Seventy years ago, teenagers didn’t exist. I mean, they did, but nobody called them that—they were called “our future workforce” and wore suits and smoked pipes and took elocution lessons when they were 13. You went to bed one day a child and woke the next morning an adult. But by the end of WWII, the idea of adolescence had evolved from a few years spent getting ready for a life as a coal miner or a lawyer into the Best Years of Your Life. Then, in 1945, the New York Times published an article defining this bizarre new word—”teenage”—and the concept became a part of the public consciousness.
A few years ago, music writer and cultural historian Jon Savage wrote a book about all that called Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875-1945. The film adaptation of his book, directed by American filmmaker Matt Wolf and with an original score by Bradford Cox, gets its UK cinematic release on January 24. I gave both of them a call to talk about youth movements new and old and how great life is when you’re a teenager.
The trailer for Teenage
VICE: At the beginning of your film you say that the idea of the teenager is a wartime invention. Were there any pre-war youth movements that you left out? Jon Savage: They weren’t pre-war, but the ones who didn’t make it in are the Zazou. They were a French group in occupied Paris in the early 1940s who loved black American swing music—which was forbidden—wore English clothes, threw hidden parties, tried to avoid forced labor and, you know, annoyed the Gestapo. They also did something else fabulous: When the laws came in about wearing the yellow star, they made their own stars that, instead of “Jew,” said “Swing.” Then there were others that we didn’t get into too much detail about—the back-to-nature movements of the 20s, like the Wandervogel.
Oh yeah, the German proto-hippies who got naked and hung out in forests. Did that movement start during the First World War? Jon:No, they actually began in about 1900 in Germany.
So it wasn’t a reaction to the war? Jon: Well, it was a reaction to the militarization and industrialization of German society. There was also a generation gap between adolescents and their parents, and by the 20s there were lots of different groups. In fact, it’s bewildering the amount of groups there were by then, ranging from proto-fascist groups to hippies.
In a past life I was Jacques Cousteau, traveling the globe in search of adventure. Just a short baker’s dozen years ago, I spent no less than 28 days a month abroad on skateboarding tours. I was home so infrequently that I opted to no longer rent an apartment, but rather slept in any stranger’s bed for a night or under my desk at the legendary, defunct skate mag Big Brother. At some point I met my wife, moved back to New Jersey, had two sons, and settled into a peaceful life of domesticity in the suburbs.
Yet not one day passes that I don’t crave the open air of a strange and new place, wanting to find myself in inexplicable predicaments on foreign soil and barely escaping with my life. To try and spice things up, I’ve gotten myself into three car chases in the past two years, and on several occasions have just gotten in my car and driven for hours with no destination in mind. I try my best to take the family on the road a few times a year, but those adventures are different. The adrenaline rush tends to center around if the kids are going to break something or if we can pull over fast enough to avoid one of them shitting his pants.
In the immortal words of Clark W. Griswold: “I wanna paint, I wanna sculpt something massive… I want to… God, I just have a creative urge.” One that only a road trip can quench. Lucky for me I work for Vans, the greatest skate-shoe company on earth, and they’ve been kind enough to take me on a three-week European vacation. I’m writing this on the eve of my departure, and as excited as I am to mix it up overseas, I am beginning to stress out.
This will be the longest I’ve ever been away from my sons. I’m missing my firstborn’s first day of school and his fourth birthday. Worst yet, what really has me sick to my stomach is that I won’t be getting laid for 21 days. I haven’t gone that long since I first discovered the fuzzy britches of a woman. I don’t know that I’ll be able to handle it. So, I sat my wife down and discussed my options. I told her the tour had a one-night stay scheduled in Amsterdam and that I needed closure. She understood, gave me her consent, but feared for my safety.
The story goes that 11 years ago, in the early stages of our courtship, I found myself in the red-light district of Amsterdam. Not wanting to cheat on my new lady, I instead opted to buy a bag full of oblong vegetables for a prostitute to use as sex toys while I masturbated: no touching involved, and I’d gladly pay full freight. Turns out girls over there don’t care much for veggies. Every gal scoffed at the proposition; one sex worker got so angry that she called the enormous Moroccan security guards and nearly had me beaten senseless.
