Sunday, 21 March 2010

Teenaged Wasteland

I love Tabatha Southey at the Globe and Mail. She is the ultimate contrarian. Rather than bore us with comments about how little Canadians care about the environment, or making connections between a golfer's extra-marital trysts and, well, her own opinions, like many of her colleagues do, she provides truly fresh, original and logical insight. This is a welcome breath of fresh air to the often dunder-headed consensus that forms in the media around contemporary issues. Since her article was the only link I planned on providing today but hers tend to expire on the Globe Website (because, I suspect, they are so good), I will just copy and paste the whole thing here.

Quit it with the teen trashing

I don't know why we're so cruel to adolescents.

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Tabatha Southey

Published on Friday, Mar. 19, 2010 4:37PM EDT Last updated on Friday, Mar. 19, 2010 4:45PM EDT

At first I was only mildly bothered by an editorial cartoon that appeared in this paper on Monday. The cartoon showed four loutish, slovenly adolescents, three of whom were saying "Whadda you wanna do?" or "I dunno, whadda you wanna do?" and then there was a final teenager saying, "Something sedentary and electronic."

But then it occurred to me that somewhere in Canada, some parent was no doubt starting some poor child's March Break off by showing that child that cartoon. Or perhaps laughing, ostentatiously, over breakfast, just waiting for their innocent child to say, "Hey, what's so funny?" So that they could pounce.

Probably some extra-vigilant parent was even waking his or her child up, early, to show them the cartoon. No doubt some passive-aggressive mother was taping it to the fridge, where it will stay, demoralizing a child, until it turns yellow. And that makes me sad.

Globe and Mail editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins

Globe and Mail editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins

I don't know why we're so cruel to adolescents. I can't imagine so harsh a caricature (they're ugly, slouching, sloppy and overweight) going unremarked were it depicting any other demographic – say, slouching, sloppy, overweight, grownup people, who likely have a lobby group. But if there's one thing we're still allowed to hate, it's teenagers.

Never mind that statistics show that today's teenagers smoke less marijuana, get pregnant less and go on to higher education more than the previous generation. We still hate them.

Once a symbol of hope, we now reference our youth only as something to be feared (the government's new crime bill is a good example) and if we can't hate them for dropping out, we'll hate them for using cell phones – as if we didn't spend hours on the phone ourselves, back when telephones were plugged into the wall, which truly did make us sedentary.

And as if generations previous to us did not hang around waiting for the mail to come. One never hears a mother in a Victorian novel complain that their child is "addicted to the second post," but a child on the Internet is always portrayed as a problem. I hear parents express remorse that their children are making friends on Facebook, which is the modern version of the old-fashion letter of introduction and "at home day" combined. Do they think their own teen years were any better spent, writing fan letters to the Bay City Rollers?

We hate children for playing video games, instead of board games, which were frequently far less challenging – unless you play the cool ones, like Carcassonne, which my children learned about from reading board game reviews online, where they often find their books. We hate teenagers for texting, even though a recent British study showed that – not surprisingly, as learning any second language increases one's awareness of one's first language – children who text more have increased confidence in their writing skills and write more in other mediums.

We mock grade school children for researching their projects on Wikepedia and for using Google images to illustrate them. Whereas we, I recall, when assigned a project on say, New Zealand, used to get most of our pictures and information from the local travel agent.

We also used to call in requests to the radio station and then wait at home, sedentary, in case the DJ played our song. Because we didn't have iTunes. We collected Wacky Cards – Mountain Goo, Minute Lice, Alpoo – instead of reading good satire at The Onion.

And so I salute you, sedentary youth of Canada. You will inherit the earth. I wrote this column for you, as a March Break craft. You'll some need scissors and tape.

I want you to cut this column out and then tape it over that editorial cartoon, if your mother, or father, has passive aggressively put it up on the fridge. Or if someone has, outrageously, taped that cartoon to the screen of your beloved laptop, I want you to tape this column securely to the windshield of his or her car.

