Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New generation

Are the 18-25s of today displaying jaffas like we never did?

I don't know about you but, throughout my teens and then my twenties, it became common to hear references about our generation being one of the most passive and apathetic in history.

We grew up in the shadows of our predecessors from the 1960s and 1970s: student protests, growing social conscience, "counter-culture" and "rebellious" music --- whether a myth or not, young people making a stand were all generally perceived as something in retro pastel colour schemes.

Even in the 1980s, when I was a child, the telly kept showing footage of large CND marches, the miners' strike, rallies against Section 28 or the poll tax.

And, yes, popular culture in the 80s may have turned into a big fat mainstream bloater, but it was at least offset by a dedicated number of 'indie' bands proudly wearing their politics and opinions on their sleeves (think The Housemartins, The Smiths, Paul Weller etc).

And then there was us. We came of age [I hate the expression] in the 1990s and the early noughties and, except for loud but marginalised movements like anti-globalisation groups and a few others, we really developed a reputation as a spectacularly placid, apathetic and generally uninterested generation.

I lost count of articles and opinion columns relating the general consensus to "unprecedented political stability", the "death of ideology" and "we-re-all-middle-class-now".

It was the peak of Blairite/Clintonite optimism, "everything-is-postmodern", "we're-all-freelancers-now", and "don't-be-a-pedantic-leftie-this-bubble-will-never-burst".

Even in popular culture, the term 'indie' ended up amounting to all but a succession of wishy washy bands characterised by vintage clothes, vaguely "retro" hairdos and lots of articles about nothing in particular on the NME and Melody Maker. Very little, however, to piss people off, go against the grain or leave a factual cultural mark.

With the exception of the politicised few, my generation just couldn't be bothered. Just think about it. When grants were abolished and university tuition fees first introduced in 1997, there was hardly a whimper of protest to greet them.

And while you obviously can't judge an entire generation on the sole basis of the amount of protests generated by the cost of higher education, hands up if you didn't have to rub your eyes when you saw today's headlines and footage of students staging occupations at several universities along with dozens of mass walkouts taking place at schools and colleges up and down the country.

It is further proof that the 10 November demo wasn't a one-off. And for all the snotty claptrap of "middle class tantrums" (read the excellent Mark Steel today on the subject) or trivials analyses of "anarchists hijacking protest", widespread discontent now appears to be here to stay.

Perhaps it's just that the new Tory government is behaving in more antagonistic fashion. Perhaps the chicken came home to roost and years of growing insecurity and widening social gap are finally starting to unravel.

Perhaps there's only as long until enough people can tolerate the size of too few binging and too many surviving on hot air. Or perhaps, like Ed Miliband said recently, "for some people the gap between the dreams that seem to be on offer and their ability to realise them is wider than it's ever been before".

Whatever the reason, and no matter where you stand, this new generation is showing some jaffas like most of us never did.


Marios said...

Welsh Agenda said...

At the risk of sounding cynical maybe its due to the fact that the Labour run NUS stamped down on any protests against the New Labour government when the trample over students prospects, but oppose Tories and Lib Dems doing largely the same thing?

The NUS leadership have the same objectives now as then - a cushy researchers job at Labour HQ when the graduate followed by a nice safe seat in the commons.

RodneyD said...


It's funny that you should write this post now, as I was thinking much the same thing earlier today.

If people feel strongly enough about something then they will protest and shout about it and that's what we're seeing.

Stan Moss said...

To Welsh Agenda:

part of what you say is true. But you have to consider the John Major years too. That was a Conservative administration and the first one to first bring up the subject of uni fees and still lack of interest reigned supreme amongst the NUS and students at large.


glad to see the blog back to his best.