Remember when men were men and not overgrown boys?

Gary Cross, a Penn State University historian, wonders, “Where have all the men gone?” His book, Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity, argues that “the culture of the boy-men today is less a life stage than a lifestyle.” If you wonder what has become of manliness, he says, note the differences between Cary Grant and Hugh Grant, the former, dapper and debonair, the latter, a perpetually befuddled boy.

Permissive parenting, Cross says, made children less submissive, and the decline of deference coincided with the rise of consumer and media cultures celebrating the indefinite retention of the tastes and habits of childhood. The opening of careers to talented women has coincided with the attenuation of male role models in popular culture: In 1959, there were 27 Westerns on prime-time television glamorizing male responsibility…

All this led to “ambiguity and confusion about what fathers were to do in the postwar home and, even more, about what it meant to grow up male.” Playboy magazine, a harbinger of perpetual adolescence, sold trinkets for would-be social dropouts: “Join the beat generation! Buy a beat generation tieclasp.” Think about that.