I think we’re all fairly fed up of being told how screwed we are; according to the papers, young people have been “doomed” or “throwing it all away” fairly consistently for hundreds of years and we’ve somehow managed to pull through so far. Look, there are loads of over 30s walking around with jobs and things… and they got told they were doomed, just like us. And our parents were. And our grandparents were…
If you thought young people at the turn of the 20th century were too busy looking at mangles or whatever to be a “lost generation”, then rethink your history. Everyone was so worried that they set up Reformatory schools in 1854 specifically for “the goddamn out of control youths” (not actual quote). Before this act, you got sent to adult prison or sentenced to death regardless of whether you were a nine year-old who stole some paint or a 45 year old who killed a man with five sledgehammers and a clock (we don’t know for sure this happened but it might have done).
Spending seven years alongside adult murderers and professional criminals just for stealing a pair of boots (this one definitely happened) didn’t have a particularly beneficial effect on young people so, instead, they’d spend two weeks at the prison before being sent to one of these Reformatory schools which revolved around outdoor industrial training, religious teaching and frequent beatings. Oh, and then there was a war which most young boys got sent to fight in. So a really great time to be a teenager all round, then.
Cool clothes, lots of smoking and a constant supply of alcohol – the media spent the 20s disapproving of young people’s newfound lease of life, while obsessively recording it in the society pages. While teens and twenty somethings idolised the Bright Young Things going to Bath and Bottle parties (bring a bathing suit and a bottle. As in, of alcohol) with names like like Daisy and Rupes, many writers of the time dubbed themselves the “Lost Generation”, reacting to the end of the horrors of war by embracing excess.
Nightclubs were invented, skirts were short and old people stood to one side and shook their heads, muttering things like “It can’t last forever” and “how irresponsible” etc. Over the pond, the Washington Post reported on how flapper girls were stuck in unemployment because of their reputation, despite not being “as idling and inefficient as they have been painted by an opposition press”. And despite also being branded “intelligent” and “educated”. Which, as you can imagine, sucked fairly hard and didn’t help matters when Wall Street crashed in 1929, plunging everyone into a depression.
So unemployment is currently at 7.8 % in the UK. In 1933 it was at 22.8 % – which caused a sizeable problem considering everyone had spent the last decade drinking in their swimming costumes. Over in America, Eleanor Roosevelt said of the 4 million young people out of school : “I think we may be losing this generation” and over here, homes were set up to combat “the grave problem presented by the hundreds of idle youths” who couldn’t afford to live, and yet didn’t have any skills, across major UK cities.
Everyone soldiered on… straight into the second world war which created jobs, but not the sort of jobs you’d hope for. Because of the whole war thing. Over here, young people were sent away to the country or lived in fear of being bombed. If you’ve ever read Goodnight Mister Tom, you’ll know sometimes this worked out… but sometimes it didn’t (my gran had a crap time when she was evacuated) but everyone can agree that worrying about your whole country exploding trumps fretting about that job interview.
Everyone bangs on about how great the post-war 1950s nuclear families were and how these days the streets are overrun with hooded youths smashing job centres in with bricks (made of drugs) but they’ve forgotten the first rebel teenager: the unfortunately named Teddy Boy whom, at the time, the media totally blew out of proportion. Just like they continue to do over 50 years later.
Not only were these “goddam hoodlums” (approximate quote) renowned for ripping out the seats at concerts, but they had a tendency to gang up on each other which led to the odd fight which the papers reported on in a typically measured fashion (“FLICK KNIVES, DANCE MUSIC AND EDWARDIAN SUITS” – actual headline). Of course, when Teddy Boys were spotted during the infamous race-related riots in Notting Hill, this confirmed everyone’s fears; despite the fact that most young Teddy Boys were just following the fashion of the time, and quite like rock’n’roll.
Goddamn hippies throwing away all the things your parents had worked for! As rock’n’roll was blamed for the Teddy Boys fighting all over the place, so it was blamed for kids in the 60s who took drugs in purple flares while having sex all over the place. Of course not everyone pandered to the stereotype, but that didn’t stop papers describing young people as “an army of the lost” (Science Digest, Nov 1965) who wanted to avoid the rat race in favour of low (or non) paying “jobs” that, y’know, fed the soul maaaaan. The capitalist world people had built up in the 50s was now being squandered and actively rejected by stoned young people in headscarves, and this pissed a lot of people off. As the decade progressed, the drugs fear heightened with everyone terrified we’d be left with a generation of crazed addicts; to put this in perspective, most of your parents grew up in this decade and you can hardly say they’re a generation of crazed addicts. Which shows just how justified this fear-mongering really was.
The Sex Pistols headed up a punk movement that scared the pants off everyone who wasn’t under 30 thanks to their disregard for the Queen, their tendency to say the F word on air and the need for some form of scapegoat considering the 1.3 million unemployment figure by the middle of the decade. Described as a nation on the brink of collapse, it’s fitting that quite a lot of young people fancied wearing leather and listening to shouty music and even more fitting that the media latched onto it as a sign of the world ending. Sure there were strikes, violence and a lot of power cuts resulting in people having to buy candles and sit around looking quite romantic (if cold) for long periods of time…. but the world didn’t end. It was just a bit of a rubbish time, which young people were the symptom of as opposed to the cause.
The 80s kicked off with the police and the media essentially accusing all young black males in south London of mugging people, leading to overtly racist stop and search tactics which, in turn, led to an explosion of anger. The riots in Toxteth and Brixton caused over £7 million of damage and injured more than 300 people. Unsurprisingly, the rioters were mostly young black males, thanks to their demonization in the media and the prejudice they faced. It had been building throughout the second half of the 70s and, in the aftermath, Maggie Thatcher came in and cut loads of jobs (as well as stealing all the milk). Now everyone was pissed off, especially labourers and those who were made redundant. One such man is quoted in the papers in 1982 as saying: “When I look round and there’s young people with A and O levels and they can’t get jobs, I just accept it now. I can’t do anything else.” Sound familiar?!
Things started picking up for the country with the recession officially ending in 1993, which was nice, but then the media became obsessed with depicting anyone under 30 as a pill-popping rave monster or a heroin-filled apathetic grunger (see: Kurt Cobain). Or a heroin filled pill taking rave monster (see: Trainspotting). The Manchester rave scene was short lived, but by 1993 there were New Years Eve parties held in warehouses in Luton for tens of thousands of people. This counter-culture, often characterised by little yellow smiley faces (which The Sun turned into adorable, yet disapproving, frowny faces) terrified the media and parents alike as they read stories of people dying after just one ecstasy tablet. Draw comparisons with the 60s, if you will…
And now here we are. According to endless surveys and headlines, we’re never going to get jobs, our education is terrible and or useless, and everyone under the age of 25 doesn’t want a job anyway because it would interfere with summers spent in Magaluf getting skin cancer and doing unsavoury things with a boy named Gav who’s drunk so much WKD he can’t see. Probably because he drank it through his eyes.
The fact is, every generation has faced the same doom-mongering, the same warnings, the same seemingly dark future. We’re not saying that everything is sunny and perfect and that there will be jobs for all; but in the interests of retaining your sanity, it’s probably a good idea to remember the lessons of history. And not to take the headlines too seriously. Our parents were ok; our grandparents were ok; we’re going to be ok.
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