Teenagers, fight for your right to play World of Warcraft, or whatever other inventive game intrigues you, because those games are an art form and frequently more witty and literate then whatever increasingly correct and improving book you're being forced to read in school. And mostly, kids, continue to explore online in whatever odd direction your mind takes you. Go and find your people. Because you're not ugly, and you're in the right.

Isn't that nice reading?

I have a confession to make. As a Gen Yer, I have read innumerable rants in Ms Southey's employer's pages, in Macleans, in North America all over, about how lazy, entitled, dumb, disrespectful and just plain hopeless my generation (1980-undetermined ending date) is. I have a few bones of my own to pick with the boomer majority above me from whom the majority of these opinions emit (And the folks above them tend to have either thrown in the towel with individualism and come full circle to 1st year university levels of idealism or be as stubborn as ever and make impassioned pleas for a return to 1957 Leave it to Beaver society, but all that intergenerational warfare is for another time and another day.) What is really scary is, 7+ years removed from teenagehood, I'm starting to do the same thing. I call it engaging in generacism. The older folks are an easy target because I think we find their habits an obstacle to solving the world's problems (Of course there are in my generation eager to join their suburban house buying, car driving, prime time watching ranks). But while I smugly seem to think I've got the older stock all figured out, having been around them all my life plus having the advantage of historical retrospective, the kids "these days" have got me sounding like a nursing home resident hunched over my walker spitting my fury onto the sidewalk.

American Idol, High School Musical, Jordan Sparks, Jonas Brothers, Twilight and whatever that dude in its' name is, Glee, Ringtones, Rainbow Parties, AĆ©ropostale?
What is all this finaglin' tomfoolery? When I was your age, we listened to Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica. We dyed our hair all different colours. Marilyn Manson put out successive satan and transgendered themed albums and that was very controversial because of columbine. Us kids used to skip school and play N64 and Playstation 1 with old fashioned controllers and nobody ever called us "at risk". I could buy cigarettes anywhere for under 5$ and smoke in the subway station bla bla get my drift?

Of course now, I'm a grown up (Some people my age are still getting away with partying hard but they should probably stop, if not for their dignity at least for their livers and lungs) and these musicians we listened to are in their early to mid forties contemplating how to be useful while sitting on an enormous pile of royalties (hint: usually by not putting out new music). And to my utter disbelief, the kids today aren't interested in what was cool when I was their age (One day they might be if it in fact has merit and stands the test of time). I have to reconcile my prejudices with that fact, because on the bus they all look damn strange to me. Sure they're into the same things we were, but all the skateboard brands have been bought by conglomerates and can now be purchased at malls, and all the piercings are in new places. In my day you had to go down to Queen Street (which has, incidentally, been turned into a giant outdoor mall, skate stores I spent my minimum wage paycheques at included), and only tongues and eyebrows were pierced.

Why am I writing about this today? Well, like Tabatha, in honour of March break, which I just spent with my teenage brothers in South Carolina. Yes, I'll spare you the long horrifying tales of incosideration and behaviour worthy of medieval nobility (as in, they are the centre of the universe and you are at their eternal service) to say this: in my province today, high school kids are learning the periodic table, philosophy, and programming languages, things I got away without learning all, and doing it in a year less than I did. They are being pushed, and it is hurting some but, I believe, raising the common denominator. I see more 50 year olds than 15 year olds addicted to blackberrys (what minimum wage earner can afford the data plan on one of those?) and more grey haired status quo defenders than librette pierced ones. Despite my band's name and the risks that I recognize are involved in the youngsters of todays inheiritance of our legacy (and when have there ever not been), I am not a proponent of erasing the future.

***I have become irregular on here and I am bothered by it. The full time work is kicking my ass. But I just had a nice trip, which was thanks to the alignment of some fortunate circumstances, and I will now aim for the modest but not slack target of two posts a week.

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