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.
Chinese Teenagers Are Obsessed with Justin Bieber, Too
Right now, Justin Bieber is in the middle of the Asian segment of his “Believe” world tour. As well as playing some arena shows, he marked the occasion by making his groupies carry him up the Great Wall Of China and skateboarding around Beijing, as his own sweating bodyguards followed him. Unwilling to miss such a significant meeting of Western cultural imperialism and Eastern screaming teenagers, I headed over to the Mercedes-Benz Arena in the Pudong district of Shanghai to meet the local Beliebers.
Chinese people seem to be masters of the cult of personality and love famous people even more than the rest of us. When David Beckham was in Shanghai in June, for example, there was an actual stampede in his press conference and seven people were hospitalized. When was the last time YOU cared enough about a stranger to get covered in your own blood for them? If they were killing each other over a retired midfielder from England, what would they do for the most famous kid on Earth?
The first people I met were Crystal (left) and Amy. As Crystal booted up her battery-powered “Belieber” sign, Amy told me that she likes Justin because, “he has a dream”. However, she also warned me that, “You don’t have to like everything about someone – I don’t like his tattoos and he was a bit lazy on The Great Wall.”
Unlike many of her western counterparts, Amy never wanted Selena Gomez—Justin’s ex—to disappear. “I like her music,” she explained. “And anyway, Justin would not fall in love with me, he’s 19.” Amy has got her head screwed on straight. When she chased me across the street five minutes later and begged me to get Justin’s autograph for her, I wished I could help her.
In the days following the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons—the teenage girl from Halifax who committed suicide after being gang raped, photographed, and harassed—the hacktivist group Anonymous is playing a game of chicken with the authorities in Nova Scotia. Anonymous says they have the names of four suspects, and are threatening to release that information if justice is not delivered. Those names have in fact been circulating in small online circles, but the information has been withheld from publication on Anonymous’s largest social media channels. All of this has caused a storm of negative feedback from those who view Anonymous’s actions as destructive “vigilantism” while Anonymous maintains they are only involved because “several crimes have been committed in Nova Scotia. A 17-year-old girl killed herself because the police failed to do their jobs.”
I spoke with a member of Anonymous who is directly involved with the operation to bring Rehtaeh’s rapists to justice, in order to get a better handle on their motivations.
VICE: How do you go about sourcing the information that has led to naming the four suspects? Anonymous: The information we have gathered comes from a combination of internet research and informants. It’s a lot more like being a journalist than it is being a detective. We use advanced search techniques to comb the internet for statements, photos, videos, whatever we need. We can locate statements by suspects made years ago on accounts they may not even know still exist. We’ve also developed a level of trust with our online community and they feel comfortable speaking with us because they know we’ll protect their identities. We validate their information in the same way the police might, by cross referencing stories and doing background checks on the individuals who are providing the information. There’s also a psychological factor. It’s important to recognize the motives behind the person who is providing you the information. Some people just want to be involved so they’ll embellish their accounts or perhaps they want revenge. You can’t always count on a person’s memory either so it’s important to test them to discover if the story they are telling you has been compromised by time or their emotional state.
In this case, did your sources approach you? Most of the sources approached us, but we tracked down quite a few of them by examining the online interactions of the victim and the suspects.
What have you learned about this case so far that you want people to know? Only half of this case is about those four teenage boys and the alleged rape. The real guilty parties here are the adults that violated Rehtaeh. I would like to see those boys punished for what they did because I think it sets a terrible example for the other young men in Nova Scotia, but almost even more I would like to see the police and the school system pay for what they did to that girl. They had a responsibility to be there for her, to protect her, and to relieve her torment. They failed at every turn to help her. Now they’re all too busy blaming one another. The school claims they didn’t know. The police say they couldn’t find any evidence. They’re both guilty of incompetence.
By now, the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting has faded into memory for many people, a horrible event already superseded in the headlines by other horrible events. At the time it shocked me to a degree I thought I could no longer be shocked, a reaction no doubt shared by everyone who heard the news. But it also stirred up some more complicated emotions for me along with the sadness—it reminded me that when I was a teenager, the people around me thought that I was capable of what the Newtown killer did. At one point, I was more of a potential murderer than a potential murder victim.
