Get a life


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You can’t have the world. You’re not Captain America. You’re nobody’s hero. Your family, if you have one, can do without your income. Your girlfriend, if you have one, doesn’t find you emotionally or intellectually stimulating because “mass effect” isn’t in her vocabulary. Your job is mindless, you trade real-life interactions for video games, and you’re only getting older.

Noah Baumbach’s sixth feature-length film, Greenberg, starring Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig, is about an almost middle-age man who applies to the majority of those statements. He is 41, doesn’t have a job, was left by his girlfriend because of his inability to cope with life, and walks around telling people that he is “doing nothing and [is] tied to no one.” This is not the first film to explore this breed of men, culturally titled the omega male.

Check out any of Judd Apatow’s films. The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, to name two, star men that are stuck in an arrested development. Wes Anderson is the king of movies about men that are emotionally stunted and going nowhere in life (see The Royal Tenenbaums, Bottle Rocket, The Life Aquatic). So what has caused this recent deluge of films about guys who just can’t get it together?

Perhaps it is indicative of the financial crisis.

More men are losing jobs around the country than their wives (perhaps because their jobs have higher salaries and more benefits). The most recent unemployment figures show that 10 percent of men are unemployed, while 8 percent of women are out of work. As writer Jessica Grose points out, there are television shows such as “The Pacific” and “Mad Men” that are all about men fighting for something and being on the top of their game. They are providers, defenders, and in control.

Cut to 2010, and this isn’t really the case anymore.

I’ll be the first to say that women are still getting the short end of the stick in terms of salaries or wages. After all, women are paid 77 cents on the dollar to men in the same position, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity. But it is true that men are no longer on top in the working world or the family. It would seem that men in a certain generation have been led to believe that they are going to be something when they grow up that just doesn’t exist anymore.

Maybe it is deeper than that. It can be said the men in Anderson films are merely experiencing existential crisis. For example, Anthony (Bottle Rocket) and Chas (The Royal Tenenbaums) are both white men from an elite economic class. They have time to worry about what it all means because they don’t have (or need) jobs. Chas doesn’t have to let his kids grow up because he can afford to be with them 24/7. Feelings of inadequacy and purposelessness emerge.

And it is almost universally exclusive to men. The majority of the women in Anderson films are adults with jobs and purpose (see Anjelica Huston). Same with the minorities (see Danny Glover and Lumi Cavazos). In the Apatow films, the men are forced to grow up because they meet women or have babies. Even in Funny People, we see a guy who has everything material he could ever want but is incapable of making real relationships, thus bringing about his misery.

So what is going on? Part of me wonders if these omega males are measuring their happiness by things that society deems important.

Perhaps you don’t need to love your job. A biological imperative to propagating the species isn’t really necessary in practical terms, so family doesn’t need to be paramount. Personally, I think it’s a bit pointless without passion and real relationships, but what do I know? I may just be a product of my environment.

But these films seem to agree. Without meaning and someone to share that meaning with, your life doesn’t amount to much — so say Anderson, Apatow, and Baumbach.

I’m not sure where this movement/genre will lead, but it is an interesting trend to point out. Maybe the men in the audience can give some feedback on whether these films represent them.

But the omega male lacks agency, purpose, and connections. So I doubt he’ll take the time to respond to this.

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