There are a few things in life that everyone over the age of 16 should be able to do: cook a few decent meals, navigate a new city without Google Maps, enjoy a hangover, and, bear with me here, send a decent sext. Anyone who thinks they’ll be able to track down The One without knowing how to turn their phone into an object of lust has another thing coming. Sexting is practically a requirement for living in the 21st century, no longer the reserve of predatory creeps or girls who HJ exchange students, being able to communicate just how horny you are over iMessage or Snapchat is a life skill and you’re going to have to learn how to do it.
According to TIME magazine, four out of five college kids sext on the regular. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “In this world, nothing can be certain, except death and taxes and that you will at some point be awake at 3 AM struggling to think of a fourth non-gross synonym for vagina/penis.” Frequent sexters are no longer just a bunch of teens furtively sending each other dick pics with the caption “u like? ;)”—the sexting landscape is now dotted with old marrieds, yuppies, and regular everyday humans like you and me.
Especially me. I do it a lot. So, on the off chance that you and I ever bump into each other in sext land, here’s how to keep me interested.
DON’T GET AHEAD OF YOURSELF
If you’re just starting out, three to four words are all you need. A length limit forces you to get straight to the point and eliminates the possibility of embarrassing yourself by using adjectives like “pulsing,” which makes your pussy or dick sound like the still-beating heart of a butchered mammal. I guess if you were really fucking twee, you could imagine your sext as the 21st century equivalent of a candy love heart, but instead of “Fax Me” you’re writing: “I wanna fuck you in a bodega.” If you’re still nervous or super stuck, just mash a bunch of buttons as though overwhelmed with desire. Or, IDK, hold the phone against your underwear and type with your pubic bone. “Asdaoh23rghhsdhudffffffffff.” That sounds lustful, right?
It’s 2013 and I know you’re not typing out every letter individually on your Motorola Razr, so Y R U choosin 2 talk lik a tween? Who culd eva b trnd on by dis?? No one wants to be deciphering your sexual hieroglyphics when they could be quietly shifting in their lecture seat so the seam of their jeans hits things just right. “RU horny” is the text message equivalent of giving someone a wedgy as a flirting tactic. It also implies there’s a 14-year-old on the other end of the phone, which, again, is not ideal in this situation.
School is the worst thing ever, but it’s something we all have to endure. (Unless you’re homeschooled, but then you have to spend all day with your mega-weirdo parents, and that’s way worse.) Old people will constantly tell you that “your school days are the best days of your life.” But all that means is that they’ve somehow fucked up so bad that their life since school has actually been worse than school. Can you fucking imagine? Yuck.
Going to school in the 21st century is much like it’s always been, i.e. like walking a horrible, horrible tightrope of anxiety and embarrassment. The only difference now is that if you fall off that tightrope, everyone will know about it a lot quicker, because we have the internet and mobile phones to help us spread information about who in our grade has a 7 PM curfew and who’s the only virgin to have ever lived, ever.
Luckily, I possess the authority to help guide you through this terrible time. So spit out that gum, put your phone away, and pay attention.
Every kid in public school wishes they were in private school, and every kid in private school wishes they were in public school. It’s a grass is always greener type situation, even though the grass in public school is covered in urine and maintained by self-loathing, overweight community college graduates whose sole reason for sitting in a room with you for eight hours a day is the promise of a yearly two-month, daytime television-filled vacation. Private school kids want to be in public schools because they have a reputation for being edgier—the girls are all totally slutty, and the boys come from the wrong side of the tracks. While that may be true, public school is also filled with unbelievably stupid children raised on professional wrestling and beef, many of whom are probably already riddled with diabetes. Being forced to exist with these little ogres means you actually have to hide the fact that you’re smart, lest you catch an ass-kicking from a bunch of future grocery store managers. Maybe you’ll want to keep your school books in a pizza box or pick up some slang to throw around outside of the classroom. If anybody asks why you’re doing some Poindexter shit, just say you’re trying to holler at bitches. Why join the chess the club? Bitches. Why take AP English? Bitches. Why act in the school play? BITCHES.
Oh, I’m sorry, is your superior education and head start in life getting you down? Just kidding, I bet you’re actually really down with the common man. Your dad probably has a copy of Ham on Rye resting under his monocle and 40-year-old Macallan single malt. I don’t really have any advice for you, pretty much everyone I know who’s been privately educated wears Opening Ceremony and has a personality disorder they pay people to ignore. Either that, or they will go the other way and develop a sense of shame about their privilege. Which leads to them shaving their heads, starting to talk like low-end drug dealers, possibly even becoming low-end drug dealers, and generally trying to copy the people who rob them on Saturday nights. This will either be permanent, or they will snap out of it at 18 when they realize no one is falling for it and, more importantly, no one likes low-end drug dealers.
