Thursday, May 19, 2005

Respect (2)

Young people have behaved badly and been seen as a problem since we were living in caves. And some of us remember in more recent times the wringing of hands over Teddy Boys and the Mods and Rockers. The latter used to have pitched battles in the streets.
But I concede that a minority of young people behave worse than they did in my own youth. Whether they behave worse than in earlier periods such as Victorian times I couldn't say.
There's no lack of theories about the reasons for this, including bad parenting, the education system and poor diets crammed with additives.
But I wonder if it's a coincidence that it has coincided with the period in which young people have become one of capitalism's most lucrative cash cows.

My generation has seen the evolution of youth culture from the beginning. 'Teenager' was a relatively new word when we hit our teens. Pop music was also relatively new but music specifically targeted at pre-teens ('bubblegum pop') hadn't yet been invented. Jeans existed, although many middle class parents wouldn't let their children wear them, but today's youth fashion industry hadn't yet developed. There certainly weren't bras marketed at pre-pubescent girls.
More significantly perhaps, youth pubs didn't exist. I would date the first pub in my hometown that set out to attract young drinkers to around 1967/68. Clubbing hadn't been invented either so if you wanted a late drink the best you could do was go home and raid your parents' drinks cabinet and play Radio Luxembourg very quietly on the radio so you didn't wake your parents up.

Market-driven segmentation of the generations is compounded by advertisers' promotion and celebration of stereotypes - laddishness and girlie-ness. But this doesn't stop with youth or with the advertisers. How often does a news item about over-50s show footage of a tea dance? And what proportion of us over-50s ever go within spitting distance of a bloody tea dance?
And how many times has a news item about the problem of youth been accompanied by that ancient footage of a boy on a bike smashing the window of a van? If that little bastard got repeat fees he wouldn't need to steal or work for the rest of his life.

There's an old saying that it takes an entire village to bring up a child. Today it's lucky if parents, both working long hours to pay for two cars and an overseas holiday, have the time to bring up a child. Many babes in arms are dumped in nurseries every day. Some nurseries now have webcams so the parents can watch them from their office computer to make sure they're not being ill-treated by low-paid, under-trained staff.

As for interaction with other adults outside of the school or home, forget it.
My father is of a generation for whom it was normal to chat to children in the street. Not today, when children are warned that every adult is a potential murderer or molester. My father still does it but is sometimes hurt and bewildered when the children hurry silently away.
I recently saw a lady in her eighties, on a zimmer frame, speak to a young boy on his way to school. He bowed his head and walked away. She banged her zimmer frame on the pavement and shouted after him "you miserable little sod!" I know why he did it but I could also understand her exasperation.

For teenagers, leisure activities are more segregated than ever before whether through disco pubs or holidays in Ibiza that are marketed on heavy drinking and sex.
That doesn't mean that my generation didn't go to pubs or get drunk. We knew the ones where the landlord was more interested in profits than in checking the age of his customers. But because all pubs were mixed ages there was always the likelihood that we were observed by teachers or friends of our parents and this was a restraining factor.

Today's more all-encompassing and compartmentalised youth culture is very much the creation of the music, entertainment, fashion and drinks industries who are making billions from young people, many of whom have high disposable incomes in a period of relative affluence.
And the attitude of the corporate world to their youthful consumers is characterised by as much respect as the relationship between a prostitute and client.

The youth market is the Holy Grail of advertisers, television and the press. The same media that demonise the young are feeding them mind-numbing pap and fighting to get their hands on every last pound in the pockets of their baggy jeans. And if that means an increasingly crass sexualisation of popular culture and persuading them to pour even more lager and Bacardi Breezers down their throats, never mind the teenage pregnancies, the STDs or the vomit in the streets - look at the rising share price.

The Government, meanwhile, does its bit to keep the Youth Menace in the headlines and criminalise an entire generation, despite the fact that most types of youth crime have been falling. One of the few exceptions is alcohol-related crime which clogs up our hospitals and police stations every weekend evening, with alcohol-related deaths far outnumbering those from other drugs.
The Government's response is to introduce 24-hour drinking and relax the criteria for planning permission for new pubs. The Government, of course, will never take on the private sector with the relish that it attacks the public sector and gets more revenue from alcohol sales than all the drug dealers in Britain could ever dream of.

Respect, as many young people now assert, is a two-way street. And respect never grew out of a cash nexus. They're growing up in a world where they're not just fodder for the post-industrial economy - the dark satanic call centres and the 24-hour retail sector. They're also milch cows for an aggressive and unprincipled leisure industry.

And they're growing up in a world where a capitalist with £2 million to spare can get his name over a City Academy and, if he's a Christian Capitalist, can tear up 2,000 years of science and teach Creationism. Or if he's got half that amount to spare he can buy a children's home and line his pockets with taxpayer's money from the local authority. If he prefers a less hands-on involvement, he could just get a good return on his shares in a company that runs private prisons and young offenders' institutions.

Now there's a thought. You could buy the respect that comes from having your name over a gleaming new City Academy and replace that investment with the profits from your shares in the drinks industry and your shares in the prisons that incarcerate the youths who get expelled from the Academy and punch a policeman after too many lagers on a Friday night.
Clever old capitalism.
If the social consequences weren't so disastrous you could almost respect it.

4 Comments:

At 12:19 PM, Blogger Norbert Trouser-Quandary said...

Excellent stuff. This compartmentalisation of the generations is something I've noticed for a while now.

Back when I was an underage drinker in the 70s - like you said - the pubs, and especially the last bus home, had a whole range of generations, including fully-grown men who wouldn't take any shit from a youngster. So not only did we learn how to drink, we also learnt how to remain relatively sociable.

Nowadays, it seems like all the older generations have retreated - or, more likely, been excluded through being made unwelcome - from the city centre pubs and clubs, leaving them to the youth, who consequently do not learn from the behaviour of their elders.

 
At 1:48 PM, Anonymous asta said...

I bow to you. Brilliant post.

 
At 7:09 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

Thanks, David. Older people are also less likely to intervene in situations now, even involving young children who pose no threat of violence to themselves. Yet when they do the effects can be dramatic.

Asta, glad you liked it but please don't bow because most bloggers' egos are big enough already. Plus I wouldn't want people to think I'm a queen :-)

 
At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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