I visited the Titanic museum in Belfast today. On the way I passed a young lad of about 15 years of age dressed as a skinhead. He looked the part. Ox blood 18 hole DMs, skinny short faded jeans, Harrington jacket, check shirt and cropped hair. A common sight in the 60’s and 70’s but certainly not now. He stood out, as much as a Teddy Boy or a pink Mohican hair cut would today. It got me thinking, where are the teenage rebels now? If there are any, who are they? What do they wear and what are they listening to? How do kids rebel these days, if they rebel at all? Am I missing something?
I sat in a pub in central Belfast last night and all I could hear was a bland Ed Sheeran style musician, playing bland songs in a bland style, being ignored by blandly dressed youngsters, sitting in bland groups, blandly ignoring each other whilst self engrossed in their bland smart phones and taking selfies. You get my drift. I found them well, bland. ‘But you’re a 58 yr old boomer’ I hear you scoff. Well yes, I am, but I was once a teenage rebel until marriage, mortgages and kids emasculated me (a poor excuse I know, but shit happens)
‘What on earth has this got to do with the Titanic museum?’ I hear you ask. Well, the museum took great care to explain the social forces that shaped the industrial revolution and the growth of Belfast via the linen and shipbuilding industries. Social control and hardship, in these times, were an accepted part of daily life. Be it control in the form of religion, sex, peer pressure and class, or simply hardship brought on by sheer poverty, with no social welfare in existence apart from the fear and shame of the workhouse. It was their ‘normal’ to coin a popular phrase. You knew where you stood. Coerced and controlled by one or more of the previously mentioned forces. You generally and mostly meekly accepted your lot and got on with it, because if you rebelled you and your family might not survive being potentially ostracised and shamed.
Compare this Titanic generation to modern times. 60’s kids onward (including me) have had very little overt social control and so far, have never suffered in the way previous generations have. They have always been protected by a social safety net. Our normal has generally been one of personal freedom of expression (the freedom to rebel – imagine trying that in the days of the Titanic?) freedom of sexuality and mostly freedom of choice in all aspects of your life. They have rarely ever been hungry, never had the fear of not having a social security safety net, never had the fear of not affording medical help and certainly no fear real poverty as the Victorians and Edwardians knew it. Even in the 20’s/30’s poverty was rife. My father, for instance, had his first pair of shoes at the age of 12. You could say we’ve had it (with a few exceptions) very easy compared to previous generations. Our ‘normal’ to coin that irritating phrase again, has been one of relative comfort and safety and bears no comparison to living in Victorian style poverty (or simply just the fear of it) to drive you on and of living hand to mouth just to survive.
Now Covid (whether you believe it to be a death plague, or just a severe flu, or somewhere in between) has altered this comfortable landscape, perhaps forever. It’s the first perceived threat to our way of life for generations (if you believe the govt and MSM that is) and the results, with regard to being controlled and how we have reacted to these controls, are fascinating and if not a tad frightening to observe.
How quickly most have conformed to this perceived threat. How quickly some condemn others and revel in the misery. How quickly we are happy to give up our freedoms in the face of inept and dodgy data. Masks are now and I predict will be, a regular sight in the West for years to come now as they have always been in the East. It’s a sad state of affairs. This generation would appear to be as meek and accepting of control and as puritan in many of their values as the Victorians once were.
Social media is the relatively new control to throw into the mix. Along with the old fashioned dirty look and the natural human need to conform to survive as part of the group, has been added the peer pressure from social media -Twitter probably bring the worse example. Victorian values of fit in or be/feel ostracised by your peers/church/neighbours and or social or govt dictats, is alive and well. I reckon the Victorians would feel very much at home in Covid Britain.
Covid seems to have re-introduced many of the same Victorian style social controls and peer pressures, alongside strict, if nonsensical, govt controls – when to wear a mask, how to wear it, rules to follow, sanctions etc. Peer pressure and strict govt rules attempt to force you into conforming and woe betide you if you do not!
The current generation have never really had to face these types of controls or pressure to conform before. Social media makes it easier for them to ‘conform’ and very hard for them not to. Fear of condemnation and of being ostrasised, particularly by your peers, is a great motivator (how very Victorian). In fact I would even go as far as to say that most seem to embrace these controls. Masks have even become a must have fashion accessory for Christ’s sake!
So where are the teenage rebels? I say this based on the last 60 years or so where, traditionally, it has been the young who have generally been the first group to resist real or perceived authoritarian regimes. Please give me hope that there is more to this seemingly bland generation than meets the eye.
If there are any, now or in the future, it may well come via a small courageous minority who reject all social media, believing it (rightly or wrongly) to be a negative social and govt led controlling influence in all aspects of our lives. These will be the new teenage rebels. It may not be a clothing or music rebellion, as it was with teddy boys, mods, rockers, skinheads and punks, but it will be a rejection of the social media aspect of the tech revolution (FB/Instagram/Snapchat/Twitter etc). The question for these rebels (if they materialise) will be how to organise and communicate without using social media (oh the conundrum) Will this be via using old fashioned telephone/pubs/email/ text (I doubt it) or simply just by using social media in a different way? Will they dress differently? Form a ‘tribe’, embrace a new genre of music – Somalian street gang rap anyone? Who knows, but I wish they would wake up quickly and smell the coffee.
© Emma Royd 2020