New Ways of Making Us Listen ; Young People May Not Want to Join Political Parties Any More. They Might Not Even Bother to Vote in the General Election. but That's Not Because They're Apathetic
Newsome, Rachel, The Independent (London, England)
Today's teens are trouble. They take too many drugs, drink too much, smoke too much and couldn't care less about politics. They are pill- popping hedonists, whose biggest vote goes to the bleached- blond nihilism of Eminem while the only party they're interested in joining is a 24-hour one. If they're the future, then the future's looking bleak.
Or is it? It's easy to demonise today's young people as apathetic self-seekers on a one-way mission to escapist oblivion. But, if anything, this reflects a culture of fear expressed by the media, politicians and parents alike, in which young people represent the unknown in terms of political change.
Contrary to a tabloid mythology which states that young people are the "wildest teens ever", they are no more or less apathetic than generations before them. Indeed, most young people aspire to exactly the same things as their parents: a secure job and stable relationship, an affirmation of their sense of freedom and preservation of the status quo.
In reality, it's not young people who have changed but the world around them - traditional ideas about political radicalism are simply out of date. Young people are indeed the future of politics, but not as we know it. Theirs is a world where they have more money to spend and more choices about to how to spend it than ever before. For them, there is no Vietnam or Cold War, no Margaret Thatcher to polarise their political beliefs into "for and against".
This is a generation that has grown up after the fall of the Berlin Wall, at a moment in history when the relevance of political absolutes is on trial. Albert Camus noted in The Rebel that the 20th century was the century of rebellion. For this generation, however, the new century represents an era of relearning the rules of political engagement from an entirely different perspective. The view from here sees Che Guevara reconfigured from political icon to T-shirt fashion statement, and former political radicals who are now in the German government as part of the establishment.
In this brave new world, politicians are cast as the villains. Far from solving the country's problems they are perceived as contributing to them. A recent survey in the NME placed Tony Blair's government in the top 10 list of young people's fears for the future of the country.
Against this backdrop, ideology is replaced by a more pragmatic idealism; leadership, by the cult of the personality; and citizenship by consumerism. Sound familiar? That's because young people mirror the mechanisms of Millbank rather more accurately than is often recognised. If Thatcher's children embraced the cult of the individual and the new spirit of entrepreneurship in the form of DIY club culture, then Blair's kids have devised their own alternative Third Way. Except that their Third Way exists outside the conventional political system.
This has less to do with political apathy and more to do with the fact that the majority of young people's lives are lived outside the law. For them, club culture and drug-taking are considered the norm. Identity has little to do with Blair's "new moral purpose" and everything to do with which trainers are on their feet and what music is on their stereos.
Free from the baggage that goes with traditional political allegiances, young people are shaping the future of politics based on an understanding of how little party politics counts in a commercial world. …