The youth of today and the death of tomorrow. Is this an accurate hypothesis or am I speaking after the fact; indeed, as I’ve had and enjoyed my early years, am I justified in not equating anything I see in today’s culture as being worthy for tomorrow’s foundation due to looking back in anger across my wasted years that started half a century ago in the middle of the 1980s? We all go through teenage rebellion and we can always pinpoint particular incidences that spoke to us, helped create who we have become, for good or bad, and to recall these memorable learning curves is a fascinating experience in trying to understand your former self through post-analysis.
John Hughes’ seminal youth movie, The Breakfast Club (1985), spoke to my own generation of the dysfunctional alienation and confused angst all teenagers feel at that particular period in their lives – stuck somewhere between being adolescent and adults – as they’re trying to develop their own sense of placement within the world. The premise is that five differing teens have to undertake Saturday detention at their school under the watchful eye of their teacher and through this forced experience they explore themselves and develop new friendships along the way due to a shared dislike of all-things parent aged. The film spawned many imitations, gave The Simpson’s Bart Simpson his “Eat my shorts!” catchphrase and Bender from Futurama his name; it was even partly-responsible for the media-nickname “Brat Pack” – along with Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire - to describe the dynamic youthfulness of its main actors, who through their thespian brilliance also reduced the age of Hollywood’s leading actors and actresses from mid-thirties to late-teens, thus changing the lexicon of a complete culture overnight. I watched it again just the other week and still found the film’s narrative refreshing, funny and apt for a modern teenage audience, who no doubt will discover it by chance late one night tucked away on a digital channel somewhere, ready to influence another generation 25 years on from its inception.
One particular scene stood out from the rest of this wonderful movie during my latest aged viewing and it’s a scene which had no relevance to my younger self all those years ago but is now very pertinent. The scene takes place between the detention teacher, Mr. Vernon and the janitor Carl as they are sat down talking about the five protagonists’ and all kids in general. After showing his disdain and faint discomfort regarding their negative perception of him, Mr. Vernon subconsciously reveals that he’s actually scared of them and what they represent by stating “Now this is the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night… you think about this… that when I get older, these kids are gonna take care of me…” to which an incredulous Carl replies, “I wouldn’t count on it!” Now observing this exchange on the cusp of middle-age, I’m afraid I have to admit this is now my perceived slant on all of today’s youth: indeed, as much as the truth pains me, I also have to concur I’ve now become a Mr. Vernon character as opposed to one of the bright young things so fabulously portrayed within Hughes’ fictional Shermer High School, who are now just memories forever frozen in time, along with my past glories of growing up.
You see, I am currently at the age of nearly forty, which is looming on the horizon only a couple of months away like the stretching shadow of the Grim Reaper’s tattered, pitch-black cowl threatening to engulf me once I breach the “Big Four-O”. This point in my life has rapidly encroached upon me unnoticed – indeed, it appears as if life cracked me over the head back in my late twenties and has only just remembered to awaken me in the last year – and so the whole outside world has developed without any impetus from my vacant being. Now, with an enforced fitness regime imposed upon me due to having “lost” my car (see previous blog entries), I’ve found myself actually having to physically integrate into everyday life: whether it’s strolling down litter-strewn streets, having to pay half of your daily wages for use of public transport or just generally coming face to face with the Proletariat masses, I have to admit I’ve been surprised by many of the changes in today’s society and not in a good way either.
One of the biggest surprises I’ve found is the brazen, confrontational attitude rife within our youth, which comes across as a false bravado arrived at through the amalgamation of all-things Americana, with a sprinkling of video game violence and MTV Rap-music videos thrown in. Most people over 35 years of age will have personal experience of partaking in their own version of “smashing the old-guard”, which is usually epitomised by confronting everyone around your parents’ age group and mutinying against everything they stand for, even if you agree with them or not. This parental rebelling occurs in each successive generation of youth and is a rite of passage for our burgeoning inner selves in order to achieve a healthy societal advancement, free from the constraints of what we deemed annoying and stifling at the time: nagging Mums, annoyed Dads and pissed-off parents in general trying to put a downer on our freedom.
