Generation F*cked: How Britain is Eating Its Young

From Adbusters #71, May-Jun 2007

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PHOTO: Cliff Bevan

 

Every evening, at around teatime, the occupants of the small council house in the non-descript English market town of Northampton become nervous.

They are waiting for it to start.

Soon stones will be hurled at the home for hours on end. The mother, barely out of her teens herself, keeps her two disabled sons, aged four and nine, away from the windows in case they shatter. On some nights the siege continues until three or four in the morning. On others, the crowd of nine- to 16-year-olds has better things to do.

As victims go, the stone-throwers are hard to pity.

The UN’s first ever report on the state of childhood in the industrialized West made unpleasant reading for many of the world’s richest nations. But none found it quite so hard to swallow as the Brits, who, old jokes about English cooking aside, discovered that they were eating their own young.

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According to the Unicef report, which measured 40 indicators of quality of life – including the strength of relationships with friends and family, educational achievements and personal aspirations, and exposure to drinking, drug taking and other risky behaviour – British children have the most miserable upbringing in the developed world. American children come next, second from the bottom.

The report confirmed many people’s suspicions about the “British disease,” in the process raising doubts about the Anglo-American model of progress in general. As the older but also weaker partner, Britain may well serve to warn a host of nations following closely behind on its path. While an ageing, ever more crowded Europe looks on anxiously at the stress behaviour currently being exhibited by its own dysfunctional young – be it Parisian car barbeques or riots in Denmark and Germany – our continental cousins can’t help but notice that many of these behaviours debuted in Anglo-American cultures. The report explicitly demonstrated that, at least on this side of the Atlantic, the British are trailblazers of generational instability and social deterioration. On the whole, British children were more disconnected from their families, with nearly half of 15-year-old boys spending most nights out with friends, compared to just 17 percent of their French counterparts. Forty percent of UK youth had sex before age 15, compared with 15 percent of Polish teens. They drank nearly four times as much as the Italians, and, perhaps most saliently, had the lowest sense of subjective well-being among all the youth surveyed.

But to what degree was the report accurate, and how much of it was hyperbole? The Independent’s Paul Vallely quickly dismissed it as just another tabloid chapter in the UK’s ongoing moral panic about its feral children. “Consider the hugely varied responses,” he observed, “Everyone sees in it confirmation of their pre-existing worldview. It’s an indictment of our dog-eat-dog society. It showed how the furious pace of technical and cultural change is accelerating childhood depression and behavioural problems. It confirmed how rubbish New Labour has been on eradicating poverty. It is the result of market forces pushing children to act, dress and consume like adults. It is the fault of junk food, computers and paedophiles lurking round every corner. Pick your prejudice, you can find the evidence here.”

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Others were neither as sure nor as reassuring. Veteran columnist Mary Dejevksy noted that “while Labour politicians swerved frantically away from accepting the findings – variously blaming Margaret Thatcher, the subjectivity of the categories, or the supposed obsolescence of the statistics – large numbers of people across the country breathed a sigh of relief. Here was documentary support for their fears. After ten years of official assurances that things were only getting better – greater all round prosperity, less child poverty, more nurseries, fewer teenage pregnancies, and improved exam results – callers and emailers embraced the Unicef findings as an alternative truth more in line with their own experience.”

Around the nation, airtime was cleared for cathartic phone-ins, heated discussions, and a torrent of contributors that simply would not stop. As if sensing that many of the problems might in part stem from the government’s unparalleled obsession with monitoring, measuring and homogenising the very children it once sought to cherish, many former Labour advisors suddenly sought to introduce daylight between their ideas and those of the heavily surveilled nanny state. Neil Lawson of the Labour think-tank Compass bleakly admitted: “Society is hollowing out, but not just in the rotting boroughs of south London. The middle classes are anxious too. Many are richer but few seem happier. Mental illness abounds. White-collar jobs are outsourced to India. Everyone looks for meaning in their lives – but all they find is shopping.”

“The reason our children’s lives are the worst among economically advanced countries is because we are a poor version of the USA,” he said. “So the USA comes second from bottom and we follow behind. The age of neo-liberalism, even with the human face that New Labour has given it, cannot stem the tide of the social recession capitalism creates.”

Others claimed that Labour had conducted a botched experiment in social engineering through financial incentives that favored full-time work for all parents, except the super rich or the desperately deprived. Popular psychologist and Affluenza author Oliver James called on the UK to raise the status of being a parent over the status of the worker-consumer. “Being a stay at home mother has a lower one than that of a street-sweeper,” he lamented, adding that after spending a decade trying to advise the current administration, they had done almost the exact opposite of what was needed.

