Thursday, 15 November 2007

Teenage Kicks

We watched 10 Things I Hate About You last night; one of those films that just happens to be on and which you become unavoidably sucked into, like a televisual mind-flayer. Actually, I loved it. It could hardly fail being based on such foolproof material - it would be difficult not to make a good high-school reworking of The Taming of the Shrew, and in any case the charisma of the cast is enough to pull anything off. (It stars Heath Ledger, of Brokeback Mountain fame, 'before he was famous', as well as Julia Stiles from the Bourne films.)

It made me incredibly nostalgic, actually, because by happenstance the kids in it were turning 16, 17 or 18 in the exact same era I was - the mid/late 90s. And when I look back, I think that generation - our generation - was on the tip of a kind of cultural faultline; we were the last set of teenagers to make the transition to adulthood without widespread use of mobile phones, the internet, mp3 players, or even CGI in films. Nowadays all those things have come along and changed the world in all kinds of subtle and not-too-subtle ways, and things will never be the same for any generation of teenagers ever again.

In a funny way, it makes me sad. Kids today have no idea what it is like having to wait for your sister to get off the bloody phone in the evening after like ages when all you want to do is call your friend for like five seconds to arrange to meet. They have no idea about the painstaking, heartrending process of making a mix-tape for a girl you like - the thought and effort that went into it, and the nightmare of having it go wrong. (Tapes. Just think about that for a second. When I was a teenager, the prized musical medium, the totemic gift of the rock gods, was a cassette tape.) They will probably never have heard that dreaded sound - of the piece of music you love so much being warped and twisted by an old stereo player that has decided to chew up the ribbon. They won't know what it's like to have things like pen-friends who it took about three hours to write a good letter to. The boys amongst them will have no idea of the genuine fantastic mystery that the opposite sex used to hold in the days when there was no readily accessible internet porn and naked girls were the domain of women's locker rooms or else dreamland.

Being a teenager back then, and every generation prior to that, was a horrible experience in a lot of ways - we were so much more beholden to the power of our parents than young people are now, so much more constrained by limited technology, so much more naive. But life also had a lot of charm then that it has now lost: when you'd slaved for an entire saturday over making a really good mix-tape there was a pleasure in accomplishment there that making an mp3 playlist simply can't match. And now that cultural faultline had been crossed, we'll never be able to go back.


zero_zero_one said...

Being a teenager back then... was a horrible experience in a lot of ways

Considering the kind of things in the news nearly every day now (to do with young people and teenagers), I think any downside to going through our teens when we did is much more desirable than what we see occuring today.

Bilbo said...

Gee, you've made me feel REALLY old! I was a teenager in the 60's, and most of your comments applied at that time, too. No mobile phones (which was probably a good thing in retrospect); no Internet (we substituted playing pick-up ball games outside as our time sink); for music on the go you carried a bulky, battery-powered cassette player that nourished itself by chewing up your lovingly-crafted mix tapes; "special effects" in the movies were a step up from the pie-plate-on-a-string flying saucers of the 50's, but not much; and so on. We've crossed the same cultural faultline...we've just done it about 30 years apart!

Amanda said...

I have a couple of drawers of tapes in my old room that I just can't bear to throw away. Plenty of them mixed either by me or some friend.

BTW, I totally remember being a sister on the phone for 5 hours!! Not even a touchpad phone....but the kind with the round dial.

Thanks for this post. Its nice to be reminded of those times. I don't know what sort of teenager-hood my son is going to have but there must be something good in these times too.

mattiecore said...

"But life also had a lot of charm then that it has now lost: when you'd slaved for an entire saturday over making a really good mix-tape there was a pleasure in accomplishment there that making an mp3 playlist simply can't match."

I've made mix tapes, mix cds, and playlists, and I took each one of them very seriously. There's an art to it.

If you were on the tip of the faultline, I was directly at the epicenter of the quake. I was only a few years behind you, but that put me right in the middle of my formative years when the technological explosion made electronics so ungodly ubiquitous.