I grew up in a Barre, Vermont, a town with a poverty level on par with an urban slum, a rural pocket of ugliness decorated with a halfway houses and abandoned storefronts. The town bred drug addicts, premature deaths, and weirdos, but I was still too weird for it. As a kid, I possessed an eccentric streak and was prone to long periods of silence punctuated by bursts of hyperactivity. On top of that, I possessed a dark sense of humor, and I was naturally attracted to outlandish outfits. I tried to tame these tendencies and stay under the social radar in middle school and early high school, but it didn’t help. It was like my classmates could smell that I wasn’t quite right. I was bullied mercilessly for years, even by my “best friends,” in the manner of the worst stereotypes of tween girls. My friends would send mixed messages, being affectionate one moment only to commit spontaneous acts of physical and borderline sexual violence and emotional terror the next. What I wore, what I ate, and who I talked to were all controlled. Imagine Mean Girls only the girls weren’t as popular or attractive and were much more vicious. We were probably only friends by default—we were bullied together by the more popular kids, thus we stuck it out together, but we never mistook our forced alliance for love.
The summer of 1997, before my sophomore year of high school, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to fit into my current environment regardless of what I did, and I was sick of the unhealthy relationship that I was stuck in with my “friends.” I was still shy and withdrawn, so my rebellion was expressed through my clothing instead of my words—excessive amounts of eye makeup, dog collars, offensive tee shirts, the whole avant-garde nine yards. This acting out wasn’t directed against my parents (they didn’t care how I dressed) but towards my friends and the rest of the school. I figured letting my weirdness show regardless of the potential backlash was better than continuing to try desperately to fit in only to be mildly tolerated at best.
There was no goth subculture at my school back then, so I stood out like a black thumb; I was the most bizarre-looking kid in town. My style was met with equal parts disgust and fascination by my classmates, and the bullying predictably escalated—I was verbally and physically assaulted on a regular basis, receiving death threats at least once a month. Teachers not only didn’t bother to defend me, they would often chime in with comments about my appearance, maybe in an effort to impress the more popular kids, who were usually the offspring of the grown townspeople with high standing in the community.
The other form my rebellion took was a book of charts and rhymes and short stories I had been working on for a while—by the time I was 15, it was 23 pages long and full of frustration and silliness. I shared it with my friends and it became the source of a bunch of inside jokes. Oh, and I killed some people in it too, people I knew who I thought were malicious—I referred to them by surreal fake names and described their deaths in cartoonish detail; most of them were murdered by a disco ball at the Elks Club. Here’s how I described it:
“Nuffiunda calmly took a knife out of her pocket and cut the rope. For the kids below, there was no more hope. The disco ball swung uneasily and in a matter of seconds, maybe just four, it was no longer above the dance floor. A loud crash vibrated the room, as several kids below had met their doom.”
As time went on, I started to prefer escaping into the private world of writing to trying and failing to impress my frenemies, and that attitude resulted in them banishing me and another girl from the group. We became loners in the truest sense: Only two people signed my senior yearbook and she was one of them. We were really the bottom of the high-school social totem pole, and the girls we used to call our friends were now our biggest perpetrators, starting untrue rumors that we spent our free time having sex with each other and that I fucked a bunch of guys—the usual teenage stuff.
The author posing for a photo that probably made sense at the time.
Then on May 1, just 11 days after the Columbine shooting, my life took a drastically dumb turn.
It began normally enough: My fellow loner and I were waiting for a ride, sitting on the steps of the school. Parked in front of us was the car of the main rumormonger and our chief tormentor. My friend told me to stand guard while she wrote a mean note and put it on her windshield—the note threw around the words “fat” and “whore” and she signed it with the name of one of the characters from my Elks Club story.
“She’ll know who wrote it if you sign it with that name,” I said. “You can’t write that.”
She agreed and rewrote it, signing off, “Love, The Trenchcoat Mafia.”
I shrugged. “Well, at least she won’t know who wrote it,” I remember saying. I didn’t even think we’d get in trouble. Then our ride arrived and I heard reports about a wave of Columbine copycat threats around the nation on the car radio. I think I let out an audible “fuck”—we hadn’t even been sneaky about the note. There were about ten kids who had watched my friend put it on the windshield.
