March 24, 2008

Deification of Youth


Youth and its concomitant culture and attitude has come to dominate all media output to the point of deification, despite the increasing average age of the population. This increasing discordance has a negative social impact for at least three reasons:

Firstly, youth deification tends to encourage the empowering of young people and the granting of rights to them, despite the fact that they are the least well equipped to wield power and use those rights. For example, recently there was a proposition to confer voting rights two years earlier in life at 16. Although I doubt most people are well equipped enough at 30 to vote in an informed way, age is not the correct criteria. The criteria should be: experience, knowledge, intellectual balance, intelligence and sanity; all (except perhaps the last) characteristics that tend in increase with age. In another example 16 year olds are allowed to have children of their own, this is almost certain to be a disaster. The criteria that I suggested in the first example also applies to this, but one can add to them: financial security, compassion and emotional balance, emotional stability and social skills. Again these extra criteria tend to be more prevalent in the mature person. Handing out power and rights temerariously to people who are ill equipped to have them (predominantly the young) leads inevitably to problems. This fashionable lust for youth is too widely applied and indeed is misguided in almost all aspects of life. Society and its administrators are too quick to see the value in youth.
Secondly, youth deification distorts people’s ability to make unbiased judgements about their life. People are encouraged to make decisions that tend to portray them as youthful. Clearly this will have the largest affects at the margins, where a balance of judgement could be tipped by the pressure to be youthful. For example, the attitude toward responsible drinking. Alcohol is a drug that has social acceptance and its youth informed over use is one of the most negative features of modern British society. People are swayed too easily to see the value of youth in their own lives.
Thirdly, ageism favouring youth consigns useful members of society to minority roles when the have great experience to offer. People are too ready to see youth in others as an advantage over experience and stability.

Justification for the Postulate

How and why Youth Deification came about and spread

The visibility of youth in media output began as a result of the increasing economic independence of younger people being targeted as a distinct group by enterprising businesses. For obvious reasons youth combines easily with the pan-generational preoccupations of health, personal hygiene, beauty, sport, fitness and optimism about the future, amongst others. So naturally usage of young people was extended to marketing using lifestyles and images which have those preoccupations as important elements. As most popular lifestyles and images employ some of those preoccupations, most tend to celebrate youth.

How Youth Deification became dominant

People like to be optimistic and popular, so naturally they are attracted to popular trends that promise a better future. As more people like something it tends to inflate its popularity. This inflation process has occurred with some images and lifestyles and so by association has the significance of youth. Youth is also associated with some negative and failed images and lifestyles, but they tend to be forgotten more easily because peoples focus for their own aspirations is on the optimistic and popular. Youth is also obviously associated easily with the future. Combined these factors tend to emphasize youth as a positive human state, even though in practice its virtues are mostly trivial.


Competition in marketing tends to encourage exaggeration of what is popular. So inevitably utilising youth led also to the use of youth culture and youth attitude, all of which are exaggerated in the advertising arms race. For example, it is often visually manifest in advertising images as people who are carefree enough, that they have their mouths agape and are laughing so hard they have lost control of what they are doing. Another example is juvenile attitude and behaviour, such as drinking so much it can do you harm. This attitude is portrayed as a normal or even aspirational in some subcultures and yet must (or should) be considered extreme behaviour by the majority of society.


There are few areas of popular culture that youth, youth culture and youth attitude are not applied to. However, pervasive youth culture in marketing is not an accurate reflection of the composition of society. In fact, the average age of the population is increasing and so omnipresent youth culture is increasingly incongruent. This contradiction implies that youth culture is far too prevalent and important, one might even say it has become deified.
The dominance of youth culture in popular culture is in part a reaction to the increasing, sometimes onerous, complexity built into our lives. Managing complexity requires application, experience and responsibility, which are not easy to obtain and difficulty is not popular. A youthful carefree attitude helps to differentiate from the unpopular aspects of social complexity. Hence, by differentiating ones self from unpopular facets of life one possible inference is that one is associated with the popular facets of life. This can be reinforced by adopting other features of popular culture. The need to be popular may in turn be a dependency of insecurities.


The progression toward younger customers is still continuing and the internet provides a relatively easy means to allow it to continue. At the same time older people, although representing a larger fraction of society, are becoming marginalised. Eventually perhaps we should expect a correction to the status quo, when the large unattended mass of older people become tired of the continued dominance of youth culture and flex their voting and collective financial muscle.

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