So, my youthful gambolling and throwing away years on pipe dreams, half-cocked ideas and indulging in a wastrel lifestyle are now gone, lost in years of a hard-knock life and I’m now left looking at the newest youth generation through cataracts of disillusioned apathy, even tinged with a hint of jealously at their juvenile abandonment. Maybe it’s this disregard for consequence the modern offspring revel in that causes most friction within the older generation, which has developed into an attitude they carry around that screams “Back off you rotting Crones! I can do what I want, okay!?” to anyone over voting age. All teenagers now live on an ingested diet of pure, unadulterated Capitalism and believe they can only progress in life if they are out spending money and consuming on a daily basis, a problem multiplied in a country that has given up the ghost regarding a sense of social identity and advancement through a national work ethos. As there are no big employers remaining who are willing to train young people in positions of apprenticeships for the future good of their surrounding communities as it’s cheaper to source out work to cheaper labour across the “Global Market”, then youth exuberance becomes torpid and eventually can turn into hostility: within inner-city areas devoid of any hope, the “Don’t-f**k-with-me” behaviour springs up all over, propped up with under-age drinking and drug taking and starts infecting all and sundry who come into contact with such a mind-set, thus creating an ageism epidemic within all kids across the country.
It’s bad enough when dealing with these infected morons around the teenage mark but this “Gangsta-twat” attitude has filtered down the family tree via cultural osmosis and settled into the pre-teen and just-teen age groups, creating exponentially more problems than we care to address. You see, with the older lot, they’re tools but probably have parents who’ve instilled a modicum of manners into them, but the younger kids are going to grow up knowing nothing more about a healthy society than what they see displayed on TV via some soap or reality show. The danger is that the young, impressionable kiddie-winkles then adopt a whole gamut of mannerisms and attitudes – which are basically just ruminations from various script writers’ imaginations – thus propelling their fragile little minds towards developing into media-obsessed sociopaths by the time they’re in puberty. These confused tykes are now reaping what the Capitalists have sown over the last 10 to 15 years, knowledgeable in the fact no one can touch them due to the liberal laws in the UK, so no discipline is instilled within them as they develop and as such, we the older generation are subconsciously wary of their lack of concern towards consequence.
I became blatantly aware of this disregarding of import only the other day whilst having to endure a short bus journey on one of the routes of my local branch of Greater Manchester’s public transport. It was a Sunday morning and as I took my seat downstairs, I picked up a copy of the free paper The Metro and left my MP3 player’s earplugs in as the trip itself took a leisurely, meandering direction through green belt on the outskirts of small industrial towns: in other words, I was out of the way of morons and it was early in the day, hence I didn’t expect anything other than a quiet, relaxing jaunt to my destination. Then, the bus pulled into a stop and glancing up, I noticed two thin youngsters getting on, a lad and a girl, who were obviously boyfriend/girlfriend and were aged around their early teens. The girl had a feathered, staggered haircut with one side longer than the other, dyed dark red with blue tips and wore a dark denim jacket, short skirt with black leggings and big boots with the laces dangling half-tightened. The lad on the other hand resembled all other young punks at his age: hi-top, neon bright retro trainers from the 1980s, skin-tight black stretch jeans which gave the appearance as if his legs had been dipped in matt paint and all topped off with the ubiquitous hooded top worn up, partially obscuring his gaunt features.
She was the first to loudly flop down two seats in front of where I was sitting and as I glanced up, I could see the lad coming down the aisle towards me and his beloved, swinging his shoulders side to side as if struggling to carry a bucket of water in each hand. Then, this stick-insect pillock caught me looking him and suddenly the fake bravado and idiot attitude flared up: in a walk to his seat that was only 10 feet long, he decided to stare me out, glaring at me through a squint that spoke more about needing glasses than any fear it could produce. I looked back at him with raised eyebrows of disbelief at his pathetic, Alpha male attempt of instigating a human rut on a bus and then, just turned away out of disinterest, shaking my head slightly whilst thinking “Christ, what a prick!” and continued reading the free copy of The Metro I had open on my lap.
