Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Youth | Fiction | We Need To Talk About Yoof: Letters to the Grown-Ups

I think something may be happening to me. I no longer laugh at Magic FM for its old-timer cheese-ballads on a constant loop.  Actually, as it turns out, it’s quite a mellow driving experience, isn’t it? And now when I see a teenage couple canoodling in the park, the corners of my lips begin to twitch upwards into a sneer that mimics the current shape of my hairline. I read an article in the Economist yesterday about the perils of cyber-warfare and now I’m tapping gingerly at my beloved laptop as if it’s going to bite me.

I think, in short, that I may be getting old.

Coolio, in Gangsta’s Paradise, soundtrack to a film about out-of-control youth, Dangerous Minds, raps, “I’m twenty-three now; will I ever see twenty-four?” And twenty-four does, when I think about it, seem like the appropriate age at which we stop being ‘youthful’. The UN agrees with me on this, I know, though the World Bank is slightly more optimistic and says it’s twenty-five, but some commentators claim it’s as low as nineteen. So even by the most hopeful estimates, I don’t have long before I cease to be a ‘youth’, before I no longer have any right to stick up for the youth of today or decry the people who have a problem with the youth of today. I will probably never join the list of youths who get a column in a mainstream newspaper to discuss 'youth issues', by which I mean Peaches Geldof.

And this is a great worry to me, partly because I feel these public defenders of youth (there have been some. But they’re not as famous as Peaches, so I don’t remember their names) are too earnest, too reasonable, too eager to prove to the ‘adultfolk’ that ‘actually, we’re just like you.’ Sensible articles and letters suggesting that not everyone under twenty carries a butcher knife and sets fire to homeless people while Twittering are ignored, or at best, dismissed as naivety from well-off, articulate e'er-do-wells who don't really have a right speak for the generation as a whole. For impact's sake, I’d go for something a bit more polemical, like this;

Dear Sir,

That’s right. Write your fearful little articles complaining about us, the young. Sit back, and keep whining, impotent, as we devour you, one by one. You thought all of those internet/text acronyms were just lazy shorthand? Wrong. Coded messages, spread amongst the young people, hidden in contemporary music and on reality television, priming them for bloody revolution. All of those violent video games were just part of the training; all of our apparent idleness and isolation merely a form of meditation.

May the ROFLcopters bring their burning napalm and a dub-step re-sampled version of Ride of the Valkyries to your doorstep.

 Best, Jon Ware.

That was fun.  Who else was there?  Ah, yes...

Dear Sunday Times columnist covering the state of today’s youth and by proxy, the 2008 Kent train-station-pushing incident,

 You may think that nobody remembers your article about the lack of respect amongst young people towards adults nowadays, and the example you cited; that of the two men who shoved a middle-aged woman onto some rail tracks in Kent, because she told them to stop smoking. You weren’t alone in blaming the young; the Guardian called them ‘young men’ and so did the Telegraph. You called them ‘children’.

Ionel Rapisca, the man who actually did the pushing, was thirty-three. (Also, incidentally, after the woman fell onto the tracks, he jumped down and dragged her back onto the platform.) But that didn’t fit the narrative you wanted to, er, push, did it?

I don’t blame you. It’s far easier to pursue an agenda when you lie, as you will discover yourself when I reveal that Lee Harvey Oswald was, in fact, a Sunday Times columnist.

Best, Jon Ware.

And this is an open letter to Lee Siegel, who as you may or not may aware, used the New Yorker’s ’20 Under 40’ list last week as a springboard for his own article in the New York Observer, decrying- that’s right- the decline of contemporary fiction. His items of evidence are three in number; the rise of cutting-edge non-fiction, James Wood (that dastard!), and, least insane of all, the ’20 Under 40’ list. This is my counter-statement;

Dear Mr Siegel,

Totally with you, at the start.  Any list of ‘up-and-coming’ writers that people were disappointed Dave Eggers wasn’t in clearly has some problems. And the existence of extremely powerful, self-applauding literary cliques may not, as a general rule, benefit writers. But you then go on to argue that a symptom of fiction’s decline is that you haven’t seen a cheeky, rebellious ‘counterlist’ put up challenging the '20 Under 40’. That’s due to a lack of bravery, you claim, and a lack of creative ‘mischief’.

Now, if you like, I’ll make that counterlist for you, Mr Siegel. It could feature biographies of fiction novelists, parodies of the establishment figures in the New Yorker, or perhaps it could simply exaggerate the talents of the young writers I happen to know and admire.

But I’m not sure it would constitute a genuinely ambitious piece of ‘mischief’. More likely, it’d be a savvy attempt to develop a hip literary counterculture in-crowd. It could keep mocking the New Yorker and its circle of writers, like King Kong tossing faeces at Godzilla. It could become wildly popular (-with your support, obviously). But it would still be a self-applauding literary clique, and it would not herald the rebirth of fiction. Perhaps the reason “everyone’s complaining” about the New Yorker list but not creating their own ‘Salon des Refuses’ is that literati are becoming more interested in having their own opinions – and reading, or writing (!)- rather than creating rival gangs for schoolyard spats; more interested in playing games with literature, rather than with literary culture. It’s a nice thought.

Real mischief - real bacchanalic, creative mischief , if you’re looking for it - might be found in genuinely exciting literary pranksters (and good writers) like the media-baiting, Satanic-hoax-perpetuating Wu Ming collective in Italy, rather than in making arbitrary lists and watching them race. (And the death of fiction is not, self-evidently the same concept as the death of feuding organisations in fashionable literary culture, in Manhattan.)

Best, Jon Ware.

And there you have it. Self-righteous vitriol is best reserved for the young and angry, I think.  Soon I'll no longer be able to peddle it.  Use yours while you have the chance.


Jon Ware
Fiction Editor



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  2. YEMAN, U tlk all badboi th net bt ur rly jst a fkn neek.

    Go lez off wiv ur mum!


  3. Sorry you didn't enjoy the article, DJ. That's an interesting website you've got there, though- bit of a faith mix-up, isn't it?

    I do want to buy a 'There Are No Marshmallows in Hell' T-shirt. Those look rad.


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