But what if the behaviour of broken British children is less a violent reaction to their inadequate pasts than calculated defiance against their hopeless futures? Looking ahead, demographers and sociologists have begun to map out the downward trajectory on the bell curve called “progress.” They’ve spotted trouble – the kind of trouble that may already be written in the faces of today’s teens’ older siblings. In their Class of 2005 survey, LSE economist Nick Bosanquet, along with Blair Gibbs of the independent think tank Reform, branded Britain’s under-35s the “ipod Generation” – insecure, pressured, over-taxed and debt-ridden. Warning that Britain was at a generational tipping point when it came to quality of life, they argued, “The common perception is that today’s young people have it easy. But the true position of young people is thrown into stark relief when compared to their parents . . . who enjoyed many advantages of which the younger generation can now only dream, including a generous welfare state, free universal higher education, secure pensions and a substantial rise in housing equity which has augmented their lifetime savings.”

Others have called the tripling of housing costs in under a decade the largest generational asset transfer – from young and poor to old and rich – in UK history, and it is almost certainly the key factor contributing to both the nation’s plummeting birth-rate and its record £1.2 trillion in personal debt, a figure that puts even the most voracious American consumer to shame. Debt, whether measured in a natal deficit or angry letters from the bank, is a sure sign that the good times are up, because the only way the pretence of affluence can be continued is if tomorrow’s hardship is used to pay for today’s brief consumer whims.

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The first stirrings of major intergenerational conflict are already being noted. The basic rights of the recent past – a safe job, free education and healthcare, secure homes to raise a family, a modest but comfortable old age – have slipped quietly away, all to be replaced by a myriad of vapid lifestyle choices and glittery consumer trinkets. Excluded from a national social housing scheme sold off by their parents, unwilling to give birth in the UK’s draconian new system of rental accommodation which gives tenants no more than six months grace from eviction, and unable to afford homes of their own in 85 percent of the country, today’s ipod generation is stunted: trapped halfway between childhood and adulthood. It now takes them until 34, on average, before they can afford a house, let alone have a family of their own. Little surprise that they are such a woeful models of grown-up responsibility for their younger siblings to emulate. Mom and Dad aren’t much better. By blowing their children’s inheritance on 80 percent of the UK’s luxury good purchases, from suvs to cruises and antiwrinkle creams, Britain’s baby-boomers seem hell bent on ensuring that, even without coming resource shortages such as Peak Oil, their offspring will be the first generation in living memory to have a lowered standard of living.

The economic impact of baby boomers is certainly no surprise to those in the city, who have long described the boomer charge through the decades as the “pig in the pipeline.” As Channel 4’s economics correspondent Faisal Islam observed, “They embraced social liberalism, flower power and a large state when they were teenagers, and low taxes, a smaller state and loadsamoney individualism in their period of high disposable income. Then on the realisation of their own mortality, up goes spending on the health service and pensions. Fifty to 64 year-olds also have the largest carbon footprints – 20 percent bigger than other age groups – yet the climate change phenomenon will not affect them. Perhaps we are seeing the scary sight of a generation that has been rather brutal in getting its own way squeezing everything it can out of its children.”

Or, as Conservative MP David Willetts, put it: “A young person could be forgiven for believing that the way in which economic and social policy is now conducted is little less than a conspiracy by the middle-aged against the young.”

No wonder the UK is increasingly repressing its youth. As the generational divide deepens, it makes sense for the older generations to stake their claim now, while they have the power of the state on their side. Aside from handing out more than 10,000 Asbos (Antisocial Behaviour Orders, a cross between a human parking ticket and the sort of condemned notice you sometimes see on the walls of derelict buildings), the petty misanthropy that bans hoodie-wearing teenagers from shopping malls, forces parenting classes on failing single mums, and allows 79 percent of police forces to impose curfews on children, comes easily to a nation that thought up the idea that its young should be seen and not heard. But never before have we put them under this degree of surveillance while simultaneously turning a blind eye to our adult responsibilities. Satellites track their phones, marketeers groom them on cyberspace, police add the dna from 600 innocent children a week to a 50,000-sample database, while libraries fingerprint them to borrow books – all linked by rafts of new childhood databases joining the dots. In an age of hyper-individualism we are recoiling from the very children we have created. Monitoring is not enough, we must be protected from them. So Conservative leader David Cameron’s call to “hug a hoodie” was mocked, but Tony Blair won praise for ignoring compelling crime statistics and launching a “Respect agenda” to protect the societies safest members (the over-50s) from those most at risk of crime (the under-25s)

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In 2000, the country stood aghast upon hearing of ten-year-old Damilola Taylor, who bled to death, alone, in a public stairwell after being stabbed in the leg with a glass bottle by two boys aged 12 and 13. Fast forward through a few years of steadily rising violent crime rates, to the recent case of a 19-year-old who raped a 79-year-old grandmother, stabbed her to death and then left her body to burn on a cooker – it barely registered on the front pages. In 2005, a Reading teen’s binge-drink killing of his 14-year-old friend and a 16-year-old neighbor – one of whom had his throat cut so deeply that police first thought he’d been decapitated – was equally forgettable. Until recently, victims of crime under the age of 16 didn’t even make the official statistics.

