While in Chicago recently, I got into an argument with my mom and uncle about music. My uncle basically asserted that “only the music of the 60s and 70s had substance” (which is ludicrous on its face), but allowed me to break out a line from one of the most underrated movies of our generation, Airheads. I said, “Is that a fact? So are you gonna tell me that ‘Purple Haze’ says something?”
We ended up going back and forth for several minutes while I basically served as defense counsel for three decades of music and youth culture in general. It’s a stance I take up probably more than I should, but for whatever reason when people want to pick on the youngest generation, it always gets my hackles up. I can’t fight the urge to call nonsense on this entire posture. Here’s a quote to illustrate why:
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”
You know who said that? Socrates.
So literally, crapping on the new generation has been going on since the beginning of civilization, and yet we persevere. Starting with Socrates, if every generation seems to be worse than the one that preceded it, how are we even still here? Because that belief is just patently wrong, that’s why. The new generation is fine. They’re just different, and that’s frightening.
A perfect example is this Slate article called “Why Teenagers Love Making Jokes About 9/11.” The article’s title is slightly misleading because what teenagers actually love to mock are 9/11 Truthers, who, with some distance and ironic detachment, look increasingly ridiculous. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but summarized, I think this line is telling:
“Teenagers have surveyed the digital artifacts left in the wake of their parents’ trauma and decided they were taking up too much cultural space. So they’re flattening them into jokes and throwing them away.”
That’s wonderful! That’s progress! Dammit, that’s seeking to make the world a better place. They’re taking these 9/11 Truther memes and now using them to scathe the idiocy of anti-vaxxers as well. If that isn’t evidence of tremendous critical thinking and cultural appropriation in the name of science, logic, and rationality, I don’t know what is.
Teenagers necessarily have a unique worldview, and in expressing it, they disorient the hegemony we take for granted as we age. I’m grateful for this disruption. And although the older we get, the more uncomfortable that disruption becomes, it’s inevitable, so why fret and why not embrace it?
And lest you think the teenage world is all Weird Twitter and non-sequitir memes on social media platforms you don’t use, check out this video: Teens React to 90’s Fashion – JNCO Jeans.
Listen to those kids talk about how big those pant legs are! And why would anyone wear these?!? You know who they sound like? They sound just like their grandparents. Yep, those same people who freaked out when their kids wore them to school in the 90s.
I personally remember those exact reactions from the parents at my school when JNCOs were popular, and to hear these same traditionalist opinions from people nearly 20 years my junior only made me laugh. Hard.
And I laugh because while it’s expected that teenagers will surprise you with their opinions, it’s not usually in the direction of agreeing with the oldest generation. You never know what they’re going to say. But I do know one thing.
The kids are alright. The kids are always alright.
(This post was partially inspired by a Facebook conversation with William and Ryan Nee. h/t to William Nee for posting the Slate article on his wall.)
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