The Death of the American Teenager
When in 1994 Business Week exclaimed “They’re back!” about teenagers, the United States was a different place. Their baby boomer parents could afford teenagers buying pizzas, going to concerts, purchasing clothes, cosmetics, CDs, cars and computer games like never before. Today, the country is stricken by poverty, as 50% of the populations sits at or below the poverty line. Since the market collapse in 2008, while pundits and “authorities” pushed dope-like propaganda about “Greenshoots” and the “Recovery” incomes fell more than ever in American History.
The teenager in 1994 was an advertiser’s wet dream – a consumer group with loads of free time and the disposable income of their parents to pursue a life leisure. In 2012, it had fallen to the wayside, a battered corpse of diminishing returns as the teenager went from worrying about social norms to lamenting public education and work as a teenager..
Although the teenager declined in numbers from 1977-1992, starting in the mid nineties it began to ride a population crest that guaranteed young adults the spotlight in American consumer culture. After all, the teenagers’ most valuable purpose is to be a blank slate and a consumer or so popular mythology sways us to believe.
“The teen years, after all, are a time of experiment,” as Business Week elaborates. ”Trying on new fashions, music, TV, shows and movies, products, ideas and attitudes, is what being a teenager is all about.” The number one critique on the teenager, other than they are an awfully lot like their parents, is that it is a group that is driven like a herd of cattle to keep up with the latest styles.
In 1994, the teenager was just beginning an upswell in population numbers at 25 million. It had not really even been the concept we know it today as until around the Second World War. That’s when the term came into popular use as the group had been identified as having “buying power and influence” over their parents. Moviemakers, cosmetic firms, clothes manufacturers, and even grocery stores not only in the US, but all over the soon-to-be Americanized post World-War II world saw the market of opportunity.
The precedent was new. Just one decade before, most teenager children had worked for a living. Indeed, some had been required to pay back the debts they had incurred in childhood before they were granted permission to leave their childhood homes. After the war, they came to be identified quickly as high schools students with time and money. From clothes to party goods, it was Madison Avenue’s direct intention to focus on the teenager. It was their intention to keep the money velocity up throughout the economy, for, with the war behind the country, parents could not “play Santa Claus 365 days a year.”
The teenager is today a dying notion in the US and in the rest of the west, as these years seem destined to, once again as they were before and during World War II, be spent hustling for cash to feed their families. In 2006, there were about 31 million teenagers in the US, an all-time high. They represented a consumer market worth $89 billion. That is nearly ten times what they were worth as a market when Elvis Presley was thrusting his hips. In 2008, the worst market collapse since the great depression diluted the economic oil of the US economy, and expendable American incomes left the stage forever like the American teenager.
The American Teenage Market Crash will only further the US’s current decline into a primordial soup of reversion back to a darker age. Parents 15 years ago were spending $200 billion on their teenagers. Parents were once generally at peak earning power when their children were in high school. In fact, there appears a direct correlation between the teenager and family debt. If, in 2006 there were more teenagers than ever, and, considering it was before the market collapse beginning in 2007, parents were generally at their peak earning power. So, many of those families would have bet on a continuing of the status quo – i.e a stable marketplace, a stable family and continued income – and taken out loans loaded with these expectations. For that reason, the Teenage Debt Bubble – bore by the family credit card – and the Student Debt Bubble are very much the same thing. One scantily exists without the other.
Whereas war had once been a “rite of passage” for the American teenager going into adulthood, today it is college. Whereas the war veteran had a lifetime of struggle to cope with the implications of his “war universe” actions, today the teenager graduates into adulthood with a lifetime of debt to pay, struggling with of his or her “debt black hole” future.
Right up until 2006, “Parents gave teens what teens think of as necessities – a car, a computer, video games,” as market researchers once reported. The Teenage Market had established itself definitively in post-war history, and now the concept of a teenager as an independent age group with its own styles and preferences, and the money to spend it, is ingrained into the collective psyche. Urban Outfitters, the Gap, Forever 21 all vie for the imagination of the teenage consumer.
It was once thought that the teenager who developed a sense of style young would stay true to those allegiances all throughout life. That is what big business felt was at stake: customers for life. What was not factored into the pop, short-term business plans of America’s retail landscape was that the return of depression conditions throughout the country, in which an economy that was once losing nearly a million jobs a month as recently as 2008 would scare people away from consumerism. The teenager would not be filling up the retail outlet on the side of the counter the business would prefer – instead, they would be lining up, with college diplomas virtually in hand, to ask for a job.
Production and consumption aside, there is still yet another reason why the contemporary transformation of the teenager in the public mind is so crucial. It has nothing to do with moving albums in a time of Piracy or selling them the right sex in the magazines. Or prescribing them the right pills so that they may be MK Ultra’ed for life. Instead, it has everything to do with entitlement.
Yes, the kind of entitlement a teenager would exhibit when their parent said “No, because I said so.” The injustice tastes like venom in the mouth. Will the teenager of today, as his and her rights are stripped and earning-power confiscated, stand up to the the Powers That Be?
The teenager rules his or her own social space. As a group, personal freedom has in some ways been important. For instance, school is across the board seen as a waste of time. Teachers who are not very sympathetic to the plight of life in a public school wind up very quickly growing embittered as they are derided by a class with a sense of personal freedom. In the 1990s, the Beastie Boys proclaimed for teenagers and young adults everywhere that “you gotta fight for your to party.” And sometimes they did. For instance, in 1993, in the hopes of catching drunk drivers, the National Highway Transportation Board considered a curfew. It did not get far.
“Getting arrested for not being on time, that’s bizarre” said one high school student to the Washington Post. “That goes against your constitutional rights to…freedom. So don’t restrict ours.”
Like a young bird chirping, the youth were learning that something was awry up-on-high. Could they get the right words out to stop the rolling machine in time?
The death of the American teenager might not be something to mourn. The age group will be there. Hopefully they will fill up that newfound free time away from shopping to grow an enlightened generation. Oh, and not work as low-wage public-sponsored thugs governing the rest of us who got to enjoy our teenage years. : )