The downward spiral of our progeny has been done to death in glorious tabloid Technicolor, but rather than dwelling on the carnage in order to understand our own part in this tragedy, we’ve instead moved to the role of cynical observer. Now we are busily examining the new life that has emerged from the wreckage: the Chav, Britain’s very own white trash. Although the label is thought to derive from “charva” – the Roma word for child – it is more frequently thought to stand for a different and altogether more lazy, cultural shorthand: “council housed and violent.” Mocked for their expanding waistlines, plummeting vocabularies, “Croydon facelift“ hairstyles, and a slavish devotion to gold jewellery and knocked-off Burberry sportswear, Chavs have become figures of chortlingly ironic ridicule by the media. But only from a distance. Because make no mistake, these most marginalised of children are neither poor nor noble savages. They throw dogs from bridges in front of trains. They beat fathers into comas to make mobile phone videos for YouTube. They are every bit as unpleasant as they are damaged.

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Chavs are the foot soldiers of corporate consumerism. They wear branded kit, congregate around halls of bland consumerism – shopping centers, cinemas, fast food outlets – and target anyone who stands out. Their chief weapon is not surprise, but a volley of inarticulate abuse and violence backed up by safety in numbers. Though they suffer from a dearth of so many intangibles in their young lives, one thing they do not know is real material poverty. They own expensive sports gear, expensive mobiles, watch Murdoch satellite channels on large flatscreen TVs, and aspire to a souped-up motor with a massive stereo system. They are not so much poor as culturally and imaginatively impoverished, because the main characteristic of Chavs is not social class but an utter lack of hope.

Once upon a time it was possible to grow up with a genuine pride in being working class. As the UK’s manufacturing sector declined, that pride has all but vanished. Shiny trinkets have bought off whole sections of the working class. That Chavs seek the more crass and vulgar ostentations of material wealth is just a refection having been colonized by consumer capitalism. The Chavs are Thatcher’s revenge.

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Hard as it may seem, there is one sort of youth even more demonized and legally suspicious than the Chav. In this war on terror without end, Blair’s revenge, no child is more frightening than a Muslim one. So it is unsurprising that the group at the front of the queue in Britain’s criminalization of childhood are the country’s estimated half-million Muslim youngsters of South Asian origin. In many respects they are doubly marginalized: once by the hypervigilant and distrustful authorities, who have increased stop-and-searches of South Asians by 302 percent between 2001 and 2003, compared to a 118 percent increase among whites; and again by their parents, who are reluctant to let them integrate with the all-consuming love of binge-drinking and sex that constitutes stereotypical British youth culture.

“While we loathe what happened,” human rights lawyer and cultural commentator Rajnaara Akhtar remarked shortly after the 7/7 tube bombings, “We recognize why and can comprehend the rage.” Noting that many UK-born Muslim children feel culturally distinct from both the inward-looking attitudes of their immigrant parents, and from established religious communities that “fail to recognise and relate to the challenges facing the youth,” she argued that the turn toward extremism is all too easy when “issues such as lack of integration, identity crises and their roles in this society” are left to children to decipher by themselves.

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Yet this is not necessarily a simple story of spiritually ablaze, fundamentalist Muslims rebelling against British corruption and decadence. Many commentators argue that by choosing to espouse a distorted version of militant Islam unrecognisable to many first-generation communities, youth are rebelling as much against the shortcomings of their parents as the country as a whole. Just like the Chavs, these youth are torturously dislocated from the communities that raised them.

As Akhtar puts it, “When depressing social predicaments and inadequate adult guidance are coupled with the sorrow and anger arising from unjust wars and occupations, the surge of negative emotional energy is easy prey.”

The tendency towards extremism is even easier to comprehend when one considers just what exactly Muslim youth have to lose. Not much, according to the statistics: 35 percent of Muslim homes have no adults in employment, double the national average; three-quarters of Pakistani and Bangladeshi children live under the poverty line compared to just a third of children in the country overall; and 31 percent of Muslim youth leave school without any qualifications, compared to 15 percent of the total population.* Given the imbalances, perhaps we should not even be asking why a few young Muslims are turning against the society that raised them. Perhaps we should be asking why more of them haven’t already.

