Politicians running for president cannot count on the youth vote. Because that vote no longer exists.
Young adults vote, but the concept of a youth culture actively unified by politics has become outdated.
Look at a high school cafeteria or a college dining hall today, and you quickly realize that youth are united only by our need for constant communication and consumption of entertainment.
Businesses capitalize on youth’s tendency to reject looks or ideas that are different by pandering to their desire to be individuals. More cliques and different looks create opportunities to sell more products.
Corporations pull us apart by telling us that we can craft our own identities apart from those of our parents and peers if we buy their products, but they have stripped away the meaning and substance that once fueled the subcultures. Stores teach us that it is the products that have meaning and not our personal beliefs.
Belonging to a group has always been an important part of childhood. Business has capitalized on this desire to belong to something by encouraging the stereotypes that surround ever-growing cliques. The result of this is a fragmented generation. We no longer trust one another to be ourselves.
It is no coincidence that historians have had difficulty attaching a generational label to those born after 1980. Throughout much of modern history youth movements have come and gone: flappers, hippies, punks and many others. As time went on, each group passed with the next one feeling that their elders had failed or sold out in some way. Every generation had cohesive subcultures that had substance and purpose.
The young today cling to the movements of the past without finding anything to call their own. Many resurrect old stereotypes in a search for meaning. To place the blame only on the corporations, however, would be irresponsible.
My own generation has heavily invested itself into the culture of cliques. The numerous pseudo-subcultures that exist today seem to have similar progressive ideals, but fail to see through the contrived barriers the corporations have erected throughout. Punks, hippies, hip-hoppers and environmentalists do not have to be enemies. Youth no longer question society but one another.
Corporations promote identity through possessions, but that they also strip those identities of any political or ideological force and the youth are just left with superficial forms: clothes and other objects that can be purchased, but little substance in the sense of movement toward or away from something.
All that corporations can sell are objects. We’ve been sold an idea that our identity is associated with objects and not what we believe. Youth need to look beyond appearances and the notion that identity is tied to objects and focus on individuals’ inherent beliefs. We have to get past the idea that appearances matter.
Society does not fear its youth like it once did. “Most young people do not take any great pride in being young,” Jonah Goldberg wrote for the National Review after the 2004 presidential election, about lower-than-expected youth voting. “Why should they? Being young requires no work and no investment in mental or physical resources. It says almost nothing about a person’s real beliefs. Youth politics is as deep as the paint on a can of Diet Pepsi and has about as much substance on the inside.”
If my generation wants to make a real change in the world, we have a harder battle than those before us. We must look away from our differences and realize that we are united by far more than what we are told distinguishes us as individuals and thus divides us.
Olsen is a junior in Berkeley College, studying ecology.