Summer starts this month in the Northern Hemisphere, and it is typically the season where youth culture, the idea of looking and being young, comes to it’s peak. To me, there are few things more grating and irritating than watching, reading, or listening to most people talk about youth. At least twice a week, I hear the phrases “Kids (or, more commonly, girls) these days…,” “This generation doesn’t understand/remember/appreciate…,” “My generation is so…,” etc, etc. To stick one face or demographic to these phrases would be dishonest: I hear them from every kind of person. Youth as a period in one’s life can be a beautiful time for some, and a not-so-beautiful time for others. Because there is no “true universal” experience that defines Youth, this month we want to touch on anything and everything that can mean. Before I get into youth beyond a quantifier of age, I want to talk about the myth of the “Me generation.” There’s already enough “The Selfie Isn’t Narcissism” think pieces out there so we can skip right over that. Instead, I want to touch briefly on the assumption that the bulk of the generation known as Millennials/Gen Y, etc are selfish and that our interests and investments, whether economic or otherwise, are only self-beneficial.
We are a generation who have an unprecedented connection and access to the world. Through that connection, we have established relationships, educated each other, and created together, among the dozens and dozens of other things the Internet allows us to do. We are not perfect by any means. There are still divides among us. There is still hatred and greed and bigotry within this generation, but we have learned, together, to question this hatred and greed and bigotry at home (wherever that may be) and abroad. We are a generation that has been ravaged by wars, terrorism, disease, famine, drought, and natural disasters among other awful things and while none among these are unique to our generation, we are the first who have access to social media to report to and correct each other on what is happening to us. In a world in which the narratives of our stories are manipulated, exploited, or erased altogether, it is a revolutionary act to demand to be seen, demand to be heard, demand to be supported. It is a revolutionary act that we take control of these demands for ourselves, and for each other. Our mode of connection may not be wholly or even partially in person, but just because we are not interacting with someone who is right in front of us does not mean we are not interacting at all. As the great orator Patrick Star would say, “You’ve got it set to M for Me, when it should be set to W, for We!”
That being said, a question businesses and publications always seem to be asking (or selling) is “What does it MEAN to be young?” It’s an annoying question, but a valid and multilayered one when you remove it from profit. Depending on who you ask and from which perspective, youth can be a very broad thing (“it’s, like, an energy, man!”) or a very narrow thing (age, appearance).
If youth is an attitude, what does it encompass? Being wild and free? Does it feel like how I felt when I was nearly 11 years old staying up to watch Daria and Radio Free Roscoe on The N with my sister? Does it feel like taking a road trip with your friends across the states or backpacking through Europe? If it’s an appearance, does it look like an old person who tells dirty jokes or wears funky colors? Like a person who gets fillers to keep their skin tight? Like this iconic Diet Coke commercial that features my actual favorite song in the whole Universe? Who do we leave out when we define youth as an attitude? What is the cost, financially, culturally, and emotionally, to fit the idea of youth as an attitude or experience or look?
There’s an argument to be made that Hollywood has put our perception of what youth should look and feel like through an almost exclusively white, western, and middle/upper-middle-class lens. Directors like Sofia Coppola and John Hughes are known for making defining films about the experiences of young women and young adults/teenagers, respectively. However, their works are overwhelmingly white and middle-to-upper class. Their subjects are often very beautiful and financially stable white youth struggling with complex feelings in the most trying times of one’s youth. This does not stop the films from being enjoyable or even necessarily from being relatable, but it does alienate swathes of young people who may not be beautiful and able-bodied and rich and white. If we define youth by experiences shown to us in mass media, or attitude informed by experience shown through the same, we run the risk of further alienating already marginalized people.
And how about that attitude and experience? Are youth and level of maturity one and the same? How does the idea of maturity play into dangerous relationships? From Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft:
Why, for example, does a twenty-two-year-old man pursue a sixteen-year-old adolescent? Because he is stimulated and challenged by her? Obviously not. They are at completely different developmental points in life with a dramatic imbalance in their levels of knowledge and experience. He is attracted to power and seeks a partner who will look up to him with awe and allow him to lead her. Of course, he usually tells her the opposite, insisting that he wants to be with her because of how unusually mature and sophisticated she is for her age. He may even compliment her on her sexual prowess and say how much power she has over him, setting up the young victim so that she won’t recognize what is happening to her. Even without a chronological age difference, some abusive men are drawn to women who have less life experience, knowledge, or self-confidence, and who will look up to the man as a teacher or mentor.
The inverse of this dangerous appeal of youth manifests itself in ageism and sexism. The older and less “youthful” we get, the less worth we are bestowed in general society. Think of how we treat women who “age gracefully” vs. women who do not. Consider the fact that there are women so afraid of such demotion that they turn to plastic surgeons to tighten what has loosened with age and are, in turn, scorned further. (I say this without any judgment for those who opt for plastic surgery for reasons medical or cosmetic; it is your life and your body). How do we change our idea of youth and how we talk about it so that everyone, young or not, can feel comfortable with how they are and how their life is without needing to compare it to the romanticized notion of Youth? I don’t know quite yet…
So who gets to be young and what decides that? Neither I nor my fellows here at The Pulp Zine can pretend to answer that question, but it’s definitely one worth peeling apart and exploring.
With love and quarter-life crises every 3 seconds,
p.s. As always, we are open to receiving any and all submissions from our lovely readers. If you have something you think we’d like (it doesn’t have to be in line with our theme of Youth!), feel free to send it on over to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you <3