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Just how much more hopeless does the situation have to become before Britain’s children wake up and realise that they no longer want to be monitored, marketed and manipulated for the benefit of their elders? Is it possible to wake and warn them? Some would seem to have neither the skills nor the will to articulate their anger and isolation. If indeed they are angry. While Chavs appear to have been swallowed up by their corporate clothing, it does offer them camouflage as they haunt the benches outside McDonalds and the faceless plains of identikit retail parks that we built for them to inhabit.

As a small, densely populated island that spawned both the industrial revolution and colonialism, Britain has a lot to tell the rest of the developed world in general, and America in particular, about our common future. If the crisscrossing faultlines of greed, geopolitics and social inequality do reach a tipping point, we may well see a conflict between youthful brutality and the power of old age that will only accelerate the decline. Maybe we should hope that our young people never wake. Because, if they do, Britain may soon be no place to grow old.

_Maria Hampton lives, writes and cycles around Cambridge, UK. She’s currently trying to hatch an escape plan to opt out of a frenetic modern life, but still eat.

* Sources: Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, Department for Work and Pensions, and the Office of National Statistics, respectively.


COMMENTS:

I thought this an excellent piece. It is not just Britain though where the curse and malaise of late period materialism has enabled this. It is present in other western countries as well. The mainstream media never talks abou the real reasons for the incessant drinking and drugging. It's pain relief! My feeling is that the oncoming threads of ecological contraction, peak oil, and a domestic biometric police state could provide a platform for some unexpected change. One thing is for sure though in that people to the age of 45 who only face insecurity as their normal existence have to develop their own resources and networks to overcome the emotional and spiritual emptiness of the prevailing paradigm. Bring on the socioecological renewal, the exigencies and madness at the heart of our pathetic usury-driven socioeconomic world are causing a lot of large cracks in the social fabric. The establishment elite and its sycophant government servants probably understand this and are beginning the bunkering down process. We shall see what emerges from here to 2040.
Michael B

Wow wow wow. Yep that's britain for ya. Maybe it's up to the individual to start thinking a bit more about his or her own life and how to improve it.
Mike C

Hi Maria, Many thanks for your article. So much of it rings true of my experience of the UK. Your comments have been truly thought-provoking. Britain's youth is troubled, and in fact the whole culture there is troubled. I think the youth to an extent understand what is going on, but do not know what to do about it. They know nothing else of life. And I can see how this ostentatious display of consumer culture in chavs is so common perhaps a way of ignoring a bleak looking future? Rebelling against poverty?
Anon

Reading this made me think of the youth in A Clockwork Orange, except this is reality.
Amelia

I was walking down the street in Ibrox, Glasgow, with a friend of mine on a saturday night. We got beaten by three young teenagers. Nothing broken but we got really scared. I am shocked because I could have died that night at age 22,and because I know that everyday, fathers, mothers, children and grandparents are the victims of 'chavs'. Maria Hampton said it: 'chavs' are 'soldiers of corporate consumerism'. Our own children, brothers. Parents, take care of your kids, please. Politicians, get to work!
Jean Baptiste

The thing isn't that the whole generation is disfunction, but many parents who have disfunctional kids are more often than not disfunctional themselves. Unfortunately, disfunctional parents often seem to breed with little concern for their communities' welfare. There's little we can do to stop this trend except for manditory education for every teenager from about age 10 to 18. Also, when a dysfunctional child starts breaking the law, start charging the parents.
Mike Smith

Wow, so someone actually cared to do an article on this? All I can say is it seems no surprise to me that America or the US rather is following behind this terrible trend. I live on a violent coast. I know this kind of pain from growing with dysfuctional parents and wanting to trash society cause all it ever gave me was a pat on the back and a fake smile. I came to expect nothing more from others then an automated greeting from a device, or the loving care of a terrible indifferent person. I don't know what love is, i hope to find it. Yet my culture in this country makes me think that if the politicians don't care, perhaps they will get what they reap as representatives of a coutry they seem to not be aware of like they should!
CW

suprised to see no mention of ASBOs, the cure is almost as bad as the disease.
Elmo

Every cloud has a silver lining. Notice how those youth cultures that are most messed up by consumerism US and UK are also the most creative.
Gagglepopper

Eyeopening. And I understand the need for an escape plan. Mine includes retirement to Brazil. Latin cultures are 50 to 75 years behind the curve with regard to western social 'progress'. The cost of living can be significantly lower and quality of life higher. Good luck!
George Watson

Not too far into the future, expect the teenagers of today to use the guillotine on the aged to avenge for their misfortune.
darkmatter

Why use Unicef reports, why use reports from an org that has online deals with coke cola & kraft foods? Why use information from a tobacco company? Yes We are fucked up it is beautiful, and none of this shit has a personality type answer you will get from my thoughts to validate socialy.
Guy

