There are many who constitute today’s youth who have a voice but who choose not to use it. Materialism and the pursuit of ‘quick fixes’ to one’s personal political awareness and a desire for change, both on a local community level and on a national level.
I would quote Nicky Alt, a Liverpool playwright, who in an interview complained:
“Where the angry young people these days… They all seem happy with their material possessions and no-one wants to climb any ladders. There is so much apathy about – people want change, but they want someone to do it for them”
In a society where values are being constantly eroded and many youth choose irresponsibility, escapism and selfish pursuits instead of looking at problems and trying to address issues, instead of finding cohesive long-term solutions; I think the problem of youth is greed, a lack of empathy and a culture that has been bred of materialism that promotes instant gratification.
The youth have been given a voice, and many schemes are in place in communities to hear their voice, but it seems nobody wants to speak. The youth have lost their ability to connect with politics and the stubborn self-centred lot even choose not to listen. People have closed their ears to the world around them only to become introverted and concentrate only on their own existence, building on superficialities instead of focusing on core personal development or their humanity – that is to be able to reflect on and develop one’s self but to also appreciate the self as a part of a whole, a neighbourhood, a community, a family, a people.
Community breakdown stems from the ethos “You get out of it what you put in” and people are putting everything into themselves, and little into the community. Helping yourself - instead of helping others for the greater good - has become our institutionalised way of life. Even in the home, the family unit is broken up more increasingly, sacrificing familial bonding and sharing experiences at the dinner table for the wisdom and allure of the god with the plasma flashing face and the four corners, be it the television or the monitor of a computer screen.
A lack of discipline, morals and understanding of where you’ve come from, the value of how hard those who before us have worked so we can own and enjoy what we have now had caused us to lose our connection with the previous generations. There is a lack of respect for parents, teachers, employers and no real interest or connection with our roots or the struggles that were faced, the values of the older generations and why these values are so important. Youth and the pursuit of never-ending youth is deified in the media and nobody wants to grow old, nor the responsibility that this comes with. Role models and the people that the youth aspire to be these days are not the wise or experienced; talent, wisdom and experience has given way to glamour, glitz and sex appeal.
We can talk about poverty and the lack of opportunities for the young, but materially we are much better off, much less deprived than the children of our parents’ and their parents’ generation. People had to work hard and fight to earn things in the past, and so people understood the value of what they spent their money on.
Poverty still exists now, but for many of us, poverty is a relative concept, one in which you perceive you need more than you have, and that your life suffers if this desire or want exists.
A person and their success today is measured on what we have, what we own, how we are entertained, as opposed to their values or morals or to forge your own sense of belonging and to be accepted.
And even to be accepted to belong, a child has to be seen to be conforming to these trends and outward displays of material possession. If, as a parent, you try to exercise restraint and oppose these trends and try to instill morals over materialism, often the child will stick out like a sore thumb and begin to think they are deprived, suffering with their peers and at school. All too often, the parent will give in to the child’s whims, where to some unenlightened parents, they think providing materially for their kids is more important than tackling education and values.
Throwing money at these problems creates yet again another ‘quick fix’ and so the child is conditioned to become self-centred and greedy. This accepted trend leads to a mentality of “If I don’t get what I want, I’ll cause trouble”. So in homes, there is a lack of respect for the parents who can’t control them, these same parents who admonish teachers who try and discipline the kids, so by secondary school, youths have no respect for teachers whatsoever. This is not always the case, this is not what I’m saying – but many of the disaffected youth who present us with so many of these problems will fall into this category.
There is an increasing lack of boundaries and morality – such as seen by the recent popular phenomenon of ‘happy slapping’, casual and pointless violence, and the recent atrocity in Derby on the 17th of September, where a flash mob of youngsters and shockingly even middle aged people were baying for a suicidal man to jump. One witness described the scene: "People were filming… we could hear people shouting "jump you…" followed by a stream of expletives. They weren't all just young people, some were middle-aged. To be honest with you I was sickened." The mob ‘successfully’ encouraged the young man to leap to his death, against the work police negotiators were trying to do.
How did these breakaway and disaffected youth become so feral? How has such amorality permeated to even the supposedly more mature people who should know better, who should be acting as role models to the youngsters, and what kind of example of hope does this bring us? Why is youth violence and disorder on the rise so much?
Some would say the solution to these problems would be an iron fist and the jack boot – and I might agree. But this would still not help in raising political, social or independent moral awareness, or a change from within, such as through inspiration.
There is no one solution – I would say more police powers, more power to teachers, heavier penal sentences and punishments that reflect the crime and so there is fear of recrimination, even conscription for national service, but in a strictly enforced non-combat role for 12 – 18 months, where mandatory training, discipline and personal development would be the focus, where we could instill values and a common thread of unity throughout the classes – where abilities and achievements could be recognized and funneled through training schemes instead of this futile pursuit of higher education for all, where people with abilities not suited for academia are not allowed to express themselves and are stifled and so lose sense of purpose and thus become “the disaffected”.
