It’s trendy to knock the next generation, but it’s adults letting them down, says CATHAL McCARTHY
THERE’S something very naff about auld fellas trying to be ‘down’ with the kids. You know yourself: the middle- aged man with the middle-aged spread yapping to a group of his teenaged son’s friends about how much he’s looking forward to that new Fiddy Cent album.
It is quite possible to identify the single most toe-curling episode in post-war British public life as that interview in which that solid son of the Scottish Kirk, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, declared that he was an avid fan of the Arctic Monkeys.
We knew that Gordon hadn’t an iota who the Arctic Monkeys were. And the vision of him, charging around Downing Street, desperately asking some fey aide fresh down from Oxbridge to give him the names of some hot, hip and happening bands to name-check in an interview, remains the worst defeat for British official dignity since the fall of Singapore.
It is desperately un-hip for old men to pretend they are hip or to pretend that they still understand what ‘the kids’ want or like, or listen to, or reject. Whisper it: but I do wish that sometimes someone would mention this inviolable truth to President Michael D., who always manages to convey the very questionable notion that he and ‘the kids’ have a certain vibe going on.
I mention this for two reasons: firstly, because it’s a truism that it’s not psychologically possible (or desirable?) for their parents to know or get — in any meaningful sense of those verbs — the attitudes or dynamics of their teenagers. It’s not possible.
We can know most of a teenager’s motives for the simple reason that they were the same motives that worked us: sexual attraction. But after that, I’d be very worried about ascribing attitudes and impulses to youngsters. They don’t know themselves and, even if they did, they’re not going to tell us. Remember Marlon Brando’s response in The Wild Ones when he’s asked what he’s rebelling against? “What have you got?” True then, true now.
The second reason I mention this is that I’ve been profoundly irritated by the blather we’ve had to listen to all week about how last Saturday’s fiasco in the Phoenix Park shows that this generation are more drug-addled and drunk and violent than the preceding ones.
It is a truism that every generation since the dawn of time has felt that the ones coming after them aren’t made of the same stuff at all. In fact, people have felt ‘those crazy kids’ are going to send the place to hell in a hand basket since Man wove his first hand basket (it was probably Woman but we’ll pretend anyway and annoy Nell McCafferty).
It’s as easy and facile and wrong now as it was the first time it was said millennia ago. And it’s as crass and unfair to say it about our kids now as it was when our elders said it about us. As it happens, I think the generation of twenty-somethings I see and read about will be, in many ways, superior to us. They seem more ethical. They seem to be fairer. They seem to have a genuine commitment to justice and equality beyond the posturing and self- promoting that was the hallmark of some previous generations — most notably, the sixties baby-boomers who seem to be the most vocal about how kids now have ‘lost their idealism’ and whose acid-propelled festival
excesses provide some useful context for last Saturday’s events.
The gay marriage debate currently competing with the Phoenix Park for the trumpeted denunciations of saloon bar bores is a case in point. The public silence of the younger generation on this question is interpreted as a lack of idealism and an unwillingness to confront an obvious injustice. The reverse is actually the case: it is precisely because the case for full equality of gay couples before the law is so obvious to them that young people do not start roaring their heads off. As far as they’re concerned, there is no argument.
We have perceived silence as disengagement and selfishness, when, in actual fact, I suspect that the silence denoted a quiet bemusement at the fact that something so patent was even a question for debate at all.
The bar bores demur. It’s the kids these days, they’re different (translation: they’re worse) they can’t drink socially. They’re off their heads on drugs. They can’t listen to music without wanting to kick the head off some other crowd. It wasn’t like that when we went to gigs.
To which any sane response should be to point out that if the bar bores can’t remember the casual violence that accompanied dances or social occasions in the Eighties then they must have been even more sozzled than they are now.
I seem to recall that dances and discos were punctuated with outbursts of very vicious brawling with such frequency that no-one batted an eyelid either during or after. So let’s break a figurative bottle over the head of anyone who says that alcohol-propelled violence is any more prevalent or nastier than it was ‘in our day’. Not true. That leaves drugs. And here those who complain about the kids may be on firmer ground. It’s very likely that the younger generation takes more drugs than previous generations. Does it make them worse people than their elders?
Well, let’s see. What’s the age profile of an average drug user? 18-35? What’s the age profile of an average drug distributor or importer? I would say anywhere north of 35 with a nice statistical bias towards mid-to-late fourties.
In other words, members of the same generation as those who lean on the bar now and denounce youngsters as violent junkies. They take it, we give it. It’s not them, it’s us.
The very stridency of our denunciations hides the brute truth about our youth: they have been betrayed by us. We’re the ones who make cheap drink available everywhere and we’re the ones who permit open-air drug use on the main street of our capital cities and we’re the ones who are either unable or unwilling to demand effective and forceful policing of the minority of morons who disfigure every facet of Irish life every day.
We blame the kids because we know — to our deepest shame — that the real blame lies with us.