Saturday, December 26, 2015

Rebellious teenagers (1966)

From the June 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

A lawyer's bonanza in the shape of a Public Enquiry into the behaviour of sonic police officers . . . a murder trial . . . a Government Minister upsetting the apple-cart by making an unusually intelligent observation in connection with the Brown Plan. Pope Paul using Orange air-space . . .  all this against a background of the usual wars, threats of war and diplomatic hooliganism was fun for the press.

But its all old-hat as far as the public is concerned: the lawyers, the murders, the indiscretions of Ministers, the military butchery simply new names for old stories. A. day or two in the headlines and then the news gatherers must bestir themselves again in the jungles of capitalism to bring more news to a populace made news conscious by their constant nearness to “news" situations.

Hence, an enterprising newsman “discovers" bored teenagers congregating around the grounds of the Belfast City Hall on Sunday night. His newspaper complete with picture and news caption serves up the story and such is the excitement of life in these adventurous Sixties, the story catches on. More press comments, letters to the editor and. eager as the editors, statements from churchmen.

Controversy! Statements. quotes and the usual line up of "for" and "against", clergymen, especially, cast their nets in the murky waters of youthful boredom wisely offering "recreational facilities" instead of theological trinkets. On the Sunday evening following, then the bored teenagers are joined by more bored teenagers, bored policemen, boring churchmen and many who were bored teenagers between the two Big Wars.

If we listen in on Grandfather we'll find his boredom momentarily relieved by the mystery of it all. He will tell yon the modern teenager has everything—not like him when he was a youth! In his time they had to nuke their own amusement! “But now, why they spend millions on fancy suits, record players, even motor bikes and 'old bangers' and still . . . And they've no respect for anything and look what the Government's paying for their fancy education."

Of course there's no denying Grandpop's claims: the “modern" teenager gets more of what passes for education in capitalism than did his predecessors. He also has more money to spend and his "recreational" needs are, to use his own terms, “fabulously" well catered for. Yet he is shiftless, respectless and very often bored.

His "behaviour patterns" engage the attention of "experts" whose interests range from those of the churches, the police, the social worker and the multiple tailoring and recording industries He is examined and analysed as a social phenomenon, he is blessed. blamed, cajoled, threatened and exhorted. Generally he is unmoved, bored.

Bored with what? The simple "truths" of his father; with his "education", his religion, with politics, with work, the Law Authority. He is bored with the society that created him.

As far as the average working-class youngster is concerned he gets from society the measure of "education" that the “educationalists" of capitalism consider necessary to fit him most ably for the task of producing wealth for those who own the factories, distributive outlets, etc. In the past, where his father was concerned, the task was a relatively simple one: a little reading, writing and simple arithmetic were all that was required then of the average worker to fit him for the bench, warehouse or the office. Today, however, partly as the result of the last “Great" war, when productive techniques underwent vast technological change, and partly as the result of the workers improved bargaining position in the “trade war" succeeding the slaughter, the role of the worker in most industries has become more involved and complex. Hence the need for better trained school leavers.

But, while the capitalist state is prepared to invest heavily in apprenticeship school years it is not prepared to lose sight of its investment ratio. Some methods of selection, Eleven-plus or teacher selection, is used to determine the investment value of the pupil. The competitive bias is ever present, lauded as a virtue and prompted by teacher and parent with the promise, the threat, the misery.

The "failures" usually are left to their rejection and degradation; the "success" “rewarded" with increased struggle. By and large the average "successful" pupil, in the tender years of childhood, is confronted with a working week of greater effort and longer hours than his, or her, father.

The old street community games are seldom played now. Modern “working class" housing developments bear no evidence of goal posts or "wickets" painted on gable walls. Such games as Rally-O. Releavc-O (to give them their local names) and so on, are but by-gone relics of an age when the working class were at least allowed the luxury of childhood.

Of course, today, commercial interests cater to the youngsters "recreational" needs: the transistor radio, the record player and all the other paraphernalia of the “with it" youth—the symbols of affluence, of property consciousness. The prelude to the world of “things" where people have separate identities only on the work sheet or the Income Tax return.

Despite the purpose of the present school training system however (indeed, contrary to its purpose) the average working class youngster gets a better insight into the world he lives in than did his father. Again, the improved methods of communication, radio, television, etc., contracts time and space and exposes the world he lives in to his gaze.

The contradictions of the world have their effects on the forced-growth children: the poverty amidst plenty, the organised waste, the homes of the master class and the "dwellings" of the workers, the friend-enemy switches of “their” country and much more besides. And the “explanations", the facile chatter of the politicians, the bewilderment of clergymen, the double-talk of statesmen, judges, businessmen, trade-union leaden, etc.

This may be the stuff of eventual political understanding or,  as it tragically most often is, a fertile breeding ground for cynicism, hostility and boredom.

And the promise for the future? As with one voice from all the upholders of capitalism: More work, more production. more competition, more failures, more cynicism, more boredom, more “things”.

Unhappy teenagers: a frankenstein of capitalism, necessary to its buying, selling, competition, trade, machinations and yet containing in its make-up a rejection of capitalism's "more" values—cynical of the very foundations of society—capitalist society.

Well, indeed, may the powers of capitalism be disturbed. For the present the rebellious teenager can be dealt with by the muscles of authority, the police club, the judge and the jailor. If, however, the teenager found direction and purpose for his admirable qualities of discontent and rebellion he could become an unmanageable danger to capitalism and contribute much to its destruction.
Reprinted from the World Socialist Party of Ireland's journal—'Comment'.

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