Thursday, September 06, 2007

Details Mag: Kids as the Ultimate Status Symbol

As much as I might like to ding the trend-spotters at the New York Times and elsewhere that love to blow up their personal observations into Major Cultural Watersheds, you have to get up pretty early to out-silly the glossy magazines. A rule of thumb: the more advertising you have to flip through to get to the table of contents, the more vapid the analyses.

Case in point: Details has taken on what it calls Fatherhood 2.0, with a whole package on being daddy. Much of it is clearly aimed at rich, dumb guys with poor self-esteem. The lead story in the package is about how huge broods are now the ultimate status symbol, and though they get bonus points for throwing at at-home dad in there (who manages to support none of the article's points, which is a good thing), it's largely a work of fiction.

The package goes on to suggest picking schools based on your ability to make good social connections and talking up your family -- to a point -- to better climb the corporate ladder. (This last point is actually backed up by good data. It is one of the more frustrating facts about gender equity that while parenthood does terrible things to the perception of women in the workplace, it boosts the prospects of fathers.) And there is a story -- not included online -- that makes the tired, anti-Alternadad point that we are no hipper than our own fathers, even if we're putting Ramones T-shirts on our kids.

All of this misses the point in a huge way. Kids themselves are not the status symbols. It's the ability spending time with the kids that leads to the boost in status.  Trust me, the marketers are figuring this out. And the get-over-yourself commentary on hip dads also shows a failure to understand what the whole hip dad trend is about: we have a generation of men who are playing a larger role than ever in fatherhood, so the question of how to maintain our identity through that is not just some parlor game. What's remarkable about Neil Pollack is not that he's occassionally high around his kid. It's that he's around his kid, period. *That's* Fatherhood 2.0.

(I should probably note that Details is alone among national publications over the past few years in sending a reporter to cover at the At-Home Dad Convention. While the article didn't win any NMAs, they do get credit for showing up.)

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