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Teens Studied in History and Culture

Teens Studied in History and Culture

"Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture" (Viking, 576 pages, $29.95) _ Jon Savage: Long before we called them called "teenagers," adolescents roamed the Earth. They slogged through the muck between childhood innocence and adult self-awareness to carve out a unique and somewhat awkward place in history.
Some were heroes, such as World War II diarist Anne Frank. Some set trends, like the partying flappers of the 1920s. And some stirred trouble, like the Bowery Boys and Dead Rabbits gangs of late 19th-century New York.
But all were foils for their eras, exposing the injustices, proclivities and fashions of the day without being held too accountable.
In exhausting detail, Jon Savage's "Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture" uses primary accounts of individuals set against a tirelessly thorough depiction of historical periods and cultural shifts to capture the dueling images of teenager as delinquent, teenager as market force and teenager as soldier.
Discussing various adolescent types from hooligans to Boy Scouts to zoot-suiters to GIs, Savage hops between Europe and the United States. His research traces the evolution of that nebulous age group from before the turn of the century to the advent of the word "teenager" in 1944.
Savage's greatest strength is bringing to life some of history's most notable young characters: Rudolph Valentino, Peter Llewelyn Davies (of Peter Pan fame) and Anne Frank, "an intelligent young girl forced by extraordinary circumstances to accelerate her adolescence."
The pinnacle of an otherwise dry text is Savage's chilling description of Nazi youth culture. He stops short of suggesting that the junior beasts didn't know any better, but takes care to illuminate the maniacal machine that first propped up the adolescent troops: Hitler's hermetic regime, which had no actual regard for its young members' individual success or well being.
The heavy German losses in the war's final phase "highlighted one of the most shocking things about the Nazi regime: its complete lack of regard for its adolescents," Savage writes _ an ironic twist for a governing body that worked so hard to lure and train its youth.
The elephant skateboarding around the room during all of Savage's book is the question of what should be made of today's teenagers? What role will the multitasking, MySpace-ing, videogaming, text-messaging, emo-listening, moneyed youth of 2007 play in history? Could someone viewing YouTube today swallow racist propaganda sometime down the road, should it come to that? How dangerous or harmless is the universally impressionable teenager in society?
Savage doesn't really provide answers, sticking to an unshakable objectivity that doesn't always fit the juicy topic.
But good for him for doing the heavy research while many others coddle their MTV-groomed short attention spans and turn up their iPods.


Updated : 2021-10-24 02:47 GMT+08:00