Sunday, May 15, 2005

Leave Vicky Pollard Alone Already

I'm kind of wigged by how viciously British grownup culture hates its youth. This hoodie business is only the latest and most visibly outrageous manifestation of a tendency that seems quite embedded in the public discourse. Youth are feared and loathed here much more, it seems to me, than in the States, where they're more generally looked on with relatively benign disdain as shiftless, shallow, consumerist, &c. The traditional 'kids today' take.

Here it feels more toxic than that. There's a hysterical, Crucible-esque edge to the magical thinking; do they think hoods provide some kind of malignant incubator for evil thoughts which would otherwise dissipate harmlessly into the atmosphere? It's quite frightening, and somehow self-fulfilling, the way people grab on to these contingent signifiers, fill them up with their own projections and resentments and then use them as truncheons.

Look at this Vicky Pollard thing. This week a 19-year-old girl was ASBO'd from her own home for terrorizing her neighborhood with loud, violent, strangely random--i.e., extreme but also recognizably teenaged--behavior. In all the coverage of the story, she's been repeatedly compared to Vicky Pollard, but on weirdly irrelevant grounds: 'She is like the girl from Little Britain - she always wears her hair in a top-knot with a scrunchy and she even talks a bit like her. We've had enough.'

I put it to you that the axis on which Vicky Pollard functions is almost purely aesthetic. She provides a focus for the visceral aesthetic distaste grownups always feel for youth, and amplifies it into acceptable parody. It's not that Vicky actually does anything so terrifying--mostly she just spouts shite in a ridiculous patois and is socially overbearing, obnoxious and irresponsible. But she isn't a figure who threatens violence. What she is, unforgivably, is obese and ugly and stupid, and that provides a ready metonymy for all the other things people want to think about youth.

A tiny incident from a few weeks back sticks in my mind. I was on a train to Kingston, and the seats all around us were occupied by a gaggle of little suburban goth girls. They spent the ride staring into their little compact mirrors, fixing their lipstick, rubbing on perfume samples from Glamour magazine and talking shite. Straight out of Central Casting, really. Near the end of the ride, one of them accidentally kicked my knee, not very hard. She apologized, and I smiled forgiveness. And she just lit up. Went from hangdog to happy little girl in an instant, and I thought, jesus, what kind of reaction do you normally get for bumping into someone and apologizing?

What's that about? Well, it's Boomers, innit. With their whole complicated, upfucked, unresolved youth thing. They teeter on a knife-edge between, on the one hand, desperately wanting to hang on to youth's license and privilege (especially now they've got the money to seriously indulge it), and on the other desperately needing to assert the authority of their grownupness, in which they never quite seem to wholeheartedly believe.

It's exactly no coincidence at all that Tony's framing this latest program of social totalitarianism in terms of 'respect'. It's always going to be about respect for them, because they don't sit in the grownup seat comfortably. They're just like that weak boss who constantly chews your ass out needlessly in an attempt to affirm her own standing. They are, in fact, David Brent, with all their Stones-listening, Woodstock-reminiscing, hair-loss-concealing bids for cool, in unstable coexistence with an ugly whiplash reflex to defend their political and cultural turf. It's their pathological fear of losing hegemony over the currency of hip youth culture that fuels their savage spite against its rightful owners.

The power-grownups of today are both jealous of and horribly threatened by youth, especially as their own children grow up and the youth becomes half a generation removed, thereby losing the brainstem claim that kept us Seventies babies from being eaten like hamsters. Youth who are not one's own children take on a hateful foreignness that is presumed to be their own fault, and to warrant a truly chilling response of alienation, fear and vilification.

It makes me sad, because I think there's a lot of truth in the notion that people live up to your expectations of them. If you're already damned and outcast as an evil hoodie-wearing yob, what's the percentage in not?

Besides, am I the only one who thinks happy-slapping can, given the proper victim, be kind of hilarious?

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