Like my proxy? Fuck you too
Does

Having taught in the UK and now in Sweden, I can relate to the dichotomy of both educational systems. While the former is crippled from within by bureaucratic zeal from the DfES, the latter is thriving, the international comparisons speak for themselves in this matter. On one side in Sweden, the teacher is on par with the students, at all times. They call us by our first names, they comment, always politely, on our lessons if they think that they are going too fast, too slow. There are plenty of similar examples one could find on the web. On the other side, in the UK students are forced to comply to outdated uniform rules, forced to call teachers Mr and Mrs, forced to learn and repeat like a parrot without understanding a word of what they say for their GCSEs exams, forced to attend outdated assemblies. All the ingredients are there to create a frustrated, prone violent youth. A few years ago Anthony Blair in a famous speech talked about education, education, education, it seems that looking at what is going on overseas is something that Blair did not wish to do.
zatopek

I read this in the magazine – absolutely brilliant and something all us Brits should read. But then again would that do any good? We've become so skilled at denial and laying the blame elsewhere.
Ryan Roberts

I found this piece to be haunting, living in the US I can see a lot of these parallels spread out across wider ethinic backgrounds, economic backgrounds, and GDP. Still, I feel as though this same article could be penned by an american author. The overall question remains, how do we combat the technological/social gap?
mikewhy

"In 2007 / you're on the nevernever / You think it can't go on forever / But the papers say it's better!" — Update of 1977 by The Clash
Speed

This is a perfect example of how dibillitating today's societies pressure is on young children. It reminds me of the movie THE WOUNDS.
Evan D

1 positive thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative one. We have to join together in seeing creating things differently. Peace Love Joy
Carol

I live in a rough part of Belfast. I grew up there during the troubles. Even though things were materially worse off and much more dangerous people still had dreams of something better or going elsewhere. I don't like going out after 7-8pm at weekends because of the scores of drunken teenagers who roam the estate where I live. Tomorrow morning, like every saturday morning, there will be a burnt out car at the bottom of my road. A few weary adolescent drunks finishing off the too-cheap beer, cider or WKD at 8am which they bought tonight will still be hanging around not willing to go home until they've finished it all. Your article points out what I have always thought: these kids have no material poverty but a poverty of imagination. They have no dreams or goals – even though others, thankfully, of peers in the same estates do. Cheap clothes, cheap food, cheap entertainment and cheap drink and drugs have robbed most of these teenagers of any sense of adventure or community spirit. These kids are true libertarians, Thatcher's bastard offspring.
Mick

Once Magna Britannia, thrown asunder from her throne by the horrors of the modern era, I mourn thee. The hellion spawned across the Atlantic has taken on the same characteristics only in different forms; not quite the same song but carries the same tune and rhymes.
Skirnir

As a 'british youth' i feel compelled to comment, and as thought provoking as this article was, a separation in british society is developing. it's becoming harder and harder in the uk to get out of a fiancial trap. chavs are the council estate youths who are participating in a dog eat dog world, while the middle and upper classes escape this and participate in the dog eat dog world of money and job, and look on in confusion. in this respect i feel the uk is following on from america as our society becomes more separated fiancially and racially.
teej

Superb. I've never been so enraptured by the stunning imagery of a sociopolitical article. As a member of the alienated youth which you speak so eloquently of, I must say you are very near a universal truth, were there such a thing. I just turned 21 and the stark reality I see blossoming from the minds of my own peers often has me questioning the vitality of my own existence. I mean, what kind of world can be wished for without recognition of the very elements that sustain it in its current condition? I feel the only awareness of these truths that may occur, in a broad revolutionary way, will happen far too late or with a catalyst such as tragedy and dismay. I believe the pivotal moments are NOW. What are we doing to wake people up? What am I doing to convince my brothers and sisters of the Reality they're creating, and to disengage the illusion of our decadent past?
Ryan Swift

Awhile ago adbusters wrote an article criticizing UNICEF with their link about Kraft foods, coca cola, and Mc Donalds – yes, they are corrupted that has not changed! Who is working for you guys now? Unicef is a needle-poking cheeseburger-eating beast! Why use their information? There seems to be another person on here that feels the same about the lack of subvertisng on this one. Guy? Perhaps Adbusters is like greenpeace, and other federalist mind-humpers...
ORTUS

Precise and 100% correct. We all have the same problem throughout the world. Now maybe everyone will stop blaming the criminal elements because our society has created them. As for peace, love and joy.. where is it? I think better we demolish this whole f•cked planet. We don't deserve it.
Lee

