How The Contentment Of A Generation Created A Breeding Ground For Apathy
I’ve let my children down; yes, it’s as simple and as brutal as that. “How?” you may ask. Let me explain…
Watching the recent Russell Brand/Jeremy Paxman interview, I realised just how far my generation have slipped into the trappings and comforts of quasi-middle age, only to sow the seeds of apathy into the next generation – our children. Brand makes many salient points as to why he is sick of the political system and how it offers the masses, especially the 16 to twenty-somethings, very little incentive to vote. He remains resilient to Paxman’s cross examination, if not actually trouncing every assault delivered by the veteran politician-griller; and I concur with his flamboyant, yet precisely targeted observations.
The crazy thing is, Brand is only 9 years my junior; hardly a massive chasm in age, but enough to separate our individual socio-political experiences of the 1980’s and 90’s. Brand will not have primarily felt the effects of the terrible governments of the 1970’s, Punk, Thatcherism, the Cold War, privatisation of state controlled assets or the birth of the new alternative comedians that eventually spawned the environment for his own career to flourish. So he occupies a sort of ‘difficult age’ group, stood between the older teenagers of today and my own post-Punk generation. He is very much in isolation as there appears to be no one else of his generation on today’s ‘celebrity’ circuit, eloquently spouting their disillusionment and anger at the political system we live under. Unwittingly, it would seem, my generation are all very happy with the system we helped create.
Back in my day, Great Britain’s youth were extremely politicised, whether it be the thuggery of the NF or the anarchy-driven Class War movement. Our music was full of spokespersons for a generation – Lydon, Weller, Bragg, Strummer/Jones, Morrisey, Lennox, Red Wedge, Jimmy Somerville, even Stewart Copeland stood up to be counted in support of capitalism whilst his band front-man voiced embarrassment at the new found riches unbefitting of a Milkman’s son. Our comedians attacked Thatcher’s ideology on a daily basis, reminding us that we could never let our guard drop or de-motivate ourselves from the struggle. But we did, in the end.
Even the band I was in at one point set out our stall on the back of left-wing principles, playing many benefit gigs (remember them?), supporting the miners and opening for The Clash and later on, Joe Strummer on his ‘Rock Against The Rich’ tour. Laughable as it seems now, we seemed to stand for ‘something’, even if that ‘something’ was littered with paradox and flaws.
With the culmination of the Poll Tax riots, the de-throning of Thatcher and the introduction of softly-softly working-class-boy-made-good successor John Major, it was only a matter of time before the political landscape changed with the coming of ‘New Labour’.
At this point, Brand was probably living his learning curve as a Heroin addict whilst my lot were pushing out sprogs and saddling ourselves with mortgages, feathering our nests for a new future laden with contentment. After all, hadn’t we earned it by now, what with all that struggle and fighting against the establishment during the 80’s? Trouble was, we were silently becoming the new establishment, retiring our blunted blades, weary from 18 years of clashing swords with stuffy grey men in suits, slipping into the warm, fluffy security of ‘Cool Britannia’. Old school Tories were on the ropes – nay, tangled in the ropes – unable to free themselves from the shackles of EU in-fighting and a general malaise from having come so far, then to see it all taken away by a designer suit and a set of gleaming white teeth. And there we sat, basking in our new found power and wealth, the leftist nouveau-riche, the champagne socialists Viz comic would have ridiculed a decade ago.
We got fat and lazy.
Meanwhile, our children were growing up in households that no longer needed to feel empowered by radical politics. There was nothing to rebel against; we were the kings within our kingdom, why would we fight ourselves? Instead, we became the holders of the purse strings, the ones that delivered the Saturday night reality-driven TV diarrhoea, TV too cheap not to make, advertising revenue friendly TV we could raise our kids on. No ‘Young Ones’ for them; no ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ for them; no ‘Comic Strip Presents’ for them; no ‘Tube’ for them, no ‘Boys From The Blackstuff’ for them no challenge-programming whatsoever. We had become the soft touch who stood for nothing, we had become the noughties version of ‘Terry & June’ and we didn’t see it coming.
Like politics, we blended into the ‘middle ground’ and thus, our children followed suit. Problem is, it’s our children’s generation who can’t get a mortgage to buy a house, who can’t get jobs, who look forward to a debt-ridden further education, who can’t afford car insurance and have been forced into living their lives via a social network created by nouveau-geeks, now taken over and funded by our generation. We have become the bean counters providing a platform of technology for them live in a subliminal virtual society, whilst we carry on unconsciously supporting an exhausted system that infinitely rotates on repeat. Worst of all, we never taught our kids how to rebel.
After all, we were the final frontier in social rebellion. We were the ones who dared to stick two fingers up at the establishment and got away with it. How can they top that? They even listen to our music now! How can that be right? Should they not be generating their own riot to outrage us into spawning a Mary Whitehouse for the 21st century? Truth is, we’ve done it all for them. There’s nothing left to explore. All we can give them is a life lived through Smartphones and a tired political system that offers them nothing but reason after reason to be apathetic about the whole sorry state. “What’s the point in voting?” my 18 year old son asked me, mirroring exactly what Brand was arguing with Paxman.
Before I sat down to write this, I saw a snippet of yet another vacuous piece of TV tripe, no doubt commissioned by my generation. This time, it was Heston Blumenthal cooking up a themed feast for more people of my age group to enjoy. So now we’ve become a demographic of foodies getting fat in a fantasy world created by a restaurateur who creates menus our children will never have a hope in hell of being able to afford to eat off.
We live in a self-serving bubble that continues to suppress our children into an inheritance that’s stale from our failed, repeated attempts to make things ‘right’ and a set of political leaders offering nothing for them to connect with.
Russell Brand is in a tricky position. He bridges a gap between my generation and that of my children. He calls for “revolution” and with 7 million plus followers on Twitter, that may be a little disconcerting for the government of the day. What if he actually motivates people? What if he can actually do the job we’ve forgotten how to do? But he stands in isolation; there needs to be more of his kind shouting about what is wrong and hopefully, offering ways for our children to stimulate themselves into fighting back with an ideology fit to challenge the outdated, same-old-same-old redundant, monolithic, equally failed capitalist and pseudo-communist world systems that continue to asset strip what is left to rape from our planet.
Things need to change; we need to try and remember why we stirred ourselves to fight against the establishment instead of becoming idols of what we fought against. Maybe the venomous shareholder-friendly price rises the energy companies continue to thrust upon us whilst hiding behind a weak ‘green taxes’ smokescreen, will be the kick-start we need to force us into fight-back mode. Who’d have thought there could be a positive by-product from fiscal tyranny? It comes to something when even an ex-PM puts his cards on the table and tells his own party who created the private energy market, “this is wrong”.
It’s time for us to wake up and stop sleeping on the job, give our children the optimism to believe it is possible to create something better than what shamefully stands as testament to our failure to change the old order.
Revolution? Ready when you are Russell.