Where are the teenage kicks?

Our kids need to look back in anger before it’s too late

by Black Sheep

Our kids need to look back in anger before it’s too late

Remember James Dean, the rebel without a cause? God knows we could do with him and his kind right now.

I’ll admit it, it took me ages to work out what all that stuff was about. Not having a cause, but rebelling anyway. I mean, what were they rebelling against? The local diner running out of hamburgers?

But then it dawned on me. Nobody was giving them a hard time, like a bunch of Nazis, for example. Or the French. Down the years you could always rely on the French to unite a nation in antipathy. But in the Fifties they were far too busy enjoying the freedom of Paris and eating baguettes in cafes without SS officers ruining their day to be installing another midget leader and taking on the world.

So what was there left to do? Well, beat each other up, of course. If nobody was going to have the good grace to start a war, then you create your own war. Gangs became all the rage. Rock ’n’ rollers split into factions. In Britain we had rockers and teddy boys, for example. But the whole movement spawned a wave of creative culture that pervaded society for decades.

If it hadn’t have been for Dean, Jack Kerouac and all the other beatniks kicking over chairs and laying the foundations for the coming storm, we’d never have had the Sixties, still the most culturally rich and diverse decade of all time. And without the Sixties we’d never have had The Beatles, the pill, the civil rights movement, Minis, the space race, you name it.

Those 50s subversives also paved the way for generation after generation of rebellion: free love in the Sixties, football hooligans in the Seventies, greed in the Eighties, ladism in the Nineties and the internet in the Noughties.

But that’s when the geeks started to inherit the earth and we all become keyboard warriors trying to change the world on our iPhones from the sanctity of a Starbucks. No more were we risking a boot in the face for saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong clothes or supporting the wrong team. And I think that’s where it all started to go wrong.

Yes, of course it’s a good thing a fist can’t leap out from a smartphone and punch your lights out. But there are limits as to how much cotton wool we can wrap ourselves in before we start to become mollycoddled.

The word ‘snowflake’ is understandably a big trigger for Gen Zedders, but you can see why the Boomers who grew up in the Sixties and Seventies are wont to use it. From angry social media activists we’ve morphed into a generation of over-sensitive neurotics on constant high alert for the next potential slight on their character, identity or choice of Instagram filter.

It’s no wonder. In not being able to fight back with any demonstrable action - living as we do in a digital world conducted on the crest of radio waves - our only recourse when things aren’t exactly to our liking is to take offence and call out the rival party’s actions. Ergo cancel culture and all the nonsense that involves.

Worryingly I can’t see an end to this. There are no rebels on the horizon. No James Deans tearing up Route 66 in a sports car en route to kicking the living daylights out of Mark Zuckerberg and co. Which is a crying shame, because that’s exactly what half these tech billionaires deserve for screwing up our way of life.

That there isn’t a rebel in sight - with or without a cause - became apparent to me in a recent survey conducted for the BBC in which over 4,000 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 16 were asked what they wanted to be when they grow up.

Now, in years gone by you might have expected answers such as fireman, train driver, soldier or, I dunno, Indiana Jones. Nowadays I would’ve supposed the modern equivalent to have been something like environmental activist, app designer, MI6 drone controller or Alan Sugar’s apprentice. But no.

The number one career, as chosen by Britain’s next generation of hopefuls was… engineer.

But apart from this being the dullest thing I’ve heard since Jeremy Hunt took over as Chancellor, I’m not sure I know what an engineer actually is.

Is that the person who comes to fix your boiler, or makes cogs in a factory? Or maybe the genius who builds bridges across oceans? It beats me. And that’s despite the careers advisor at my old school suggesting, without exception, that we all “do engineering”. Regardless of our skillsets.

Well, I certainly wasn’t going to risk setting out to be the next Thomas Telford only to end up bleeding radiators for a living. (Although on reflection there’s probably more money in that than writing columns. But them’s the breaks.)

Anyway, as for our teens’ second choice career? It’s, wait for it… Teaching.

Ye gods. And, btw, don’t you kids get the news on TicketyTok or whatever it’s called? Or do you just fancy spending half your working life on strike?

Judging by doctor being third on the list, and nurse ninth, maybe that really is what they’ve got in mind. In which case I’m surprised Avanti West Coast ticket collector isn’t in there too.

But… Lawyer, computer scientist, architect, all of which made it into the top ten? For pete’s sake, where’s the adventure? What about fighter pilot, or astronaut, or movie star?

Maybe it’s a good thing kids today are so sensible. Maybe once this generation inherits the reins of super powers there’ll be no more war, no more greed and no more Gary Lineker tweets. But I don’t know. I worry it’ll just create a vacuum for some crazy guy to laugh in the face of being cancelled and take over the universe regardless. From a lair on Mars.

So come on kids, get your act together. Isn’t it time you fought back? To quote Adam Ant from those hedonistic Eighties: You don’t drink, don’t smoke… What DO you do?

I suppose, though, we should be thankful for small mercies. At least none of them wanted to be that lowest form of human life… An influencer.

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