Rebellion has always been associated with teenagers. From burnouts to Satanists, this rejection of the mainstream can be seen through generations. Epstein points to Generation X as the group who fully acknowledged this angst and formed their own subculture. Donna Gaines takes a deeper look into the causes of Generation X’s teenage alienation, and how the rejection of this subculture by the mainstream led to the suicide of four students. Finally, Williams redefines these what subcultures are and the different causes of resistance.
Epstein states the generation following the baby boomers felt particularly alienated by the mainstream and due to this developed their own subculture of “slackers”. This alienation is was produced from a constant state of anomie. This discontentedness from society can from the broken promises of the optimists of the previous generation. First, Epstein looked at Anomie from a Marxist perspective. According to Marx, anomie rose amongst the proletariat because their vocations are being objectified and monetized. This caused society wide sense of discontentment and emptiness(Epstein 2004).
Epstein then refers to Durkheim who looks at society, rather than the individual, as the source for anomie. He views anomie as a lack of societal norms, and it is through this lens that Epstein continues to dissect the condition of adolescent alienation.
As an example, he points to Donna Gaines’ “Teenage Wasteland” which describes the lives of burnout teens living in suburbia. In this book she examines the teen’s lifestyle and how they deal with being rejected by the mainstream.
She also demonstrates how the Grunge music culture of the Pacific Northwest glorifies the mediocrity and silent anger they feel toward the world. The alienation that Generation X once felt has now written into words and they felt a familiarity to the bleak future portrayed in this music (Gaines 2000).
Gaines begins by recounting the suicide of 4 teenage burnouts in New Jersey, 1987. While their hometowns society labeled them as trash with no ambition. Gaines felt that their deaths were a symptom of decay of society and alienation of American youth throughout the country. This act of suicide kicked off the awareness of this problem nationwide. While many things, such as music and drugs, be blamed for the death of these teenagers. The fact that four people collectively killed themselves was highly unlikely and unique. The town had restricted their actions where the only way they could rebel was by suicide. The rules and regulations put upon them to keep them from deviating almost had a reverse effect. Gaines gives an example of how many parents attempt to prevent their children from experimenting with drug. She says adults wanted to keep their children from taking drugs by overloading them with busy work. However, this pointless work drains meaning from their actions and in their boredom they turn to drugs regardless of the rules placed before them. It was due to the society’s unclear rules and confusing merit system that the role of scapegoat is placed on these slacker teens eventually forcing them into a constant state of rebellion being hated by all others (Gaines 2000).
The conversation Gaines has with the teenagers who had an interaction Christians and cut themselves reminded me of Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”. It is easy to understand their isolation they feel when they convey so much apathy to the world, yet they are so quick to care about their peer’s opinions. Without their own form of identity, these adolescence would not know where they fit in.
Both Gaines and Epstein believe that teenagers rebel, and in some cases commit suicide, in reaction to the alienation forced upon them by the rest of society. This exile and disdain from the public continues the cycle forcing to teenagers to become more isolated. Because of this, the teenagers in this group rebelled and formed their own subculture with different norms, thus filling in the role of the culture that rejected them.
Williams also looks at these same issues, but seeks a more detailed understanding of the concepts. He states that subculture should not have such a rigid definition tied to resistance to the status quo, because everyone rebels and assimilates to a certain extent without being fully immersed in one faction. While he also defines resistance as a reaction to something occurring in society, he feels that the act of resistance itself can be found in every member of society. As opposition to the mainstream can be seen as unique and cherished as it gives an individual a sense of selfhood. This also leaves any group of resistance that gets to big vulnerable to commercial interest (Williams 2011). This explain how the alienation of suburban teenagers became monetized and popularized into the Grunge music culture we see today.
It is important to note that while resistance is a natural reaction to changes in society. The marginalization of these individuals was learned from the previous generation. This mimics larger society by forming levels of social stratification in places such as high schools and small towns. This use of institutions to keep nonconformist groups separate or to make money from them is an example of biopower that the mainstream has over those who defy it. This can be seen in our neoliberal society by how institutions such as prisons have oppressed the poor (Willse 2015).
After reading these articles and book excerpts, I found that agreed with most of what had been said. However, I feel the role hormonal changes during puberty play in an individual’s self-expression has been overlooked in many of their findings. Despite this, the understanding of the alienation and anomie surrounding the lives of American adolescence can allow us to reexamine the roles of teenagers and how to interact with them.