(Brushes chip off shoulder, flicks hair.)
This is mainly for you private schoolers out there, although some public schools do require uniforms now, which is a bit like asking the janitors at the Port Authority Bus Terminal to wear tuxedos. I hate to be the one to break this to you, but no amount of tactical ripping or oversized safety pins is going to prove that you’re the last living punk or Sylvia Plath’s natural heir. For now, try and appreciate the homogeny of it all, because pretty soon you’ll have to dress yourself. Every. Single. Fucking. Day. Just know and take solace in the fact that every school uniform in the land is ergonomically designed to make perfectly adequate looking boys and girls look like sacks of baked beans.
GIRLS: Contrary to what old dudes on the internet believe, no one looks sexy in plaid or skirts that weigh more than a wet dog. Attempting to sex things up in any way is futile, and means you’ll be spending your mornings grooming, when you should be spending them sleeping. Also, covering spots with excessive Maybelline matte mouse doesn’t hide them; it makes you look like Mars (as in, the planet).
BOYS: You may think having one of those weird stubby ties makes you look like a straight-up G, but girls aren’t impressed by them. In fact, schoolgirls aren’t generally gonna be impressed by much that you do, because you’re a boy, so you’re going to spend lunch either a) smoking, or b) eating cafeteria “food” and washing it down with chocolate milk. Basically, you’re going to stink. Oh, and you’re going to get lots and lots of boners—remember to hide these securely behind your waistband. It doesn’t matter how old you are, no one likes a guy who stinks and has a boner.
We are so sick of you full-grown babies running around aimlessly—with your shoes untied and overdraft-fee receipts falling out of your pockets and grease stains on your cut-offs and employment-repellant skillsets and inability to party and go to work the next morning—that we’ve gone ahead and figured it all out for you.
In the early 2000s, 20- and even 30-somethings could eek out a passable existence as abhorrent, unabashedly selfish, microwave-dependent, and wholly unproductive members of society. Today, somewhat due to the grievous irresponsibility’s of our baby boomer parents, we know that such behavior can only heap insurmountable debt being foisted upon future generations, and, if you really give it your all, the slaughter of millions of innocent civilians worldwide and other atrocities.
Chances are your parents were selfish and didn’t raise you correctly. Like, at least one-third of the people reading this have no idea how to fold a T-shirt. What the fuck is wrong with you? Did you just not show up to that day of life? But it’s OK. We will show you the way.
It is quite possible that your parents didn’t teach you certain things about hygiene while you were growing up. It’s quite possible that you didn’t even have parents, and were perhaps born from a turd similar to the ones you continuously leave in the bowl without flushing after visiting a public restroom, like a DNA stink-abortion for the next person to discover. Hate to break the news to you, pal, but if you haven’t managed to tackle how to properly deal with your fecal waste, everything else in life is going to seem like an insurmountable challenge.
PAY YOUR DEBTS
Hardly anyone has a credit card in Germany because the word for “credit card” there literally means “debt.” The Germans, culturally, do not live beyond their means, mostly because they tried that once and a lot of bad things happened. That’s sort of like America and Europe now, don’t you think? The only difference is that instead of Hitler we get a bunch of religious extremists who bunker down in the worst places in the world and figure out how they’re going to kill us over here. Bad things are happening, for sure, and a lot of it is fueled and funded by people (the West) living well beyond their means. Start by doing simple stuff like, you know, paying $100 a month above the interest owed on your credit card instead of buying drugs twice in one week.
You’re probably OK with pot and mushrooms and some psychedelics, but the reason you’re able to buy coke and heroin and most of the other shit (especially in the States) is because a lot of people are dying in Mexico because of it. And not just drug lords—entire families of innocent people who happened to live in the wrong town, and increasingly lots of children. There’s nothing you can do to stop it, but if you feel like you might have a bad drug problem coming on, subscribe to a few Mexican newspapers so you can look at crime scene photos of piles of body parts and headless corpses the next time you feel like taking a bump or plunging a needle in your arm.