‘THE kids are alright’, The Who sang in 1965 as their debut album soundtracked the rise of Mod culture in Britain.
One of the first teenage subcultures, Mods were characterised by narcissistic fashion, glittering scooters, devotion to ‘their’ kind of music — The Who and the Small Faces among others — and heavy amphetamine use. Their ongoing conflict with another subculture, the rockers, led to the coining of the phrase ‘moral panic’.
This brief history lesson is by way of refuting the assertion in yesterday’s Irish Examiner by Vittorio Bufacchi of UCC’s philosophy department that modern teenagers, as evinced by what he saw at Slane Castle last Saturday, are of a uniquely selfish, solipsistic mien.
Like Dr Bufacchi, I was at Slane Castle for the Eminem concert last Saturday. As the good doctor said, PhDs in philosophy were thin on the ground, but, like Dr Bufacchi, I saw young people of both sexes urinating freely in public and discarding their litter everywhere; I saw enough acts of violence to be surprised to learn later that there had only been five reported assaults; I saw public displays of intimacy outside the norms of usual behaviour.
However, it would be wrong to extrapolate from any of this extreme behaviour that we were seeing the end of days in our nation’s youth. Passing out drunk and bloodied outside the gates of Slane Castle doesn’t mean you’ve ruined society — it just means you’ve ruined your day out.
It is the job of teenagers to scare and reject their parents’ generation. It’s genetically hardwired into them. Not only is boundary-testing key to an individual teenager’s growth into an adult, it’s also necessary at a societal level. Without it, there would be no change, only conservatism, only stagnation, and what’s more, every generation has done it — not just starting with the Mods — and civilisation still hasn’t come to an end.
Concerts, festivals, and the like are sites of extreme behaviour. The term ‘carnival atmosphere’ does not refer solely to the presence of face-painted infants and merry-go-rounds. Rather, carnivals have their origins in Bacchanalian orgies, and the direct line from those pre-Christian excesses, via medieval masquerades, to modern events such as Mardi Gras, is characterised by the suspension of normal societal strictures.
A veteran of many Glastonbury festivals, I can safely say I’ve seen much more public debauchery than occurred at Slane Castle, both in terms of substance abuse and public sex. At the first Notting Hill Carnival I attended in eight years living in London, a man was shot dead at point-blank range just metres from where I danced badly.
This week, the domain name Slanegirl.com was offered for sale at the price of $10,000, no doubt to be used for online pornography.
All these outrages, real and imagined, were perpetrated by adults, not teenagers. A passing familiarity with the court pages of the Irish Examiner will tell you it is people of my and Dr Bufacchi’s vintage, not 16- or 17-year-olds, that commit the majority of sex crimes and violent crimes.
This is not to say that the incident that has dominated the news agenda this week was acceptable, but it is the photo-sharing and social media witchhunt of the girl involved, rather than the actions in which she was photographed, that deserve condemnation.
If you’re shocked by the headline ‘Teenager has casual sex’, this conversation isn’t for you. If you think this behaviour is a once-off, don’t look too closely at the goings-on as Eminem plays the Leeds and Reading festivals this weekend.
As well as featuring Dr Bufacchi’s lament for the youth of today, yesterday’s Irish Examiner carried news that fundraising in Donal Walsh’s name at the Rose of Tralee festival reached €12,000. Of an age with many of Slane’s attendees, Donal defied terminal illness to raise funds — and awareness — to prevent teenage suicide.
In today’s edition, Maeve O’Rourke is honoured for her pro bono work on behalf of Magdalene survivors.
Every day, this newspaper hears of teenagers of whom this country can be proud. Last week, for example, 18 Cork teenagers were among 300 peers who graduated from a global leadership programme under the auspices of the fifth annual Foróige Albert Schweitzer Leadership for Life International Youth Conference. You can be sure these teenagers use social media and socialise with friends. No doubt some have overdone it to some extent. Don’t be fooled, either, into thinking there’s a divide between good teenagers and bad, Foróige graduates and Slane attendees. Show me an adult who hasn’t, as a youth, done something they regret, and I’ll show you an adult who hasn’t lived.
Teenagers, as they don’t have a voice in the mainstream media, get a bad name from fearful elder generations, but it seems to me like the kids are alright.