Imagem Lee Siegel
Lee Siegel
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War against youth

NEW JERSEY - America is in the throes of a new war, and it isn't a war being fought on foreign soil. There is a war in this country against young adults and the very young. It is an ugly and sometimes vicious war.

Lee Siegel,

07 de abril de 2013 | 02h00

Two news items this week demonstrated this new reality. One was a video of Mike Rice, the coach of the Rutgers University basketball team, abusing his players during practice. He threw balls at their heads, screamed obscenties and slurs at them, calling them "sissies" and "faggots" and other terms unprintable in this paper.

It seems that Rutgers officials had known about Rice's behavior for some time but did nothing about it. Instead they renewed his contract, which carried an annual salary of $700,000. Rutgers, you see, was on the verge of being invited into the Big Ten, an exclusive athletic conference consisting of selected teams. Being in the Big Ten would be a very lucrative proposition for Rutgers.

Just days before the Rice incident, there came news about kids even younger than the college teens being berated and humiliated by their all-powerful coach. According to a study released by the distinguished Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a staggering 11 percent of American children have been diagnosed with "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder." (ADHD). The reaction to this news took the form of simultaneously contradictory responses. One was panic over the apparent decline of children's mental well being. The other was outrage over what some people consider to be the abuse of the diagnosis. Succumbing to a society whose competitiveness has become almost intolerable, frantic parents press the drugs on their kids to boost their academic performance.

Add to the Rice and ADHD incidents the fact of Penn State turning a blind eye to the sexual abuse that Jerry Sandusky-another athletic coach-inflicted on the boys in his care, and you have three terrible symbolic examples of a society laying siege to its children.

One reason behind this unconscious adult hatred of youth is the consequences of the desire, on the part of so many cynical adults, to exploit young people for commercial reasons. If there is one sacred phrase in the nomenclature of the American marketplace, it is "the 18-34 demographic." "--though what the people who fetishize this age group really mean is more like 12-25. The young are seen as the answer to any number of dying industries, especially media and entertainment.

Yet no one seems to have been able to come up with the magical formula to win over this coveted group. Partly this is because more and more younger people are unable to find jobs, and so they don't have any disposable income. And partly it's because there are so many new platforms of expression, so many new commercial inititatives, that young people would prefer to shift from one to the other than to commit their allegiance to any single one for an extended length of time.

Having made youth the answer to their problems, the commercial titans have come to despise youth for not complying with their wishes. As for the young people who are feeling this increasing pressure to buy that new digital device, to purchase that new videogame, to patronize that new social networking website, there seems no place to turn. Just as soon as young people themselves gain some power, they start acting like middle-age predators. Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook has plenty of marvelously benign and helpful qualities. But it is also a marketer's wildest dream come true, as the site finds ways to leak more and more of its users' personal information to interested companies. And the very young ranks of Google employees are also helping to destroy their own privacy and autonomy, even as they unwittingly work to obliterate culture as we know it. Without strong copyright laws that guarantee creative people an independent income, there is no independent culture. The reality of the bold young artist, creating new forms out of his or her youthful vitality, will come to be anachronism.

Perhaps the educators and the public school administators can help. Well, no they can't. Fearful of not meeting stricter and stricter test score standards, they encourage the diagnosis of ADHD in subtle ways because it means that the fault lies with the child's mental condition, not with the quality of teaching.

From fashion to media to entertainment to the consumption of more and more goods and services, young people have had forced on them the status of consumer-gods. And then they are despised the more they are worshipped. And then they are abused the more they disappoint.

One can just imagine worried CEOs and their shareholders thinking about this chimerical group of 18-34 year olds and wanting to hurl abuse at them, throw balls at their heads, and kick them. One can just imagine all these worried entrepreneurs daydreaming about wonder drugs that will make the precious demographic focus on something long enough to make everyone rich-the very type of drug now prescibed in masssive numbers to help kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD.

And the worst nightmare of all: one can just imagine, after turning children and teens into markertable, exploitable objects, monsters like Jerry Sandusky seeking, finally, to conquer the marketplace's sacred demographic, and to put it totally under the power of their own greedy and impoverished wills.

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