over the past two years, and the bloated $6 billion AmeriCorps social-justice army has been converted into a publicist corps for the welfare machine.
Just this week, a Michigan man boasted that he’s still collecting food stamps after winning a $2 million government-sponsored lottery prize. “If you’re going to . . . try to make me feel bad, you aren’t going to do it,” he told a local TV reporter. Embedded in his rebuke is the eternal refrain of the self-esteem-puffed teenager: “You can’t judge me!”
Diana West, author of The Death of the Grown-Up, traced the modern abdication of adulthood to the Baby Boomer generation. “The common compass of the past — the urge to grow up and into long pants; to be old enough to dance at the ball (amazingly enough, to the music adults danced to); to assume one’s rights and responsibilities — completely disappeared” after World War II. A culture of behavioral restraint gave way to “anything goes” and morphed into the current generation’s “whatever” attitude.
Look around: Junior’s infantilism is of a piece with the refusal of celebrity mothers Dina Lohan and Tish Cyrus to act like parents — and instead serve as best friends and tattoo-parlor pals for their wayward daughters Lindsay and Miley. They’re the kind of women who shop at Forever 21, buy beer for their daughters’ prom parties, and give them Botox certificates for high-school graduation.
Junior’s penchant for pajamas is of a piece with the perpetually stunted Hugh Hefner’s fetish for velvet robes and self-indulgent decadence, 24/7. Junior’s giant playpen is a cringe-inducing symbol of the Farmville-tethered, “funemployed” class of self-gratifiers who continue to live for today and spend like there’s no tomorrow.
Adult Baby Syndrome isn’t an isolated pathology. It’s the new American Way. Or, I should say, the new American Wahhhhh.