The Blog

The Reinvention of Youth

Sometime towards the end of the 1990's I read an article in a newspaper with the title "Middle Age Stole My Youth". It was written by a teenager. I can't track it down to recall the detail, but the broad sentiments resonated enough then to remain fresh in my mind today.

The premise of the article was this. Youth culture died sometime around the time Oasis wrapped up pop music in a Britpop Union Jack. There was nothing "youthful" left as we tiptoed nervously into the year 2000, narrowly avoiding the Millennium Bug.

Anything and everything a young expressive individual wanted to be "had already been done".

Parents had already been the archetypal, rebellious "Teenager" - a term coined by Bill Haley and the Comets during a UK tour in February 1957.

Parents had been, "and still are, my son", Hippies, Mods, Rockers, Skinheads, Punks, Goths and New Romantics - to name a few of the more obvious and distinctive "tribes". It was difficult for the kids to stand apart, to dress differently or to find any form of tribal belonging that separated them from their elders.

To pile on the misery, middle-aged people had, of course, taken every drug known to man. Late thirty year olds were regaling each other with stories of raves and Es and Whizz. Even Presidents and Prime Ministers were confessing that they'd smoked dope at college. It was a confession, in reality, of coolness.

Popular music had also "been done". Add together the milestone pop brands between Elvis, The Beatles, Dylan, The Stones, David Bowie, Simon and Garfunkel, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Brian Eno, the Sex Pistols, Bruce Springsteen, Joy Division, Madonna, The Chemical Brothers and Oasis and there wasn't much left to be invented. (I know. I've missed out your personal key milestones, but you get my drift).

TV shows and movies had not shown significant re-invention since the '70s bravado of Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Clockwork Orange, Straw Dogs, The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. Violence, on-screen sex, full-frontal nudity, disaster, alternative comedy and epic had been ticked off a long time ago.

"Been there, done that" was the cri de coeur of the battle hardened post-war baby boomers, who now bedevilled the younger generation with a sense of real, material, loss.

There has been a lacuna of some fifteen years, which surely historians will write up as the "Lost Generation" hypnotised on the teats of long-series TV, Xbox and PlayStation. That's not to suggest that its been a period devoid of protest, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, but that's a heady cocktail we understand and know about. It's nothing new. It's nothing defining.

But things are changing. Now many young people are defining themselves in a way that is wholly alien to their parents. A demarcation line is being drawn that does not invite older boring people into a world inhabited and understood by 10-17 year olds.

These are the online worlds of Syndicate, PewDiePie and Zoella and the other YouTubers who now draw millions into their individualistic zany worlds. These people are superstars. When they announce a live event, the crowd hysteria is likened to a 1960s Beatles concert. They are millionaires whose money is made not by exploiting young people, but in a twist from previous generations' behaviour, by taking money from The Establishment, often cynically.

The scale of this online sensation is breathtaking. Whereas an early '90s rave might garner a hundred thousand people to a field, PewDiePie attracts over thirty-five million subscribers with online views in excess of seven million at a time.

Pewdiepie's song "Jabba the Hut" is full of profanity and outlandish imagery. It makes little sense to anyone over thirty five. Which is a relief. It's a wonderful world for those who do understand it.

This world is has no dress code, no required special grooming and no music genre to delineate it from other previous fashions. It is, in fact a complete departure from the style of previous generations' youth statements and this gives it even more credibility.

I expect cyberspace to play a huge role in defining identities and creating youth culture. Enhanced cyber activity through virtual reality opens up even more possibilities. More on this later.

But for now, phew. The kids are all right.