Predictably, the police got called, and school officials wanted to talk to me. But they weren’t interested in the note, which I admitted being an accomplice to; they just wanted to see my “death plan.” Apparently my old friends had responded to the note by telling the vice principal that my surreal, jokey Elks Club story was a prom murder spree manual and that I was going to kill a bunch of kids at the upcoming Junior Prom, which was talking place, by sheer coincidence, at the Elks Club. (Not that that was a surprise; everything in that fucking town took place there.) The school had also been informed that I was in the process of building bombs. Now, most people I knew had access to firearms, as it was a big hunting town, but I didn’t have any guns in my house, I didn’t know how to build a bomb, and weapons didn’t interest me at all.
Within a few days, rumors of me wanting to go berserk went far and wide, and even made front pages of the local newspapers. Since I was a minor, my name wasn’t mentioned but there was constant mention of a “girl who wrote a short prom killing story.”
Teenagers and Salafists Storm the American Embassy in Tunisia
I’m a Middle Eastern Studies student from Wisconsin currently doing research in a suburb of Tunis called Sidi Bou Said. Today, just after lunch, I noticed a cloud of thick black smoke rising on the horizon. Burning trash is fairly common here, so I didn’t think much of it. But on my way to class one of my classmates mentioned, half-joking, that it might be coming from the US Embassy. Our suspicions were confirmed when our Tunisian Arabic teacher plunged into a nervous breakdown during class.
The demonstrations in Tunisia today are being blamed on the now infamous “Innocence of Muslims” film, but the real reason behind them is the rhetoric of the current party in power. Nahdah (in Fus’ha Arabic, it means “Awakening” or “Renaissance”) is a popular Salafist (for lack of a better word “Islamist”) party that was elected last fall. After ousting the semi-secularist dictator Ben Ali from power, the Nahdah party was supposed to create a new constitution within a year. Nahdah has almost completely failed at this task, partly because of corruption and partly because most of its leaders have been rotting in jail for the past 20 years.
The talk among the progressive parties in Tunis is that the riots today were not only an attack on the US Embassy, but an attack on the Tunisian people. Today’s attacks were a warning shot, and a pony show of the power of Nahdah. Of course, the ruling party would never corroborate this. Nahdah speaks out of both sides of its mouth. October 23, 2012 will be the end of Nahdah’s legitimacy and many think that today’s attacks are a sign of their increasing desperation.
Who else knows every single thing about music and books and movies but also knows how to use hash oil but also houses a private, expanding and infinite constellation of feels and thinks? Nobody! Weirdly, teenage girls have it the hardest: nobody likes them, because stop shotgunning one another with loud inconsequentials on the subway, OK? And because they are messy and self-serious and uncontained and are always, like, stroking their filthy accessories and iPhone charms in this grossitating way. I’m a professional girl, and when I am with two or more teenage babies I feel like they’re going to combust and just period and period and period all over me. But, but but but, they’re all anybody thinks about, looks at, looks at with their dinky in their hand, wants to be, has shit to say about. Teenage girls are as full of secrets as Gretchen Wieners’ hair but exist at the center of contemporary society, which is fucked, right?
Also, for every post-teenager girl, her teenager-self is a lodestar. The interim between adolescence and a 21st birthday, or whatever, is characterized by absorption and experience and wrongthink and total psychic, psychotic distress, true, but every year after that is just editing. Actually, yeah: Adulthood is just making a Pinterest out of what you liked when you were 15, basically. Shit, guy.
A DAILY SCHEDULE
If you are a teenage human girl, hi. I love you. The squeezes I want to give you, girl… I’d crack your bones like Nicki eats your brain, dig? Anyway, it’s Friday, and what you need to be doing is downloading Do The Right Thing, which is not specifically a Teenager Movie but that is as or more crucial an experience as any rando Selena Gomez vehicle, and then text your friends to come over way later. Then I want you to get the fuck on your bike or skateboard and side-wind somewhere to commune with your girls and just, like, rub your sweat on each other and seal joints for each other with your tongue-tips and probably go swimming naked with boys because you want to look at them but only go with boys who pretend not to look, or look with the dignity and respect of a blind elder statesman, and then way later after you’ve watched Do The Right Thing and had multiple, mental les petite morts about ice (trusssssst me) go out to the yard and sink in, watching stars or satellites or just your phone’s screen, fading in and out in the dark until morning, when you go eat some pancakes to come down a little softer. There’s other stuff, about watermelons and cooking syringes and vodka, but learning how to be bad is even funner than being it, dangerous angel. Anges dangereuses! Ooooh, that’s even better.
