Young People as Enviable

This is post 2 of 5 exploring popular perceptions of young people today.

Marketers have spent more than a half century trying to convince consumers to buy the image of youth being a perfect time, filled with frivolity and carelessness. Literature portrays an idyllic time of life that is airy, unassuming and light. Pop music suggests that between mood swings youth have little room left for the concerns of adulthood. As for childhood, these same elements perpetuate a further mythology, reinforcing the traditional conception of children as simplistic minions, empty vessels awaiting the knowledge of adulthood and eagerly assuming whatever mantle is given them by the adults around them, whether that of son or daughter, student or client – or all together, at the same time.

Adults are taught to envy this existence. In modern America this first took the form of cherish, in a Victorian era when middle class children were placed on pedestals for their preciousness and perfection. During that same period youth were married off or sent to their professions when they were young. Working class boys became apprentices to laborers, craftsmen and farmers while poor children were sent to the fields, factories and mines. In the ensuing 100 years youth were alternately viewed as powerful (1930s); suspicious (1950s); despised (1960s); lazy (1970s and 80s); dangerous (1990s), and; overachieving (2000s). All of these attitudes are then marketed back to adults as something to actually want: In the 1940s adults were sold the power of their youth; the so-called laziness of the 1970s was used as a counter-image for adults to rebel against in the 1980s, driving them to become more even more driven, more capitalistic. This says nothing of today, when adults are busy buying HDTVs and widgets for their cars in order to compensate for our inadequate knowledge of technology in the face of the Digital Natives of today.

None of this says anything of the political concerns of youth today, living in a world where they are systematically denied the right to freedom, participation or democratic representation. But that’s another conversation for a different day. This post is simply meant to expose another popular perspective towards children and youth, which is young people as enviable.

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