There’s something a bit off about youth (teens to mid-twenties) today. By that, I don’t mean that they are out of control and a threat to society, quite the contrary. While many youth may seem “wild” and rebellious, contemporary “youthful rebellion” is as pre-packaged, mass produced and apolitical as bologna and juice boxes.
Present day youthful rebelliousness–and coolness–feels artificial, scripted, corporate-mediated and, quite frankly, lame. This is also true of many hipsters, who may consider themselves to be edgy or controversial/defiant, but are usually far from it. Contemporary hipster youth seem like clueless (i.e., with little knowledge of history or the many authentic and often politically radical counter-cultural movements and sub-cultures their surface-style is based on or emerged from) posers who are all style and no substance. Many come off as uber-sheltered, coddled novices who’s supposedly non-conformist coolness has in fact been packaged and dictated for them by the corporate mainstream media and/or corporate-mediated “alternative” culture. It’s like Disney meets phony punk rock, and the resultant “edginess” or coolness is both strange and artificial. It’s simulacra on pop culture steroids: an imitation of a lame imitation…of an even lamer imitation…at infinitude.
I am at an age where I am no longer considered youth and can speak from a slightly wider historical perspective. At the same time, I am both old enough and young enough to have a more coherent view of contemporary youth. Unlike someone much older than me, who may think that today’s “wild” youth are “a threat” to society and order, I am young enough to be able to compare today’s youth to that of my own time and earlier and see the glaring reality: today’s youth are “wild and rebellious” in a way that in fact serves the corporate-consumerist culture and political power structure like never before. Unlike previous eras, where youthful or coming of age experimentation and rebellion was much more organic as well as cognizant, critical and defiant of the system of power, today’s so-called rebel youth have actually been created and coddled by the establishment itself. While images of young pop stars engaging in raunchy and hedonistic behaviour is rampant in the media, theirs is a rather staged and orchestrated decadence that reeks of corporate sponsorship (Miley Cyrus, anyone). Most importantly, it is debauchery for the sake of spectacle and corporate profits.
While youth partying or experimenting with sexuality, etc., may be scary for parents, in and of itself, it does very little to challenge the status quo as long as it is devoid of any intellectual or ideological (or heaven forbid, genuinely dissident) analysis or larger agenda. Today’s youth are among the most uninformed and uncritical thinking youth in history (due largely to a lack of critical thinking training in the educational system and the dumbing-down effect of corporate media and corporate culture). They, like many adults in today’s society, have been dumbed-down and historically removed from anything to do with ideology, philosophy or general social and political critique. Many lack the critical faculties to ask deeper questions about the world and society in which they live. Rather than confront power in the historical, ideological sense (as the student and civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s were beginning to do before they were co-opted and fragmented by divisive identity politics) today’s youth, even many of those that consider themselves progressive or left wing, do not really understand or address issues of power.
Whether they’re into pop culture, alternative culture or hipster culture, being outrageous is not the same thing as being a threat to power. As “outrageous” as some may be, or pretend to be, much of today’s youth seem more malleable and less threatening (to the status quo) than ever! Image, style and decadence without substance and critical thinking are ultimately lame, non-threatening…and reinforce power.
Please Note: It is not my intention to paint all youth with the same brush. As someone who has taught university in the past, I know very well that there are some deeply critically minded and amazing youth! For this reason, I hold on to hope for a critical awakening among future generations.