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Contemporary Youth and the Postmodern Adventure - page 3 / 16





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today’s youth, we believe, is best left to the generation in question so we are just delineating some categories that others can take up and develop.

Contemporary youth embrace a wide array of young people, including those who helped create the Internet and others hooked on violent computer games; the latchkey kids who are home alone and the mallrats quaffing fast food in the palaces of consumption; the young activists who helped generate the anti-globalization and emerging peace and anti-war movements; the cafe slackers, klub kidz, computer nerds, and sales clerks; a generation committed to health, exercize, good diet and animal rights, as well as anorexics and bullemics in thrall to the ideals of the beauty and fashion industries. Today’s youth also include creators of exciting ‘zines and diverse multimedia; the bike ponies, valley girls, and skinheads; and skaters; gangstas, low-riders, riot grrls, and hip-hoppers, all accompanied by a diverse and heterogeneous grouping of multicultural, racial, and hybridized individuals seeking a viable identity.

Certainly, in the age range of fifteen to thirty-something, in young men and women, and in various classes and races, there are important differences to note in an increasingly complex and hybridized "generation," but they also have crucial things in common. In standard media and socio-political representations, youth is pejoratively represented as cynical, confused, apolitical (or conservative), ignorant, bibliophobic, scopophilic, and narcissistic. Youth is typically portrayed in media culture as whining slackers and malcontents suffering from severe Attention Deficit Disorder induced by MTV, remote control channel surfing, net cruising, video and computer games, and tempered by Ritalin and Prozac. Indeed, the cohorts of American youth over the past couple of decades have been widely stigmatized as "the doofus generation," "the tuned-out generation," "the numb generation," "the blank generation," "a generation of self- centered know-nothings," and "Generation Ecch!” From the Right, Allan Bloom (1986) infamously excoriated youth as illiterate and inarticulate adolescents blithely enjoying the achievements of modern science and the Enlightenment while in the throes of a Dionysian frenzy, drugged by music videos, rock and roll, and illegal substances, and ushering in "the closing of the American mind," the endgame of Enlightenment values. Such jeremiads constitute only the tip of the iceberg of hostility and resentment toward this generation by older generations, reopening a "generation gap" as wide as that between 60s youth and "the establishment."4

It is our argument that negative labels and characterizations of youth are falsely totalizing. They eliminate, for example, young political activists and volunteers, bright students in opposition to the values of media culture, and the technical wizards who developed much computer software and pioneered the Internet. Moreover, pejorative characterizations of youth fail to understand that whatever undesirable features this generation possesses were in large part shaped by their present and past, and how the younger generation is an unwitting victim of the economic recession and the global restructuring of capitalism and the decline of democracy. As Holtz says of his own generation: "We are, perhaps more than any previous generation, a product of the societal trends of our times and of the times that immediately preceded us. The years in which we were raised -- the sixties, seventies, and eighties -- saw unprecedented changes in the political, social, and economic environment that, for the first time in American history, have made the future of society's young members uncertain" (1995: 1).


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