Teenagers are the coolest people. Not all of them: I was a teenager once, after all. Not all teenagers are cool, but all the coolest people are teenagers.
And of course I mean “Cool” only in a pejorative sense. Teens aren’t cool in any way that matters to the rest of us. They’re dumb, they have no worldly experience, they’re obsessed with sex but probably not any good at it. They have ridiculous hobbies: video games, makeup tutorials, drug collections. No right-thinking adult wants to be anywhere near a teenager. Including their parents.
(For the 85% of readers who are seventeen-year-old edgelords, I think your parents are insufferable too. Actually, nobody is cool, that’s the secret. Go have an ayahuasca ceremony at your Minecraft temple or whatever you want to do. You’re fine.)
Teens are only Cool in the way you can buy. They have the most refined sense of what each brand signifies. They do deep research on what’s in season. You can see teens from a mile away, little humanoids with bubblegum shoes and futuristic backpacks and tall haircuts. They look like runaway mannequins.
I’m not knocking it. It’s not their fault. It’s not because they’re Generation Z, or because I’m old and grumpy. It’s not a human-nature circle-of-life thing. It’s a dynamic that’s only been possible in the last hundred years, with compulsory schooling and the rise of consumer society.
School is a pressure cooker of social relations. All the young people from Wherevertown, the sad weird puberty-stricken half-adults, are compelled by force of law to cram themselves in a box every day. Each one seeks to transform from an ugly duckling to a beautiful butterfly (or whatever, it’s been a long time since I played Pokemon). They’re jammed in there with all their peers. They all grew up in the same town, at the same time, and in the same overwhelming media environment. So they know the same jokes, the same brands, the same memes. The only way they can differentiate themselves is through consumerism. They buy their identities.
I was a Hot Topic goth before I was Too Punk for the mall. When I realized that punk was a saturated market, I pivoted to the unexploited territory of 80’s hair metal. People started calling me “Butt Rock Max”, and that was still better than being invisible .
Compulsory schooling, though it comes with all the good intentions in the world, is still a legacy system for manufacturing industrial workers. High school is a factory farm.
So there’s three things to learn in this system. You learn to move when the bell rings, to do what you’re told, which is the original point of the schooling machine. And you learn how to be Cool, which is the most important thing on your mind as a teenager. The social hierarchy is explicit and the feedback loops are fast. It’s an accelerated learning environment.
Oh, you can also learn some things about physics or literature or whatever. Not history, or geography, or political economy, because this is America and by God we don’t need to learn anything we don’t already know about how do a nation.
People who have been institutionalized tend to return to their institutions. Our brains can be compromised in these environments. We imprint to a new way of living and we no longer see the world the same. And when your needs have been long taken care of by some greater force, it’s hard to relearn your independence.
Even if you hate your captors, at least they feed you. It’s Stockholm syndrome. Incarcerated people experience “prisonization”. By analogy, we might call this torture of teenagers “coolification”.
So when we’ve done our time, when we’re released after twelve long years, what do we do? We find college, or business, or the military, or prison or church or the bar and we go there every day. We seek that brutal sociality, that hyper-meaningful environment of faction and rival and crush. We’re still coolified.
We’ll never find it. That’s the trick. Like a matador whisking the flag from the bull’s horns, society tells you “life will be just like high school” and then it never is again. We seek it, we re-enact the abuses of our youth. But nothing will ever be the same.
Even after the undergraduate-industrial complex extended everyone’s sentence by four years and $30,000, university can’t give that rush. It’s not the same crowd. All the insubordinate freaks like me get shook out, for one thing. And all the jocks who take a hit to the ACL and join the trades. And the people who can’t afford to go, and the people who are imprisoned, and the ones who have families to take care of. We’re filtered down different drain holes.
None of these institutions can ever have the same wide spectrum of people, simply because there are so many of them to join. That’s how it’s meant to be. Divide and conquer.
The state uses its monopoly of force to round up all the pubescents and put them in a controlled environment. Then as soon as they’re habituated to that, throws them out into the world, confused and alienated, baby birds seeking Big Mother. They latch on to something and they dare not let go. And over time, they forget that those other people with other identities were once soft and small and impressionable just like them. They become ideologues and hatemongers, chasing that concentrated dose of attention, that feeling of being in the public eye.
There is no public anymore. There’s no forum, no plaza, no civic sphere. There are only silos of conversation, filter bubbles and online mobs. We thought the internet would make a place for global conversation, and it did that. Too bad we were all so well trained to respond to the dinging of a bell by clawing for status and screaming our individuality to the world. We weren’t ready for the new connectedness, so we built our ideological fortresses. Think of all the old folks you’ve ever seen yelling at the TV. That’s “social media”, only now the TV yells back.
Mart Zuckerberp was just 19 when he invented Facelook, come to think of it. In those days it was a simple app for voting on which of his classmates was the hottest. They say he invented it with one hand, wearing only a hoodie and using the other half of his brain to masturbate into an argyle sock. Now there’s a Coolified individual.
Thanks for reading,
P.S.: if you want to see what actually-cool teenagers do, go look at the Mike Gravel campaign launched today. Twitter and platform and video . That’s a handful of kids and an 88 year old man that are collectively cooler than anyone I know.
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