“I wore bow ties before Doctor Who did”, and other lessons from The Youth

by Jane

Young people have no attention span.

Young people don’t read.

They’re the cause of the ills of this world; the cause of lowering audience numbers.  If only they would do as we told them, act as if they had respect, knew what was good for them, then really, we’d all be better off.

As the token outspoken-arts-involved-youth-writers-and-commentators of Adelaide, Will McRostie and I felt a sense of responsibility to stand up to the plate at the Festival of Unpopular Culture and say “listen to us, we are here, our ‘youth’ opinions are just as valid as yours.”

And yet, when it really came down to it, we didn’t care.  We say our piece, often, in writing and in appropriate and inappropriate proclamations in public forums.  Our voices are out there, but there is another ‘youth’ who doesn’t often get to say their piece.  So we rounded up eleven-year-old Harper, thirteen-year-old Harry, and fourteen-year-old Gina for a discussion on what it really means to be young in Adelaide.

We had a very small crowd, but what we lost in numbers we gained in atmosphere, as we were able to sit and watch these three kids talk for an hour on Adelaide, on clothing, on books, on school.  I wish some of the people I have butted heads against in the past over the ‘unengaged youth’ could have come; I think it would have been particularly important for those in the arts who talk about how important the youth are, but much like that homogenous group of The Audience, it is so hard to get The Youth to the theatre.  Not because the panel would have brought forth any radical ideas for capital-m-Marketing, and not because you can tell anything about an audience from three people, but just because giving the floor to these three people for an hour managed to rather delightfully shift perceptions on both Adelaide and the youth.  The three may have self-confessed to not being like “typical children” (“Well, I read a lot, so no”, said Gina), but I think in that there is an important lesson: who is normal, who gets to decide what’s normal, who gets to tell us young people don’t read?

Even Will and I, who had worried we wouldn’t be able to sustain the panel for an hour were surprised and delighted when we had to cut off the conversation when it reached the sixty minute mark.  Whatever we threw at them, they ran with, with answers that ranged from the insightful to the bizarre.  They all spoke of an interest in the old – “We need to be doing up old buildings, like the Colonial Mutual Life building on King William Road” – and a love for Adelaide – “The culture in Adelaide is the best […] I think I’ll die here” – but a want to travel  – “I want to be somewhere where hundreds of millions of people have been before”.

We spoke about politics – “I don’t like how misogynistic Tony Abbot is” – music – “Every time I hear autotune a little piece of me dies” – Justin Bieber – “I don’t like it when Bieber says Never Give Up.” “What, so ‘give up’ is such a good message?” – memes – “Goats are in” – drugs – “We don’t want our teachers yelling at us ‘never do drugs!’ We’re not going to do drugs, but don’t tell us that way” – and everything in between.  And yes, Henry informed us he wore bow ties before Doctor Who did, so don’t tell him he’s just copying.

If these are the people growing up in our city (typical or not), I think we’re going to be in good hands. It would put us all in good stead to engage with them some more.  If you’re around the FUC HUB this week, Will and I recorded some of their thoughts on a whiteboard for everyone to read and think about.  I hope you do.