Wow, change a few words around and this is the U.S. all the way. I grew up in this bullshit environment. Didn't matter if you were rich or poor, everybody wore expensive namebrand everything, had to have the best toys, and treated everyone like total shite! No wonder why I don't want to live past 30, let alone to 80...
WageslaveZ

Society will heal itself, hopefully.
Farhan Mannan

Great piece – well done for throwing a big spotlight on the elephant in the UK's living room. I fear the country is well on the way to splitting up into two classes again – one that owns property and lives off it, and one that owns nothing. It's not right!
Blewyn

Right on the ball, pretty much. Goes a long way in between the lines to explain the UK's surveillance culture of today. They're simply scared shitless of the increasing tension – call it consumerism, revolution or whatever you will; but the Britain 30 years from now will be a far cry from the parochial watchful uncle of today.
Tom L

A good name for this report would be generation fluff, every country has their problems but the mass marketing of my sneakers is not going to solve your need for cash for that is primal, yah I fuck, I envy, I hate, I have cave men blood in me too but this it's shit is beyound market reasearch, brand the world organic, and our latin countrys will laugh like gods when the apple is in the mouth of the muse. Fluff You!
Ortus

Keen and scary. Excellent analysis of the chavs. As a recent college graduate, I can definitely see parallels here in the States. The phrase 'I hate my generation' is all too common among my peers.
Gordon Cieplak

Good old Britain! Truly the sick man of Europe! The British psyche is the problem. No responsibility. No sense of society. Family structure disintegrating. Politicians voted in by the people who are the problem. It took a Jamie Oliver to have an effect on food for those who represent Britain's future. It will take a group of similar high-profile people to have any chance of breaking the cynical, fragile, ego-ridden modern British psyche to the point where actual solutions are found. Good luck.
Robin

it's all true, let's look forward to the baby boomer generation's not too distant demise
tom

A wonderful piece. As a member of that f*cked generation, I seem to have missed all the symptoms that are mentioned here, but that doesn't stop me from seeing them all around. It scared me because I didn't understand people like that, this article helped.
Eu

We have decaying societies because that is all an unfettered individualist capitalism is good for. None of what we now have can be cured by capitalism. It is time to change the rules of the money game.
Weaponz Grade

Impressive argumentation and compelling facts and numbers to support it. Good to hear Mrs Hampton is a fellow opt-out-of-frenetic-life-and-still-eat pioneer. I've started a group called "the art of shifting down" on facebook for anyone who wants to join.
Erik

It'd worry me more if it was a group other than the lumpenproletariat. These people disappear in statistics all the time. Fiscally they are not even a fly in the ointment. The biggest concern is when they leave their estates or travel on public transport. Uggh, scary stuff. That and also that some of them vote, and they don't like immigration. Racist, uneducated, poverty-dwelling people. Won't some one at the very least give them some soap. Tesco own brand will do for them. Or so I think.
Carl (london)

Brilliant article – I had almost this exact discussion with a friend last week. The wage gap and the wealth gap is now at a level unprecedented since industrialization. I'm 23, and I've found that the only escape from indentured servitude to the elder generation is to become self-employed, and address them on their own ground. Only this way have I been able to make 'grown up' money.
Maxwell

Fantastic article!!
bloopper

Everyone looks for meaning in their lives, but all they find is shopping. That's one of the truest things I've read in a while.
Chase

Impressively accurate and insightful article. I'm a 20 year old 'teen' (mentally, if not physically) and found myself nodding frequently while reading this. The only thing left now is to wonder just what the conclusion of the iPod generation is, and if resolving it is too late?
Matt

It's too bad the media in the US and UK never stop for a moment to consider these points before smugly castigating France and the rest of Europe for failing to get with the program. The most base materialism is such a given these days that it's not even seen.
Greg

"Maria Hampton lives, writes and cycles around Cambridge, UK. She's currently trying to hatch an escape plan to opt out of a frenetic modern life, but still eat." Come to Romania! The cities are somehow modern, but the countryside are so serene, you woulnd't believe it. Train as a nurse, maybe, or a english teacher, and come to a land forgotten in time... G.
Geo Atreides

As others have noted, there is a parallel, though seldom mentioned, deevolution of the society of the young taking place here in America. Having spent much of the last thirty years in college towns, I've had the opportunity to observe the changes in the values and behavior of the young over that period. It's plain to me that the emergence of vapid consumerism has corresponded with the rise of the politics of the right, and its emphasis on what it terms 'traditional values' and 'personal responsibility' as primary standards for regulation of behavior. Translated, those standards equate to 'it's a dog eat dog world' and 'I'm not responsible for anyone but myself.' The standard of success in this new world is clear and easily measured: Wealth. All human endeavor is subordinate to this measure; music, art, literature, any expression of human thought and feeling, only have value in service to the goal of wealth accumulation. Honestly, it's so obvious that I can't see how this cancer of the new society is overlooked. Why do you think hip hop embraces bling and the opulent display of wealth as stylistic signatures? Though their expression of it may be perceived as gauche and lacking refinement by the more elevated ranks of society, they're really only reflecting the zeitgeist propagated by those who set the spiritual and philosophical tone for our society. Welcome to your Republican Future.
John

