Youth culture is known for its vibrancy, often pushing cultural boundaries, and shifting attitudes. America’s youth culture for several generations was the avant garde globally. Being edgy and outside of the mainstream was a virtue that challenged the young to be ever more creative and push the nation’s narrative. Long gone are the Beatniks, Hippies, Punks, Goths, Club Kids and all of the other sub-cultures of rebellious youth. For the last fifteen years America’s youth have been subdued, watered down, commercialized, and conformist; desiring little more than fitting in and selling out. These are the children that grew up in day care, receiving participation awards, heightened adult supervision, and early exposure to the temptations of the narcissistic and voyeuristic online atomized world.
Prior to gazing into the lives of others via social media, peers and cohorts were a mystery. This mystery provided intrigue and a chance to develop and create without the need for “likes” or regular comparison to others. This privacy allowed the young a greater opportunity for individual creative expression away from the prying and judgmental eyes of others. Being social was something that was done offline and in person. To capture the attention of others, one had to actually be or look interesting, not just appear so through curated images of self and sharing the thoughts of others. This constant comparison and always looking for a solution online instead of within, has significantly altered existential, spiritual, philosophical and psycho-social development. Finding one’s own way and identity is an important challenge for all of us, but as a cooperative species taking cues from outside of ourselves is too enticing if easily available. There was a saying, “If I try to be like Mike, who will be like me.” History shows us that conformity, trying to fit in, comes easy to people, as some of the worst ideas have had lots of followers. These ideas come about precisely when the populous is searching for something not found in culture… enter post-modern identity politics.
“Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.” –Kant
Identity politics is not new; it has been successful heightening awareness and addressing grievances of large common groups in the past. Today it is different, it fills a gaping hole left by a bland, Starbuck’d youth culture. There is a lot to be angry about; primarily a debt based economic system that is stealing their future prosperity and creating massive inequality, and coercive centralized power that is the devil in disguise. This, however, is difficult to understand and has yet to emerge in the mainstream zeitgeist. Perhaps it is no surprise that this generation has chosen to identify themselves by the most superficial aspects that make up a person: race, sexual orientation, body shape, politics, income etc. This becomes the basis of their grievances (expression of anger) and creates ever smaller groups sharing similar superficial commonalities. It is righteous segregation and tribalism. This has replaced an organic youth movement that quite frankly is needed, but instead is clearly being engineered by special interests and media.
Generation Z is now taking over the youth culture reigns, it will be several years before they find their voice, but this small generation could surprise us. I hope so…