All at least would have a sense of responsibility, and even if one might loathe the experience, upon leaving service they would make their own choices, or one might feel they have learned something valuable. There would be no fear of losing our youth or missing out, as we would all be in the same boat, working towards a common thread - and at the very least, everyone would have an opportunity to make something of themselves, to enter work upon leaving service, and the core problem, which is apathy, would be a very rare thing indeed.
But these are but ideas – no doubt exceptionally difficult to implement, and I’m sure a great proportion of the public, many of you reading this would cry out against such measures. I’m sure that this is a topic that would ignite fierce debate and opinion from all sides. And we, as the public cannot make these decisions anyway, these are made by those whom we elect, or by the lords who are appointed by those we elect.
Empathy, anger management, a lack of individual and social conscience and few constructive vents for the energy of youth of all major issues which now face us.
In Liverpool, during the 80’s unemployment was at an all-time high. People had little or nothing – but they all had nothing together. Few prospects, poverty, and dead-end jobs made people want to fight for a better existence. Workers would be politicized and made aware of issues by their trade unions and there would be a cohesive and constructive vent for their anger and frustrations.
Now, the youth choose hedonism, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, violence and escapism as their vents. Occasionally politically minded people might meet by chance through these pursuits of escapism, but there is no magnet, no common thread with youngsters to unite under one banner and turn their collective voices into a solidarity, a piece by which to make our voices into a megaphone.
A breakdown in families, religion and trade union action; the class divides, apathy and materialism have caused a rupture in society, fuelled more and more by our consumer culture and our desire to be entertained.
But therein lies the key! Many youth shy away from politics because they see it as ‘boring’ or that there is no point in listening or participating because it will make no difference – the politicians never listen. Some are blissfully unaware of the existence of politics and social thought as they will see no further than the horizons of their own immediate life.
But we can all make a change without being dependant on decisions from Whitehall. By using expression and by using this consumer culture and the desire for entertainment, indulgence and spectacle, we can politically motivate or inspire the youth. We just need to know how to sow the seeds.
By using the arts – via displays, exhibitions, installations, theatre, music, film, literature – with even the most subtle of social and political agendas can its audiences be inspired. Art which is accessible and interactive for all, can reach the places the voices of politicians cannot.
Art brings people out of their own lives and unites people in a common interest or admiration, or even disgust. It can serve as a banner, where we can forget our differences and individual pursuits and where our eyes and ears are fully open. Sometimes it can also make you aware of your individual pursuits and differences encourage analysis and independent thought, perhaps to realization of the futility of one’s path, or how to assess, question or strengthen one’s own views on life and the action that we should be taking.
People should realize that “The Arts” are not a commodity for the elite, and the snobbery that can be applied to viewing the arts should be forgotten. Art is simply about expression and communication, and anybody can get involved. People with little interest in “The Arts” will still engage in large-scale projects out of curiosity and to follow the masses which do so.
By providing a spectacle, a stimulus, displays of artwork or creativity, this will provoke interest from curiosity and wonder, and again, possibly even admiration or disgust.
Art can move us in many ways – it can stir emotions, evoke conscious analysis and elicit self-reflection, it can show us our hopes and fears and these are all key in the seeds to social awareness and activism.
Even art in its most abstract form can unite seemingly unconnected people who might share similar realizations, views or aspirations or it might even give a realization to viewers and participants that they are part of a whole, instilling a sense of community and pride.
One recent example of this is the “La Machine” project in Liverpool, a giant mobile exhibition of a huge walking mechanical spider, roaming the streets of Liverpool, complete with interactive special effects, a storyline to evoke a fairytale-like magic and a full live soundtrack from a multi-piece orchestra. Many people in Liverpool decried this as a waste of public finance and grants given by the EU for Liverpool’s nomination as “Capital of European Culture 2008”. It was seen as a gimmick, purely for show, temporarily masking the real and vast problems Liverpool has. The money could have been used elsewhere, they said – and myself being one of them.
However, public schemes and throwing money at problems does not always offer solutions. Thousands came out en masse to unite and marvel at this exhibition, putting aside their pre-ordained views of the spectacle, thinking “what the heck, it’s here, we might as well get involved” and everyone decided to participate, and for the first time in a long time, I experienced and felt a universal sense of pride and togetherness amongst the people of Liverpool and also from those outside Merseyside who’d travelled to see this beast, which albeit a piece of art, felt alive.
To change the problems in society, you first need to change the people in it.
After this three day exhibition, the atmosphere among the locals was still buzzing.
