Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Copying teenagers

Another excerpt from Freaks, Geeks and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption by Murray Milner, Jr.

Parents contribute the behavior they object to in adolescence by copying teenagers. Parents not only raise their own status by having successful, attractive teenagers; they raise their own status by being like their teenagers. In many societies the most prestigious social role was that of elder. With his usual biting hyperbole, the novelist Tom Wolfe claims this has all changed: "In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, old people in America prayed, "Please, God, don't let me look poor." In the year 2000, they prayed, "Please, God, don't let me look old." Sexiness was equated with youth, and youth ruled. The most widespread age-related disease was not senility but juvenility. The social ideal was to look 23 and dress 13." This is a caricature of adult life, but the reality to which it alludes is all too familiar. Fitness and sexual attractiveness are valued in all societies, but they are especially important in contemporary society -- and they are associated with being young. A youthful body is the ideal. It must be created, maintained, and improved through diet, exercise, regular health care, and plastic surgery. As Juliet Schor notes, "even male executives, downsized, or downsizable, are getting blepharoplasty (to reduce droopy skin around the eyes) and other cosmetic surgeries to make themselves more marketable in a world where youth counts for everything." Moreover, the "youthful" body must be shown to best advantage through clothing -- or lack thereof -- and cosmetics

If, however, parents again status by being more like teenagers, it is difficult for them to exercise authority to change or shape the behaviors of those teenagers. (165)

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