I remember listening to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and thinking, I don’t know what he’s saying, but that is exactly how I feel. To me, the refrain said it all:
“With the light’s out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us.
I feel stupid and contagious.
Here we are now, entertain us.”
What did it say? I’m still not completely certain. When I heard this song had turned 20, I first thought that it was as true today as it was then, but then I realized that it might still be true for my age group, but perhaps not for the 18- and 19-year-olds of today. If, for us, it was less dangerous with the lights out, today’s teens have grown up doing it all with the lights on and the cameras rolling. However, they, too, seem to have the sense that they deserve to be entertained. In fact, all of life has become a performance. Is this new, or is this a return to Shakespeare’s truth that all the world’s a stage and the men and women merely players? And if today’s teens manage to emerge from their teens feeling something other than stupid, they’re more resilient than I was. Study after study results in wailing and gnashing of teeth over how today’s youth can’t keep up in the global marketplace. Our political discourse raves about the failure of our schools. And our economic situation means even those with college degrees are facing long-term un- or underemployment.
MTV and the radio still controlled what the young people of the early 90s listened to and helped create a homogenous play list and allowed for an anthem of my youth. I’m not as certain that is possible today in the world of mp3s and earbuds.
Who will today’s teens and young 20s celebrate as the authors of their anthem 20 years from now? 19 years 364 days until we find out.