The life in the artwork seemed to have infected the very people who had come to see it, and the city felt more alive, more positive as a result. The spider had gone, but something had changed. Scousers had a sense of pride, a sense of hope that was not apparently there before. Scousers felt united, and violence and disorder over the days the exhibition was on was virtually none-existent.
And seeing that this could be achieved, and feeling a sense of responsibility to prove that pride and seeing that perhaps Liverpool could be on the improve and be worthy of being a world-class city, the people became ambassadors to their city. I have no statistics on the event, I only go on what I could feel and my personal experience and the feedback I have received from locals, but given a sense of pride, purpose and identity, I felt a genuine change in attitudes and vibes, whereas but months ago, I would decry Liverpool as a hostile, aggressive and deprived place.
Sometimes, all people need is a banner or a symbol to unite them, and their humanity can do the rest. But imagine all that interest, all that involvement in such a project, and then imagine the creators gave it a personal or political slant or a social agenda or dedicated the exhibition to a particular cause? Think how many people would be influenced. Think of how many people would have lit a spark inside them to become a light to open their eyes in the darkness?
That is the essence of the “Pin The Pits” campaign, and how I feel that it is an important and powerful example of how art can be used to reach and touch people.
In April 2006, Rachel Horne -the founder of the “Pin The Pits” campaign- put on a project called “The Out Of Darkness Light” project; dedicated to the miners and to those who’d lost their lives in Cadeby colliery during the 150 years the mining complex was open, with a series of light installations, each light representing one life that was lost in that time. Previous PR had informed those present of the purpose of the exhibition, what it was about and what it was trying to achieve – and no doubt those present would have spread the word. Alas though, through lack of resources, the installation was only up for one day and night, and advertisement via flyers for houses, which was initially in the proposal for the project could not be done due to the limited manpower and again, the lack of funding.
But I have no doubts in my mind that those who would have seen the display from near or afar and who would have had no information on what it was or why it stood, or where it had come from would have been asking these questions to themselves.
Our desire to know has been replaced by a demand to be entertained. So why not combine the two? Entertainment which provides insight and learning, education and provokes thought.
People mistrust politicians due to their lies, spin and propaganda – but art allows those to form their own opinions and feelings and to make their own mind up. When before, I said that where art connects, it is also a place where a person’s mind is open.
If a person hears a speech, wherein the political agenda is not to a person’s liking or in opposition to a person’s beliefs, the person can choose not to listen or to walk away from what they are hearing, regardless of how valid or impassioned the piece may be. The content might offend them, and so you close your ears and close your mind to it. You won’t even question it, or allow yourself to question why you are so fundamentally opposed to it.
With a speech, you are taken wherever the speaker wants you to go – you have to follow hurriedly after their footsteps lest you miss a beat. But with art, you can pause, sit, observe, examine, ponder and reflect. Even if you oppose with all your soul the principles or ideas behind a piece of art, you would still find yourself questioning what it represents to you, why it makes you feel the way you do, and refining your sense of self and identity in the process.
The disaffected feel they have no path, not do they feel they need one. The wander aimlessly looking for their own fruitless pursuits, and as they wander, boundaries become less and less clear.
But if artwork can bring someone to examine their roots, then it might instill a sense of connection and cultural authenticity, and then pride. As the great Bob Marley once said: “If you know your history, then you would know where you’re coming from”.
And if you can draw a line from where you’ve come to where you are today, then you can see the events that have led up to this day in your life and with that you can find a direction. And by examining this direction, you can look at which way you’re facing, and find out if you’re going in the right way. If you can give meaning and value to what’s happened before you and what is happening now, and encourage someone to understand this, then there is hope in unlocking empathy for today’s youngsters.
It is projects like “Pin The Pits” and projects which Compass Youth seek to actively support and promote that can bring people like us together, each with their own political voice, to listen and to be heard, like with the “Pin The Pits” campaign which united people under one roof, in the very place where to be heard, there is every hope of real change, where politics, expression and opinion have so much power in this country, where dreams can become real and change can become possible.
But let us not forget, in such projects, many of the people involved are primarily artists – trying to use their passions to live, but also to touch others, to inspire and to educate.
If art can do so much to bring people together in such a manner, and motivate people in such a way that artwork can become a campaign, and then from a campaign – real change – then surely more should be done to credit these artists.
I’m not saying art alone can change the world – I’ve already established I don’t believe in quick fixes or singular solutions to today’s complex challenges. But art which plants or awakens the seeds within us can cause subtle changes from within to instigate movement and realization and can inspire these people individually to come together and become a collective and want to change society as a whole.
Sometimes it takes a symbol for people to examine the reality of their situations and to focus their energies.
People can’t be changed by pushing them form the back, nor can you drag along an unwilling dog and expect him not to dig in his heels. But if you can kindle something inside and show people their past, present and future, if you can give people recognition, if you can awaken awareness and open someone’s mind – then therein lies the key to social change.
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