It would appear that with my turning away, the young buck now believed he’d vanquished me in battle and so, like all victors, he decided to show his prowess by continuing to be a complete f**king moron. As this hard man flopped down next to his female companion, I glanced upwards just in time to see him screw his bus ticket up into a ball and then, without a care in the world, threw it between the pair of them and directly at me. The girl spun around in time to see the paper orb harmlessly glance off my knee and we locked eyes for a split second: mine flared with a fury as I burned my gaze into the back of her man’s simple skull; she immediately turned to him, burst out laughing and said “You hit that bloke!”, to which this startled revelation just garnered a small shoulder shrug of non-concern, thus continuing his obtuse charade and goading me into smashing his entire being into a thousand, bloody bone shards.
But I didn’t rise to this action, no matter how much I wanted to and indeed, I didn’t even say anything to the little shit. I just put my eyes back down and got on with reading the paper on my lap. Maybe five years ago or so I would have screamed something at them both and not only embarrassed them but myself as well before the other passengers; going back to 10 or 15 years, I genuinely believe there would have been a pitched battle on the bus, with both of us knocking seven colours out of one another as I would have been closer to his age and so could dispense a well-deserved thrashing. Now, however, at my age, any action would have been counter-productive. You see, if I’d attempted to reprimand the throwing fool and he’d responded, then I would have been in a difficult position of having to continue an arguement with a typical stroppy teen that I had no chance of winning unless I resorted to giving him a back-hander (a punch probably would have resulted in a murder charge). Then, he could have pulled a weapon or his girlfriend could have joined in or a host of different scenarios could have decided the outcome: either way, it would have been me at the Police station and not the clown who started my boiling rage in the first place.
I was soon forgotten about and I continued my journey for the next couple of bus stops watching this modern-day couple spitting in one another’s faces… yes, I’ll repeat that once more for all the people who believe I may have written that sentence wrong: they sat facing each other spitting. Whilst laughing hysterically at their wonderful new way of expressing their love in public. “Well, I must be old”, I thought to myself, “if showing your tenderness for your partner means you violently expel saliva into their face and they return the favour!”, as I rose to my feet and walked towards the door of the bus and my freedom from the youth of today.
It’s because the actions of these numpties – along with their assorted brethren – helps create a moral compass within the older generation and allows us to express our shocked indignation via the usual uttered line, “We weren’t like that at their age!” This generational worry causes a backlash of castigation towards the young ones and although the vast majority will be fine, upstanding Sons and Daughters, they’re tarred with the same brush as the two cretins I’ve described above. So, rather than us all engaging normally with kids, we’ll continue to put our heads down and hopefully avoid potential social grating out of a fear of what will happen to us if we are made to react through the actions of a minority of village idiots, thus keeping any sense of community at bay for the foreseeable future at least.
At the end of The Breakfast Club, we see Mr. Vernon reading the detention essay Brian has written and we hear the character’s voiceover explaining the kids’ astute viewpoints regarding their own individual perceived stereotypes as they go their separate ways:
“Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal… does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.”
This stereotyping of youth has always been undertaken by adults; even though we’ve all been young once ourselves, we tend to forget this fact and look back in anger, even though we’ve enjoyed our time in fiery splendour. Now it’s their time to flourish, to carry the baton forward and although there are imbeciles abound, the spirit of youth will cast them aside and progress onwards without them, much like I should now be dropping my Mr. Vernon tainted attitude from my view of the next generation. I think it’ll be a hard push but maybe, just maybe there’s some part of me still that can get back in touch with the teenager within, to help me forgive youthful transgressions which annoy me on a daily basis because after all, we were all young once, weren’t we…?