November 2nd, 2005

rock shadow

on the suppression of youth culture

Danah has written a fantastic call to arms over the systematic suppression of youth culture (also reminding me of another essay that resonated with my experience). I was a senior in high school when the Columbine shootings happened, and remember the district-wide announcements of locker searchings, suspensions, and cultivation of a culture of aggression and "zero tolerance" by district officials and the media. I remember when local malls started hassling groups of teens, and when cruising was banned, and when the local Dee's (a regular teen hangout) was closed. I remember being hassled by police on several occasions for breaking curfew. I watched as the physical venues for youth expression (and especially non-Mormon youth expression) in Salt Lake City were suppressed, one by one. Fortunately, I was blessed with a host of fabulous teachers, an understanding dad, and a strong community of fellow intellectuals, loners, and outcasts, including the most wonderful friends I'll probably ever have in all my life. Though I was a miserable pariah in junior high, I was able to ignore much of the high school popularity contest and could dress as I wanted and speak my mind freely. We protested Channel 1, The Gap, and in-school advertising; we attended high-school dances en masse, pairing off randomly at the door, and did the hokey-pokey during the slow songs; my school's English teachers handed out our liberal, queer-friendly 'zine for us; and we were vocal about our liberal views in classes and often had teachers agreeing with us (though few other students did in conservative eastern Salt Lake City). I don't remember instances of friends getting hassled for their gaming or dress in my school, even the most extreme goths. But these articles remind me that many aren't so lucky. I shudder to think what would have become of me if my high school experience had been like my junior high experience. By the end of junior high, I was a mess: I was depressed and a recovering anorexic, and had attempted suicide at least once. And I knew countless others - smart but often shy teens - who were in similarly dire straits. If I hadn't met like-minded others and if we hadn't collectively named and repudiated the insidious side of high school culture, I don't know where I'd be now. Of course, I still had to struggle with low self-esteem, which kept me in an abusive relationship and spun me back into depression before high school was out. But it could have been so much worse, and for many, it is.
rock shadow


Halloween is an interesting holiday in that it lets people experiment with their identity in ways they normally cannot. (However, many only "experiment" in stereotypical ways. For instance, women's prepackaged costumes are almost universally sexy.) What I really don't like - a sentiment I adopted from my dad - is how people use it as an excuse to abdicate restraint and responsibility. The usual social controls are absent or lessened. As I thought about this yesterday, I was reminded of all the research done on online identities. Online, people can "try on" different personalities different from the ones they usually have. In fact, they're even less constrained than they are on Halloween (or many other historical and current holidays, such as Mardi Gras, Robynne reminds me): though people's traces may be recorded permanently, they can interact anonymously (or pseudonymously). Somehow, while Halloween bothers me, this doesn't, though I suppose there are aspects of online interactions that I do find particularly odious.