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December 11, 2002

Adult Supremacism - part 2

IV. Anti-Youth Propaganda
Adult supremacism is a blueprint for one group's control over another -- one that's been implemented. But adult supremacy is not static and unchanging. Adults continue talking about it, interpreting current events through the lens "adults should control youth". This cultural conversation keeps the implementation of adult supremacism a constantly changing and evolving thing.

The role of public commentator is taken up by a number of different groups: news reporters, writers for sit-com TV shows, authors of popular non-fiction / advice books, university-based researchers, politically involved advocacy groups, public officials, etc. The work of creating media content is creative, but certain themes are repeated over and over. In his book "Framing Youth: 10 myths about the Next Generation.", anti-adultism author Mike A. Males identifies some of the most common themes: "today's youth are America's worst generation ever", "teens are violent thugs", "teens need more policing", "teens are druggie wastoids".

Suppose a 16-year-old white male murders his parents. In similar actual cases, national media have picked up the story and covered it for days or weeks on end. It's a terrible crime -- but adult men murdering their wives and girlfriends is common enough that it only receives local attention and usually only on one day. Similarly, when an adult goes on a shooting spree, murdering a number of people, it makes the national news -- but only briefly; it's become a familiar (though terrible) event. When white teenage boys did the same at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, it was the news event of the year; media commentators were still talking about it many months later.

The gist of most commentary went along these lines... "How could this happen? If *any* youth could do this, then there must be something horribly wrong with the state of youth collectively. We adults must make big changes now. Parents must exert more control. Everyone who interacts with youth must be more involved." National magazines ran cover stories about how to spot violent youth. Across the U.S., special suspicion and hostility was aimed at any youth wearing the color black. Underlying all discussion, the real story was "we need to control youth." So, as time passed, new topics got coverage: the brain chemistry of young people (showing how unlike adults youth are) and, as one cover story succinctly put it, "do kids have too much power?" Local TV news crews wanted some way to connect their own communities to the national concern, so they ran stories about vandalism and petty crimes by local youth, all the while shaking their heads, reiterating the implication that youth as a group have gone bad. Legislators, wanting to respond to the (adult) public's concerns, acted where they could -- for instance, by making the requirements for a driver's license stricter, and by cracking down on movie theaters that don't check patrons' age carefully enough!

The societal backlash against youth after the Columbine shootings was probably the worst in 50 years or more. But it was not unique -- it simply replayed on a larger scale something that happens commonly when youth make the news. Anti-youth propaganda makes adult control seem vital and new again each time current events give pundits something to respond to, something to interpret.

Between news events, adult supremacism is recycled in moralistic entertainment. TV dramas and sit-coms habitually reuse the plot line where son / daughter becomes involved in some vice, and is only saved from destruction by lecturing and a stiff punishment from the wise parent. The story may be aimed at youth, adults, or both; notice that it provides a clear role model for parental behavior, not just for youth. In the realm of pure comedy, stand-up comics and newspaper cartoonists (notably Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, creators of "Zits") regularly trot out hackneyed caricatures of youth for derision: the bad student driver, the telephone monopolizer, the faddish teen with green hair and a tongue-piercing, the fast food burger-flipper with acne and a cracking voice, the brooding and sulky teen, the fan of unbearably loud and awful music, and so on.

Youth Liberation activists would like to move society toward a non-adultist future. It's inspiring to imagine a utopian world where young people have equal rights, or to draft a youth bill of rights. However, with so many voices actively justifying adult control -- if not calling for its expansion -- activists can expect opposition at each step. The better part of our energies may go to just resisting new attacks, holding and protecting ground rather than making any new progress.

-- to be continued --

December 11, 2002

Posted by Sven at December 11, 2002 11:53 AM