Usually my, like, advice-manifesto is to emulate the behavioral patterns of rich old white men. Like this:“When you get old and confident it’s so great because you do whatever the shit you want, like rich old white men. Seriously? Let rich old white men be your Spirit Animals when it comes to pursuing only and all of what amuses you.” Maybe that’s too triple-black-diamond for the moment? Look, I like every new year that I am because “more” is a better birthday present than a telescope and water skis (that is a reference to the 1980s, but I’m not sure why?), AND if you’re a certain/the right kind of person your eventual oldening will mostly be an opportunity for better material items and (the price you pay is sometimes sobbing in parking lots, and you have to try harder at having friends, but otherwise it’s cool), rendering teenager-ness a period only distinct because of how you remember exactly where and how that dude rubbed your pussy-area outside of your jeans because something about how your hormones operate makes any and all sexual encounters imprint on your memory, forever and ever and ever, with total recall whenever you close your porcelain doll-eyes. Anyway, that feeling of tilting your face out the window of a car on a 6 AM hot-white highway isn’t about “16,” it’s about “choices.”
It’s not how skinny you are that makes grownup women want to be you (after all, the skinniest skinnies are born-again Orange County fortysomething moms of ten who have actually but secretly accepted Lululemon as their lord and savior); it’s how much you don’t know what you look like.
Like most teenagers, I decided to get out of town for spring break. LA seemed like the best option for me—it was the polar opposite of Salt Lake City—and one fateful mid-March morning I awoke in an unfamiliar UCLA dorm room with Earl Sweatshirt rhymes blasting in my head, a lyrical hangover from the night before.
I ate a banana, laced up my Converse high tops, and threw on my favorite Atlanta Braves sweatshirt (which, I hoped, was the sort of thing a member of Odd Future might compliment), and headed out the door. My quest had begun.
There was no direct road map or GPS tracker to guide me on this journey. I had no idea where I was going. All I had were Earl’s tweets from the day before, which I had already memorized but also saved on my phone just in case I blanked on any important details. He had posed a tantalizing offer to his followers, and I was determined to take him up on it. He had tweeted, “Hai. If you’re in la come to the 7-11 on Olympic and barrington and buy this jersey and meet me. I need lunch money. We’ll be there for 15.” My heart skipped a beat. My favorite living rapper, one who had been missing in action for more than a year, was now back and willing to reveal himself to anyone who would buy an article of his clothing so that he could get a bite to eat.
Minutes after landing in LA, I was once again feverishly checking Earl’s Twitter. “Back to School,” he wrote. “Damn. I’ll still sell this. Tomorrow same time at stoner doe. Maybe.” No one wanted Earl’s jersey, which was sad but worked in my favor. I had another chance. His somewhat cryptic tweet prompted me to google “LA stoner,” which, in addition to numerous references to an herbivorous counterculture, led me to a skate park near Santa Monica, just three miles from my friend’s dorm at UCLA. It was worth a shot.
What I’m trying to get at, basically, is that I think pro-choicers should be marketing their point of view to teenagers. Before you get all Antonin Scalia about it, just think for a second: Teens are the policy-makers of tomorrow, their minds are the most malleable, and they are the most horny. Also, I think we can all agree that no one wants kids having kids. (There’s also the overpopulation argument, and if Idiocracy has taught us anything it’s that a future where only the dumb have children is very bleak.) So it is a goal of mine to popularize abortion. Like, not just make it “OK,” but actually “cool.”
Reilly Hodgson takes photos in his small suburban town just outside of Toronto while smoking mountains of weed with high school kids and playing with poisonous snakes. These photos are from his newest zine, Kiss it Goodbye. If you want to buy a copy, you can do that here.