That's right, school is crap and teachers are assholes for no logical reason. most of the courses on offer do little for anyone who doesn't want uni – there's always colleges, though, but no large scale access to trades training and shit from the teacher, backed up by various other assholes just makes it a waste of time for most british kids and that's why they leave at sixteen. After that they're on their own. Actually, negative thought is just as powerfull as positive thought, especially as it seems to be in the majority. Christ, you go to France or Belgium and they're putting on plays and talking about their emotions! Try that at school or around kids here and they'll kick you so hard you won't walk all day. That's the negative, and it's the norm. as for that guy JB, grow up man. The whole thing is that kids are just so Fed off by the adults and I am sure this starts in school that they just don't listen to anything they tell them and therefore learn nothing. Learning in the UK isn't meant to be fun, it's meant to unpleasant, degrading and designed to turn you into some kind of Victorian maid. no wonder it's not popular. it's the same in the States. PS; Ever seen a politician or a teacher getting it? the head of our maths department still there at school slap somone around at least once a year. and Blair has the war. you just know that they're gonna get off scot free and nothing'll ever be done about it. That's life in the UK.
Chae

Excellent article!
Kate

Jesus, I thought Toronto was bad. Thank you for the article.
a canuck

God. I could only get half way through. Sorry. I was becoming nauseous. So I'm replying to the first half. You are entirely missing the point. It isn't corporate consumerism causing your problems, or hyperindividualism. Let's take it from the beginning. Look at the start of your article. Kids are throwing rocks at a lady's house for multiple hours, every day. Here's the problem. Where the hell are the police? Evidently they aren't any, and above that the lady has no legal way to defend herself. Good job there. Fingerprinting kids for library books? Look. The problem is that you have taken away self-determination. Autonomy. The ability to do anything about problems yourself. And the system won't help you, so you are entirely helpless. This isn't hyperindividualism. It's serfdom. Look at your omnipresent surveillance. Your Government has set itself up as your God, and an uncaring God at that. It won't save you from people harassing you, pelting your house with rocks, whatever. It won't do anything. Above that it will punish you if you do anything. If you want to set yourself up as God, you'd better as hell make sure you're benevolent and completely just. Because if you're not, don't try. As an American, I say, good for the chavs. They're exploiting the system, sure, but evidently the rest of society is willfully blind.
James B

Thank you Speed. Someone with proper perspective. This article reminds me of the mid-to-late 1970s. The same things were being said and written. Remember this: you are not unique, these problems have been faced before, and will be faced again. Rather than take a nihilist view, learn from the past and try to make a change for the future.
History

I've been catching the glimpses of a worrisome future as I continue to watch a 2-income family become more and more necessary in the Western World. If no one is left to raise the young, what will we find ourselves with? The balance in western society is tipping. Will we be able to fix it in time?
Seann

The make up is not always good, but some people thinks, the make up always good. Of corse in that people, most people are female. They say the make up make their face beautiful. Do you think like that?
Jaidis

Well done, Mary, you have bought the story Rupert Murdoch's Times has been peddling about intergenerational conflict hook, line and sinker. Why do you think his media empire is so keen on pushing this theme. It is because they are looking for a scapegoat when the economy crashes. Truth is that working class kids and their parents have been screwed in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s just as they are today. The secure jobs, great education, wonderful health care, cheap housing were never as plentiful in the past as you imagine. Ask anyone who tried to find work or buy their first home during the mid 1980s. As for the use of material goods to mask a cultural desert well that is how capitalism has always operated. Remember the one thing the rich do not want is for the poor to unite and take their money off them. The want to keep them divided by any means possible whether it is race, religion or age.
Simon B

A well written piece, extremely provocative and a most disconcerting glimpse of what we have become in the UK. I'm now fully convinced, the result of all this decadence, nepotism and embezzlement from our younger generation will result in a fascist big brother state. The beginings of Democratic Totalitarianism is gradually being rolled out by the Blair generation, in order to disguise their sordid failures on our younger generation. Better implement it now to a dumbed-down generation incapable of even mediocre protestation. Maintain supreme control, as a preventitive measure against any future uprising, in order that we may grow old gracefully!
RHT

Check this out – longest documentary series in the history of film. It profiles the lifes of British children to the present day (now 51): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SevenUp!
jv cleave

