Sunday, February 23, 2014

Don Jon and the 'Demise of Guys'

I’m a fan of independent movies.  They don’t offer the escapist relief from daily drudgery that many
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Don Jon
mainstream movies do.  But, they challenge your thinking and sometimes your sensibilities in ways that mainstream movies don’t.

Recently, we watched a movie written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  TV buffs may remember him playing the youngest son on the hit series Third Rock from the Sun.  Since then, he’s demonstrated a broader range as an actor is such films as 50/50 and (500) Days of Summer.

His new movie, Don Jon, is a disturbing portrait.  Playing the title role, Mr. Gordon-Levitt also narrates the proceedings.  An avid fan of Internet pornography, his character confesses – or perhaps brags – that he would rather watch porn than have sex with a real woman. 

We’re so out of touch with what goes on outside our tidy suburban existence that we didn’t know what to make of it.  So, we forgot about it.

A few days later, I was poking at and came across a short talk titled “The Demise of Guys”.  The speaker, Phil Zimbardo, is a past professor of psychology at Stanford University and a past president of the American Psychological Association.

He outlines his case by citing statistics.  Girls outperform boys at every level of education.  Boys are more likely to drop out, more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and more likely to be spending their time in front of a flat screen than with other boys. 

“Boys’ brains are being digitally rewired for change, novelty, excitement and constant arousal,” claims Zimbardo.  “That means they’re totally out of sync in traditional classes, which are analog, static, interactively passive.”

He doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to say that young men watch Internet porn an average of 50 times per week.  It seems they would rather watch porn than run the risk of having to relate to a real woman.

By now, I am beginning to think of Don Jon as a documentary not a work of fiction.

But, Zimbardo offers no solutions, just observations.  For solutions, I turn to David Altshuler.  David helps students and their families prepare for and apply to colleges.  A former teacher, he also holds advanced degrees in educational psychology.

Writing in his blog, David poses two alternative realities.  In one, parents spend time showing their young children how to create something edible in the kitchen, enjoy a day at the park or throw a Frisbee with the family dog.  They make messes, get dirty, get bitten by bugs and overhear adults utter a four-letter word from time to time. 

In the alternate reality, parents plant their children in front of the flat screen TV where they can watch shows about cooking, pets and nature.  No mess, no bother.

I am beginning to see a connection between the Frisbee and Don Jon. 

Lest you think that David’s theory is a bit melodramatic, he draws parallels between the flat screen watchers and an experiment performed by Harry Harlow.  Harlow was a psychologist famous for his experiments on social isolation.  Using rhesus monkeys as his subjects, he raised a generation of them in cages with no contact with others of their species.  Their behavior turned psychotic.  Moreover, they were irredeemable. 

As I said at the outset, we sometimes feel as though we are out of touch and, indeed, we have not had the experience of raising a child in the 21st Century.  In the pre-smartphone era when the twins were young, we were anti-Disney.  We went on hikes, took ski trips, went white water rafting and spent hours in boats not catching fish.
Peter Calia on the bow and brother Dan, both age 12

Kids need the experience of scraping a knee, breaking a bone, contracting poison ivy and occasionally failing at something to grow up to be healthy adults.  That experience doesn’t come from connecting to friends via an electronic device.  Boys have a need to be with other boys.  It’s in their DNA – sports teams, clubs, even hanging out watching the game.  It’s Darwinian.  Kings who couldn’t raise armies lost their thrones.  Those who didn’t join armies lost their homes.

My posts to this blog usually focus on institutional LEADERSHIP.  But, parents are LEADERS too.  If you are a busy parent, it’s got to be tough to find the time to get your youngsters out of the house to experience nature or join their friends in an unsupervised activity.

But, it’s necessary to raise adults capable of healthy relationships and good citizenship.



  1. I like the blog. I can't help but chuckle on your movement from porn to your final point. I guess it correlates, but I don't think it's really porn alone as that is just one of thousands of addictions that come about through the temptations of alternate realities the internet brings. The problem I see is when the internet and social media are used more to communicate than physical dialogue. Us old timers fight it, but even hiring the 20 something's, there is a huge difference. Where they lack in social skills they make up for in problem solving. We reap what we sow I guess ....

    Peter A. Calia

  2. Jason G. Ramage, MS, MBA, RBP I think people, both men and women, are losing their ability to interact with one another in the real world. Such heavy reliance on email, texting, Facebook, etc. (not sure if LinkedIn can be lumped into the same category as Facebook; I think not) has dampened people's interpersonal skills. Observe any gathering of two or more people at any restaurant (and this includes families) and all too often, everyone is absorbed in his/her electronic device and ignoring everyone else at the table.

  3. Karen VanAssche
    Customer and Inventory Database Administrator at Detroit Public Library
    Top Contributor

    Very interesting, John. How would homeschooling fit into that, considering that the kids don't interact in a learning or social environment with peers?

  4. I would say that home schooling may be a great method to avoid toxic school environments. However, I would concerned that the absence of socialization may be detrimental in the long term. Sooner or later we all have to learn to cope with dysfunction in society. How does a parent of a home schooled child provide the tools to do so?

  5. Karen VanAssche
    Customer and Inventory Database Administrator at Detroit Public Library
    Top Contributor

    Yep that would be one of my concerns as well. Also, what about sports and clubs? Not every town has local little leagues. There is a K-12 online school that advertises around here all the time and says that the kid does much better in his classes online. It also says he participates in activities, they don't say what activities, when, where, or with whom. It made me quite curious.

  6. Delton Brazell
    Consultant- Owner Ranger Technology Corporation

    My wife and I weren't home schoolers, but we have several friends who are (were). We learned from them that most homeschooling parents are members of various co-ops in their communities that afford their kids the social networks that we all see as necessary. Additionally, at least in Texas, public schools are allowed to accept home schooled students into extracurricular activities at the public school unless the activity is UIL sanctioned. In those cases, some activities would be out of reach at this time.
    Homeschooling isn't for everybody, but dedicated parents can ensure their children a quality education free of the more undesirable elements of public schools.
    For more information about Texas homeschooling and how it might parallel other states, you can visit the Texas Home School Coalition at It's decidedly Christian based, but informative.

  7. Diane Marcus
    Essential Business Etiquette, Owner

    As a former teacher, these statistics would be very helpful to schools. They could also be presented at PTA meetings. Young people benefit from sports, music, clubs and church groups as well. Thanks for this very well written article!

  8. We are definitely raising a society lacking interpersonal skills. On a recent family outing, we were once again the more boisterous table. We spent out time together, catching up, laughing, telling stories, giving each other grief, the way we have. I remember walking to get a refill on my soda, looking around the restaurant and a sense of sadness came over me. There were so many families there who were sitting at the same table, yet they weren't talking to each other. Mom, Dad, kids, all had their cell phones out and were on them. Families don't even talk in cars now. Remember how wonderful road trips were, the license plate game, punch buggy, I spy, laughing at all the South of the Border signs. Even this family bonding time seems to be gone. So many cars we pass on our way to the beach where they have dvds playing. It is sad.. and no wonder the guy can't figure out how to talk to a girl, he never learned to talk to his mom.
    Great article. It made me think, which is a fantastic gift on a snowy day!!