Addendum: Check out my Review of Hilarity Ensues
It’s never fun to watch your heroes fall. I have zero shame in admitting that, for many years, Tucker Max was a hero to me.
At the age of 20, when I first came across Max’s website, I was already a hard-drinking, skirt-chasing asshole. I didn’t need someone to teach me that those choices were OK.
But at that point in my life, I had stopped reading, stopped writing, and in a lot of ways, stopped thinking. I was living an unexamined life, largely because that’s just what a cool guy does in college. Life was fun, but I was incomplete.
At a first glance, Tucker Max had some funny stories. As I read more though, I noticed that they were peppered with references to literature, history and science. Slipped in behind all the stories, was a reading list that kept me busy for the better part of a semester, and reawakened a habit – compulsive reading – that has benefited my life more than any other.
I had already figured out that I didn’t need to apologize to anyone for being an asshole. But I hadn’t realized that I didn’t need to be ashamed of having intellectual interests. Ironically, Tucker Max didn’t teach me that it was OK to get drunk and hook up. He taught me it was OK to read books that weren’t in my course syllabi and write for my school paper. For that influence, I will always be grateful, regardless of what the man has become, or will become.
But let’s take a step back, and consider the recent twist that Tucker Max’s career and outlook appears to be taking.
From 2002 until 2008 or so, Tucker Max was a cult hero to millions of college-aged American men. He achieved this status by writing stories about his adventures as an asshole completely unconcerned with the feelings and expectations of those around him. Who are the interesting characters in this story?
Tucker Max’s answer is that he is. Hence, psychotherapy, introspection, and ruminations on how his alcoholic mother and absentee father lead him to lead the life he did.
But explanations that centre around the experiences and characteristics of Tucker Max ignore the real story: The legions of young men who followed him. Did they all have absentee fathers, etc, as well? No? Then perhaps the Tucker Max phenomenon is better explained in broader terms – what is it about our culture that made Tucker Max a star?
– Why are Millennial men so eager to jettison society’s expectations of them?
– Why are they spending their early twenties in a haze of boozing, partying, chasing slutty girls, becoming pick-up artists, and playing video games?
– How would Tucker Max have been received in virtually any culture outside of early 21st-century America? What is it about the present that makes us uniquely receptive to an ethos of nihilistic hedonism?
These are big questions. Tucker Max 2.0 doesn’t seem to be interested in them. And that’s fine, I suppose. I wish him all the best, with his yoga and psychotherapy. It’s just disappointing to see that one of the first distinct voices to truly speak to the young men of the 21st century is putting down his pen.