How America grew bored with love


EXCERPT: In 2014, the "Journal of Advertising Research" published a study documenting an odd decline in references to love throughout popular music. The word had fallen below phrases such as “good time” and epithets such as the N-word on the list of most commonly sung terms in the chart topping hits of the 2000s. [...] The only four letter word impermissible in hip-hop is “love.” Sexuality is primarily a means of misogynistic conquest; committed bonds of affection are not worthy of pursuit. Film is equally sterile and chaste.

[...Esquire and The Washington Post...] articles attribute the lack of interest in love ... to shifting social mores that now render the “clichés” of the boy-meets-girl movie “offensive.” [...] cultural critics deconstruct popular love stories ... reimagining them as predatory tales of women surrendering to sexual harassment. ... Any heterosexual male attempt at seduction is now ... a perpetuation of “society’s unprogressive cultural expectations regarding gender roles.” Even nonsexual expressions of genuine feeling arouse anger. ...

[...] The Esquire report identifies a generational transformation, citing how Millennials are the least likely to listen to love songs or watch love stories on the screen. Indifference to romance explains why young Americans are dating less, having sex less, and delaying marriage longer than any previous generation.

As an instructor at a small university, I am continually shocked by the languid sterility of the contemporary college classroom. Most of the young men and women wear sweat pants and moccasins, rarely speak, and spend more time looking at their phones than each other. My observations might seem contradictory, but they actually complement studies of how college students who are sexually active are increasingly dissatisfied, claiming that they do not enjoy sex because it is the province of an increasingly vulgar and transactional “hookup culture.”

[...] Sociologist Lisa Wade spent five years studying “hookup culture,” and her conclusions are as weird as they are disturbing. “There’s a dichotomy between meaningless and meaningful sex, and students have to go out of their way to ‘perform meaninglessness,’” according to an NPR summary of Wade’s findings. “They have to prove that they’re not emotionally attached to their sex partners, and in fact that they care less than the other person.” An airport kiss between two reunited lovers [...] must seem like the unintelligible language of aliens to a generation who, according to Wade, “only have sex with partners they’re not interested in” because they consider genuine feeling the most obscene offense against their idea of “cool.”

Eventually, America may begin to resemble Japan, where one third of young people enter their 30s without any sexual experience. Psychologists and other theorists blame many things for the American withdrawal from sex and love: the suffocating influence of the smartphone, emotional immaturity and fragility, and fixation on career to the extent that everything else is an irksome distraction. But all of those culprits, while relevant, seem symptomatic of a more radical problem. Perhaps America is a culture ill equipped for love.

Erich Fromm, a Jewish psychologist and philosopher ... wrote ... “Our whole culture ... is based on an appetite for buying.” As a result, most people think of love only as an acquisition—how can they be loved—rather than learning how to love another. [...] Writing in 1956, Fromm eerily predicted the “disintegration of love in Western Culture [...] The West, and especially its cultural leader the United States, was becoming an “alienated culture of success” in which “life has no goal except the one to move, no principle except the one of fair exchange, no satisfaction except the one to consume.”

Fromm’s four factors essential for the cultivation and maintenance of love—discipline, concentration, patience, and supreme concern—suffer assault in such a culture. Love is also “dependent on the relative absence of narcissism,” and therefore “requires the development of humility, objectivity, and reason.” Where exactly in America do children and adolescents witness examples of patience, humility, and the rejection of narcissism? When will they observe a celebration of those qualities, considering that the dominant culture not only denies Fromm’s virtues, but reward egoism, selfishness, and crudity of expression and attitude?

Quote:When will they observe a celebration of those qualities, considering that the dominant culture not only denies Fromm’s virtues, but reward egoism, selfishness, and crudity of expression and attitude?

When they get married and have kids.

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