Words by Cameron Higgins
For a minute there, in the naive first months of the Trump Presidency, when we were still new to the chaos, everyone seemed to be asking their elder of choice: were the 60s this crazy? To which the elder of choice usually answered: yes, much more so. Kids were killed by the National Guard at Kent State. Politicians were killed. Racist violence and violence in Vietnam. Mind-expanding drugs and the savagery of rock n’ roll. Youth versus age. Longhairs and squares. New art, new journalism, new ideas.
Generally, said elders seemed correct. Despite the feverish political divisions and swirling uncertainty about the future, for its first few minutes, the current era didn’t seem revolutionary enough to hold a candle to the sixties. It was hard to imagine the citizenry putting their smartphone down long enough to hit get in the streets and protest.
Turns out, though, that it was picking up the smartphone that changed the equation. At the March for Our Lives in DC, one of the biggest youth demonstrations since the Vietnam era, there was something fresh in the air. The kids were onto something.
But consider the Vietnam War: it was a military-industrial machine, with a draft, that snapped up American youths against their will and sent them headfirst into violence. Going to Vietnam was a spectre for every young American. Not dissimilar from gun violence today: shady politico-corporate interests up their dollars by pumping military weaponry into the citizenry, which then kills the citizenry.
Then there’s #metoo, a feminist movement calling attention to ongoing gender inequality. Black Lives Matter, a civil rights organization that combats systemic racism and its consequences. There’s the new trans visibility movement. Sad to say, but the categories being focused upon aren’t a far cry from the 60s political focal points: civil rights, feminism, gay rights, Vietnam.
Where are the drugs though?
Well, because kids today are overworked adult children, they don’t have time to trip. Instead though, they’ve found their consciousness alterer in social media and smartphones. Through lingo and emojis, snapchats and new forms of communication, the kids essentially have an entire world to themselves that is functionally impervious to grown up intrusion. They are linked up with one another in a new way. Their information consumption, their communications, their values and beliefs are all mediated, in some way or another, by their smartphones. This is not bad, just radically new. What does all this mean?
Just that the ingredients are there for the kids of today to be a revolutionary generation. They’re passionate and savvy. They’re progressive masters of a phenomenon the adult world doesn’t fully understand.
Social media may have bumped Trump into the White House. Then again, the CIA were the ones who loosed acid on the world in the sixties, the drug that ultimately became the a counter cultural centerpiece. The Trump Administration may have introduced social media politicking to the cultural landscape, but the kids were already hashtagging, coordinating, apping their way into the political arena. They’re the ones who will ultimately be remembered for their political prowess on social media.
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