Rob Gronkowski: The American Male As Pet

by Persius Juvenalis
File under: Fake Culture01 Mar 2015 19:00 EST

In this age of foreign intervention, radical domestic policy, and deep social instability, it's only natural for Americans to long for the hallmarks of a quietly disappearing bourgeoisie: mom, football, and apple pie. 

This is the cultural niche inhabited by Rob Gronkowski, a member of the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots and self-promoted cultural icon. 

It's hard to hate Rob, or "Gronk", but only in the same trivial way it's hard to hate a husky Labrador Retriever: he's big, can go fetch balls, and amuses us with his ridiculous antics


Clearly, only a real misanthrope can find major fault with such a light-hearted, uncontroversial public figure. 

So let it be known that, rather than bearing any personal malice against this big-hearted dope, we only wish to point out how the culturally ideal young American male of the early 21st century is more of a pet than a man. 

First, let's consider his upbringing. Rob is the fourth of five Gronkowski brothers, members of a very normal middle class family living outside Buffalo, NY.

If you have spent any time in the respectable middle of American society, you have probably met a family like this. The father, after losing his athletic ambitions to injury, undertook the deliberate training of the boys as athletes. Mother sacrificed herself to the full-time job of preparing, feeding, and transporting the boys to their various athletic engagements. According to ESPN, this was a rather all-consuming task:

Diane Gronkowski's full-time job was keeping the two freezers and refrigerator in the garage and the main fridge in the kitchen stocked with hearty meals for her five sons with bottomless appetites. They blew threw two six-pound bags of Sahlen's hot dogs for a snack, then an hour later were clamoring for dinner.

Robbie played football, hockey, basketball and baseball, often devouring his meals in the car between practices. Diane would cook his favorite, chicken soufflé, cover it in foil, throw a fork and knife in the back of the van, then serve it to him after football -- en route to hockey.

Some early morning skates often came before 5 a.m., so to save time Rob's mom showered the night before and slept in her clothes.

"It was the best chance I had of getting them there all on time," she explained.

Once in a while, one of her older sons would remember to thank her. But not Robbie. Never Robbie.

"He was always tough on me," Diane Gronkowski said. "Of the five of them, he gave me the hardest time. He was always pushing, always challenging."

Looking at the pictures of the Gronkowskis, and considering their socio-economic background, one might expect this situation to have been entirely reversed a few generations back. Rather than having their mother exhaust herself to accommodate an insane athletic training schedule, the boys would be keen to participate in adult life as soon as possible, using their youthful energy to work, study, or otherwise help around the house. And, naturally, this would also be the expectation of their mother, who would be more interested in having useful, helpful sons than potentially famous ones. 

But the Gronkowski boys are not sons: they are pets. Given such an upbringing, they could never have possibly formed a concept of themselves as future adult males: citizens, fathers, members of a community. Instead, a kind of socially conditioned autism was cultivated, a singular focus on the fulfillment of unrealized parental dreams. 

Childhood has an end date, but the state of being a pet is permanent. We train pets and keep them around for our own amusement  they are never meant to develop anywhere beyond what serves our interests. We even spay and neuter them to prevent them from returning to their natural roles in the reproductive cycle of nature. Perhaps that has implications for the decidedly infertile hook-up culture of the young male today...

"But you can't deny that the Gronkowskis have been successful. Three of the five boys are currently in the NFL, and one is famous!"

This is true, but only because society at large also prefers its young men as pets. The ESPN article concludes: 

Rob Gronkowski is only 22 years old. He is an NFL star, a marketing dream, the best Gronk of them all.

But mostly, he's still just a big kid who loves his mom, playing football and having a blast.

Custody of this big kid has been turned over from his doting mother to a fan base vicariously living out their wish fulfillment of perpetual puerile irresponsibility through him, even as they slave away through the joyless work-camp of modern American life. We football fans are now the overworked parents of Gronk's life, supporting his state of perpetual boyishness so that we ourselves can indulge sentimental notions of endless boyhood. 

This boyish element to his public character has been noted in much of the media coverage surrounding Rob. The public seems to demand to see him as a 25 year old boy coming home to mom for dinner after football practice: the Patriots even published one of Mama Gronk's favorite recipies on its website. This kind of public attention drawn in the direction of one's mother would be incredibly embarrassing for most men, but it is vital that Gronk remind the public of his ongoing pet status. 

Public stunts of various sorts also assure the public of its status as surrogate Gronkowski parent: 

"Stop it now, boys!"

"Robbie, that girl's no good for you, Robbie!"

"Now that's not nice..."

You get the point. On the one hand, we wish to discipline and chide these stars for amoral hedonism, but on the other, we wish that we could switch roles, and become the irresponsible perpetual boy wonder again rather than the stunned, worn-out pet-keeper. 

Mutual corruption, mutual dependence upon the undependable: the generational story of our day. 

As a counter-model, you might consider the prairie family of Dwight Eisenhower, the third of seven brothers. The Eisenhowers would have been roughly the same social-economic class as the Gronkowskis, with a similar household atmosphere of restless male youth. Yet their most famous boy went on to be one of the most fatherly of all American figures, one still detested for his social conservatism by Baby Boomers everywhere. 

You might say that the providing, protecting, fatherly model of Eisenhower gave rise to the entitled "pet" culture of the Boomers, who have passed it on to its logical endpoint. But regardless, now is not the time to figure out who to blame, but rather who will undertake the responsibility to take us out of our current social shambles.

Young men would normally be the first candidates to solve major problems. Historically, they fight wars, found new enterprises, and start families — defending their heritage and shaping their future. 

Today, our most prized young men are entirely useless people — athletes and entertainers — without any interest in becoming the backbone of any kind of society. Yet they still form an example which millions of people admire and try to emulate. "Courage" is not a common word in corporate Newspeak, yet Rob Gronkowski recently received an award for this quality, apparently demonstrated by his recovering from an injury. Even somebody as seemingly insignificant as Gronk still indicates social hopes and aspirations. 

It is clear that the American male still wishes to be powerful, loved, and respected — somehow. It is not clear if he still believes in the reality of any of these concepts, or just their simulation in play. 

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