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Friday, 8 January 2010

History of the Now: The Story of the Noughties, BBC2

We’re what, a week into the new decade and the headstone for the ten previous years is being used as a wall upon which to scrawl naked lies and duplicity. Or perhaps this is the truth, or a form of it, but a testament that only applies to the glorious boroughs of London and the Home Counties with everywhere else in the country regarded with as little compassion as reports of scores of Afghan civilians being slaughtered by a wayward missile that is compensated for with an apology and a shrug of the shoulders.

And to its credit, Story of the Noughties at least paid lip service to vilify a culture and society that has made a Faustian pact to perpetuate the dream of eternal youth way beyond its usual boundaries. But abstains from mentioning that this is an eternal yearning rather than a novel trend; all that’s happened is that the veneer of youth has become a little easier to maintain and that more money can be made from it.

The idea of ‘kidulthood’ – one of the many vile ephemeral additions to the contemporary lexicon – was paraded as a lucid exemplar of how people, men mostly, were now able to indulge their most juvenile desires through microscooters, videogames or Harry Potter books. Men have always savoured pursuits that could easily be described as ‘toys’ or ‘games’, football for example, it’s just that each has been absorbed into the mainstream and is now viewed as an ‘adult’ habit.

Microscooters are just another form of cars, what snails are to slugs; videogames have been popular among adults since the 70s; and Harry Potter just happens to be an incredibly imaginative literary phenomenon – was Lord of the Rings read only by 14 year olds upon its release – how do they imagine Dungeons & Dragons came into being?

Women were homogenised with the same blinkered stupidity. Apparently, many women undergo a ‘middle-youth’, whom the editor of Red magazine describes as, “very much about not dressing like a grown-up”, as though women in ‘middle-youth’ or otherwise are utterly liberated as to their fashion choices when they are, as they have been since Og the cavewoman favoured bearskin over otterskin, tyrannised by a tsunami of ‘advice’ from fashion and gossip magazines.

‘Middle-youth’ and ‘kidulthood’ were just the previous decade’s ploys – if such focused ploys ever existed – of making women, and men, spend loads of money on clothes or gadgets they didn’t really need; which the recession has exposed as a necessary evil to perpetuate the inexorable onslaught of consumerism.

The ‘change’ in the behaviour of teenagers also came under disingenuous scrutiny. But not before the brilliant Dr Tanya Byron was able to provide the definitive analysis of the ‘demonization’ of young people dressed in ‘hoodies’. “There are young people who are dysfunctional and dangerous, but they are the minority.” But in a society that has always corralled people into amorphous blocks – ‘middle-youth’, ‘kidulthood’ – for consumerist purposes, is such homogenising such an anomaly?

Race On The Agenda’s Carlene Firmin made a similar sage point, but her observation was ignorant that such a schism between young and old is a perennial divide. “There’s no other item of clothing [the hoodie] that we use to describe a whole cohort of people.” Well, there’s anorak, Teddy Boy, mod, punk, Goth, etcetera, and while all not directly associated with clothes each has in common a futile generalisation of young individuals electing to follow a certain fashion or lifestyle.

Such generalisations crept into perceptions of past generations, too. We were told: “Children in the 1990s were at the mercy of their parents. They had to ask to use the house phone or the computer.” Wrong again. Children could do this thing called “go out”, whereby they’d meet up with their friends somewhere and socialise that way. And besides, today’s children are supposedly restricted in how and where they can go out, a fear that has been stoked by online stalkers abducting them; at the mercy of their parents again, just a differently – although this is perhaps a myth, too, disseminated by companies who’d prefer their young customers to talk via a phone or the Internet, which gains legs when their parents read about it through the same modern mediums.

As with the delusion that older people have that “music was much better in our day”, the youths of today and yesteryear shouldn’t pine for what they have been denied as they have probably enjoyed themselves equally.

Although Story of the Noughties attempted to convince us that the Internet had led to a “creative explosion” because of the “techquake” that apparently “pisses all over every youthquake” – generational music explosions, Beatles, punk, Britpop etc – and illustrated this rather impotently with the derivative Arctic Monkeys and either Pixie Lott or Little Boots (perhaps showing our age a bit there). Dizzee Rascal was a better example, a true icon of the era, who has written brilliant, innovative songs and could yet define a generation just like the Beatles, Sex Pistols etc.

Much was made of how easy it was to compose a song and upload it to the Internet, and how such a system fostered creative talent. This was then followed by a chapter that explained that as nobody was buying music any more the only way to generate music was to play live. But not everybody can be Prince or Led Zeppelin filling out the Millennium Dome and raking in the cash, to add to the cash raked in from record sales from a time when people bought records, when buying records enabled bands to survive the often difficult early years and attract the devotion of thousands of future Millennium Dome-goers without having to be distracted by an onerous day job sapping away the creativity. A fate that awaits many of the bands and singers uploading songs to MySpace by the dozen.

What has happened, as with every generation before it, is that the best music will seep through into the mainstream, and it will continue to be bought by ‘kidults’, ‘middle-youths’ and most other consumerist factions who find it so much more convenient to spend some of their disposable income on records or downloads rather than downloading illegally.

The ‘rebirth’ of live music – no, we didn’t know it had died either – is just a branding tool to offer the illusion that going to concerts is something new, that a generation of teenagers are pioneers equivalent to Amundsen, Columbus or Marco Polo seeking out new cultural pastures, when they’re just like every other generation before and after – they’re being deceived to part with the pound in their pocket, and as they won’t yet shell out for records they’ll be duped into swallowing the effluent slogan that live music can’t be replicated on record.

There’s no shame in falling victim to this duplicity. In a decade they’ll be able to gaze cynically at the TV as the next generation of teenagers are fleeced in evermore innovative ways for their money, just as they’ve paid for the thousands of worthless text messages they’ve sent, and shrug in resignation that one of the boons of glorious youth is to spend it in blissful ignorance while snagged on the fangs of the consumerist behemoth.

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