A. O. Scott, the chief movie critic of The New York Times has written an intriguing essay for the paper’s magazine, in which he suggests that the fates of various high profile television characters including Don Draper, Walter White and Tony Soprano reflect not only the exhaustion of the patriarchy, but also, perhaps, “the death of adulthood in American culture.” You will want to read the whole thing to get a sense of what he is saying and what he isn’t. But here is a taste:
The monstrousness of these men was inseparable from their charisma, and sometimes it was hard to tell if we were supposed to be rooting for them or recoiling in horror. We were invited to participate in their self-delusions and to see through them, to marvel at the mask of masculine competence even as we watched it slip or turn ugly. Their deaths were (and will be) a culmination and a conclusion: Tony, Walter and Don are the last of the patriarchs.
In suggesting that patriarchy is dead, I am not claiming that sexism is finished, that men are obsolete or that the triumph of feminism is at hand. I may be a middle-aged white man, but I’m not an idiot. In the world of politics, work and family, misogyny is a stubborn fact of life. But in the universe of thoughts and words, there is more conviction and intelligence in the critique of male privilege than in its defense, which tends to be panicky and halfhearted when it is not obtuse and obnoxious. The supremacy of men can no longer be taken as a reflection of natural order or settled custom.
This slow unwinding has been the work of generations. For the most part, it has been understood — rightly in my view, and this is not really an argument I want to have right now — as a narrative of progress. A society that was exclusive and repressive is now freer and more open. But there may be other less unequivocally happy consequences. It seems that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.
Agree or disagree with its conclusions, but the essay is a sweeping joyride/jeremiad on American popular and literary culture in an era that Scott suggests is coming to a close.