The Problem of Authority

The Beastie Boys famously sang “you have to fight for your right to party” which succinctly expresses a common theme in youth culture, namely freedom comes through resisting traditional authority (teacher, police officer, politician etc). A classic from the band Twister Sister intones :

“We’ll fight the powers that be just
Don’t pick our destiny ’cause
You don’t know us, you don’t belong

Oh we’re not gonna take it
No, we ain’t gonna take it
Oh we’re not gonna take it anymore”

In the current culture wars, we see the constant battering of traditional views through the hegemony of popular culture which acts as a symbol carrying system that teens ascribe to as a means to individuate and develop identity. The flip side of this is the denigrating or use of traditional symbols such as believing in God or reading the bible as a source of absurdity or a loss of freedom. Teens overwhelmingly influenced by popular culture are in a double bind situation, and it is often at-risk teens who are most susceptible to pop culture’s cartoon view of freedom.

In contrast, the opposing sphere of tradition emphasizes values that place hard work, responsibility and rules and structure as a pathway to adult life. Rules are put in place to scaffold the internal development of maturity, while independence and freedom are limited based on appropriate maturity. Today, teens are growing up within a virtualized culture and one that finds even many adults struggling with “adulting” and unable to express appropriate adult authority. Ironically, these traditional values are a necessary part of the structure that guides development and leads to increasing freedom.

To grow up teenagers must parse the the symbolic identities offered by pop culture for the real identities of adulthood. Failure to do so increases the risk of prolonging immaturity leading to oversight and monitoring by mature adults, or, so often, the system. A local social worker told me that the number one person signing up for benefits in Winnipeg is not the down and out street person, but the 18 year old male living in their parent’s basement, usually brought down to the appointment by his mother.

Growing up is synonymous with the ability to maintain one’s life independently of his or her parents or caregivers. Today, access to constructed identities through popular music culture continues to present the ideal of freedom through rebellion and rejecting of any tradional authority or rules. Instead of presenting a pathway to freedom, this simply stalls or slows adolescent maturity. Freedom only comes with the corresponding path of development that leads to self control and mastery of adult roles and responsibility. A path which requires the assistance of adults further along the road.

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