The Land of the Large Adult Son (2024)

The President has called Donald Trump, Jr., pictured here with his brother Eric, a “good boy.” He embodies an Internet meme that once seemed purely amusing.Photograph by Joe Kohen / Getty

In January, 2015, shortly after Mike Huckabee announced that he wasexploring a second bid for the Presidency, a Twitter user with thehandle @JuliusIrvington posted an old Huckabee family photo in which thepolitician, wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt, sits next to hiswife on a wooden bench. Behind them, three kids smile at the camera. Onthe right is a young Sarah Huckabee (now Sanders). Next to her are hertwo brothers, John Mark and David, who are the same size as their fatherand wear matching striped shirts. “My favorite thing in the world is thatMike Huckabee literally has large adult sons,”@JuliusIrvington wrote.

This seems to be roughly when the large-son meme went more or lessmainstream. It had been germinating in arcane corners of the Internetfor a couple of years by then. In 2012, the Twitter user @MuscularSon,who eventually deleted his account, started tweeting in character as abeleaguered father of several mythically rowdy boys. “i cant control myenormous nerd sons. they force me to cosplay as a police box from Dr Whoand take turns paintballing my enormous nude torso,” he wrote. Andlater, “my two awful big sons got into the 20 quarts of hummus i haveand now their heading toward The City.” In November, 2013, @dril, theur-account for this genre of absurdist online humor, tweeted, “i havetrained my two fat identical sons to sit outside of my office andprotect my brain from mindfreaks by meditating intensely.” In 2014, he tweeted, “pleasepray for my sons Thursten and Gorse, who have just glued themselves to acurtain.” By then, the image—a tornado of havoc around a couple of big,rambunctious sons—had somehow solidified as a comic trope.

The galaxy of large adult sons contains many constellations, and sonsdon’t necessarily have to be adults to belong. In November, 2014, theparody Web site Clickhole posted a BuzzFeed-style quiz called “Which Oneof My Garbage Sons Are You?” “I’ve got some sh*t boys,” the intro read. “My huge beautiful wife gave me children who think and speak like thetoilet. I have four garbage sons: The first son is named Royce, thesecond son is named Preston, the third son is named Lance and Blake (twonames for just one son), and the fourth son is the dreaded Laramie.Which one of my toxic sons are you? Take this quiz to find out!” Myresult: “You are a real trash mountain of a son who came marching out ofmy huge beautiful wife on the worst day to ever happen.” I was workingat Gawker Media when this quiz was posted, and it derailed alloperations for about an hour.

Once you’re made aware of the preponderance of large adult sons in ourculture, you will start seeing large adult sons everywhere. Like all the best memes, it is essentially good-natured: “large” is aproud but gentle word, used in this context the way a gardener mighttalk about a beautiful butternut squash. The meme is also highlyflexible, as Barry Petchesky, the deputy editor of Deadspin, pointed outto me over e-mail: “Literally every man in America is someone’s largeadult son.” Sports media, in particular, has adapted it as a term forwhat Tom Ley, the managing editor of Deadspin, calls “big lovable galoots.”In April, SB Nation ran a piece unpacking “the myth of Aaron Judge, ourlarge adult baseball son.”Sports Illustrated responded, arguing that the Cubs leftfielder KyleSchwarber was the true large adult son of the M.L.B. (“How can anyone besaid to match Schwarber in terms of being a big beefy boy?” Jon Tayler asked.)

But the Huckabee sons remain the poster boys for the meme. “They arevery large, they are adult, and they are so clearly Huckabee’s sons,”Petchesky noted. They also fully fit the archetype. David, notoriously,once killed a dog at summer camp,and John Mark once acted in a low-budget film in which he smokedcigarettes while assuring a female character that it was normal to“suck a little dick to get a part.” This is classiclarge-adult-son behavior: alarming, with a whiff of the surreal. TheHuckabee boys also remain cloaked by the cartoonish piety thatundergirds their father’s politics. The situation resembles a 2014 @dril tweet: “my bigsons have made a mess of the garage again after being riled up by thegood word of the Lord.” The definitive quality of the large adult son isthat he is endlessly excusable: though he does nothing right, he can dono wrong.

These days, it’s getting harder to separate the large-adult-son meme—oneof the few reliably good things on the Internet—from the largerhellscape of adult-male behavior in which we all live. The Times recently ran a trifecta of pieces from writers across the ideologicalspectrum who all believe men are acting too much like boys. In a columntitled “Before Manliness Loses Its Virtue,” David Brooks argued that it is embarrassing—for the country, but alsofor the institution of masculinity itself—that the President and severalof his top advisers are openly needy, puerile, and immature. Senator Ben Sasse, of Nebraska, wrote a column about how, as a teen-ager, heused to perform hard agricultural labor on summer breaks: without thehard-won discipline he honed in the cornfields, he argued, kids thesedays will take too long to grow up. Jennifer Weiner wrote a column about the men who simply never haveto,linking childish YouTube personalities to men like Billy Bush and Ryan Lochte, and—alone among these three columnists—to Donald Trump, Jr., the President’s oldest son.

Don, Jr., is generally portrayed, as he was by “Saturday Night Live,” as the more adult of Donald Trump’s two large adult sons—who are, likethe Huckabee sons, prone to taking interesting photos together. But this summer Don, Jr., has become the rowdiest son of all.In July, after the Times reported that he had taken a meeting, in thespring of 2016, with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer in the hopes ofobtaining negative information about Hillary Clinton, Don, Jr.,confirmed the report by tweeting screenshots of the e-mail chain that led up to the meeting. “If it’s what you say I love it especially laterin the summer,” he wrote, replying to Rob Goldstone, a British musicpublicist who had dangled “official documents and information that wouldincriminate Hillary.” Christopher Wray, Trump’s pick for F.B.I.director, pointed out that Don, Jr., should have taken this offer to theF.B.I. On Thursday afternoon, Reuters reported that grand-jury subpoenas had been issued in connection with the meeting.

At thirty-nine, Don, Jr., is old enough to conduct himself with basicintegrity—or, barring that, with basic competence in his plans to deceive. Many people have pointed out the painful absurdity of largeadult sons in political families (Don, Jr.; Billy Bush; Ted Kennedy)being excused for shocking behavior well into their thirties when twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was deemed enough of a threat by Cleveland policemen to be shot dead on the sight of his toy gun, in2014. Donald Trump, Jr., is a mere ten days younger than the FrenchPresident, Emmanuel Macron. And still, President Trump dictated Don, Jr.,’s original statement and excused him after the scandal broke, calling Don, Jr., a “good boy.”

The large-adult-son meme takes wing from the idea that menovercompensate when they are humiliated, and that a primary source ofthis humiliation is interdependence—sons act out when they are definedby their fathers, and fathers are disgraced by the oafish flailing oftheir sons. But it’s memes all the way down with this Administration:Trump, the father of the large adult son of the summer, is himself,clearly, a large adult son. He is the loudmouthed, mischievous, anddisorderly child of a presiding father. He loves to get behind the wheelof a truck and pose for the cameras like an important birthday boy. The Web site Gossip Cop recently ran anearnest post headlined “Donald Trump Does NOT Wear ‘Adult Diapers,’Despite Speculation.”These are strange times we live in. The seas are warming, the summer isending; each day lasts a century, and we are everywhere ruled by largeadult sons.

The Land of the Large Adult Son (2024)
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