Wellp, as a 19 year old American, this report confirms my sentiments. I just found a career path selling cars and my attitude against the world has changed. I have found my future and what to make of it. But for all the hopeless souls around me, well.... Dec. 21, 2012 sounds like it will be an interesting day.
Jim

For reasons reflected in this article, I am looking to buy a house in a clean, small town with a main street full of locally owned shops in an effort to teach my kids the value of community. There are so many sterile, culturally bereft housing developments here, essentially house farms with nothing else: no shops, no playgrounds, no community and the need to drive to go anywhere. People need a sense of belonging in a functional community to thrive. Crass commercialism will fail on every level and do nothing but funnel the fruits of the labor of many to the very few at the top.
Bob from the US

yeah yeah – what a seething and extremely negative rant about youth and society what should we do desex all chavs so they can not breed. And to the bloke who wants to move to Brazil are you soooo naive to think that society is any better there!! do you know anything about the levels of child city poverty over there and its violence? why is it everyone including myself thinks the developing world is so much better and everyone lives in some idyllic poverty? do you know for example in any one city in central America they have fist fights between adolescents organised by adults who place bets... why don't you go research that? show us the real world and get out of your ivory tower.
James

wow, i never thought that i would ever read an article about something like that. it's just cruel to think how some societies judge teens for their actions before actually thinking about why they do it. maybe they come from a terrible family and just need a way to get out of that life, maybe even start their own, at a young age. but some don't think that way. some just want the pleasure and don't even think about the consequences. but of course, the kids aren't always to blame. look at the adults. the parents. the ones that do the punishing, the rock throwing. sometimes this world just doesn't think and that's a terrible shame because if we all don't start thinking with a better judgement, who knows what else could happen.
Say Cheese

Gee, take away the ability of parents to discipline their children, tell the kids that the parents have no right to tell them how to live their lives, replace fathers with welfare checks, treat violent offenders with kid gloves, throw people in prison for defending their lives much less their property. Any wonder why people are living out The Lord of the Flies?
Warhawke

CHAV, WAR ON TERROR, OSMA BIN LADEN, BLACKSPOTTER, THE PRODUCT IS YOU. ALL THE SAME APPROACH! MADE TO TAKE YOUR MIND OUT OF CONTEXT AND INTO THE WORLD OF LOGICAL SIMPICITY. The MARXIST WASHING MACHINE.
BAMBINA

The basic problem is that the intellectual, political and journalistic elite woefully misunderstands the problem. They tend to blame it on capitalism and social injustice. Apart from that social justice in this sense is completely bogus; real justice is when people get only what value they actually produced, not a part of somebody else's production via statutory redistribution, but the real problem of the youth lies with the welfare state itself, which claims to be indiscriminating and therefore actively subsididizes and encourages antisocial behaviour, backed by the ideology of intellectuals who teach the gratification of all whims instead of responsibility, discipline, moral choices and the punishment of harmful behaviour. Please do read some Theodore Darlymple. He explains it perfectly.
Miklos

Society is going downhill fast. Me included. I'm ninteen, a self-harmer who thinks about killing myself everyday. I have mental health issues. I failed high school; And because in our society education is one of the most important factors. I'm fucked! There's a low percentage that i'll have any chance of entering UNI or getting a decent job. My point is there needs to be more open doors so people can exit from this cut throat world and become a role model. Because hey, we mirror society and it's hard and unwilling to help those in need there are only two ways out. Fight or flight!
Amelia

Fantastic piece
Donal

U is Stpd. Hw cn u say that to b a chav is bad. We r the nu kids of this cntry. We r gonna inhrit all yr adultz crp an tht is nt r fault. U made us hv the lves we hv nt us. We are style and cool nd dnt need vwls t tlk lke da rst v u.
Kevo

The decline of the well-paid industrial jobs for the working classes due to globalization and the rise of cheap technological gadgets and consumer spending and debt has contributed to the rise of the chavs who have bling and gadgets but an insecure future in the service industry and where two incomes are needed to raise children. Don't just blame the parents, or the kids of today. Youngsters today spend much longer in education but can still find themselves unemployed at the end of it or in low paid, insecure jobs. Baby boomers did not want globalization and many have been affected by it as well. And many are experiencing the anger of the younger generation. By the way the old of today actually fought in the war for this country and lost relatives. Politicians did not want it either, they have had to adapt to a changing world as well. The developing nations want what the west enjoyed and they are exploiting market forces. No generation is to blame, let's stop the blame game and let us spend our energy on finding solutions to our problems instead.
Jenny

splendid article. parents reap what they have sown.
seb torres

A huge problem is that the pop music of our day is crap, also referred to as rap. look at how this music has affected the suburbs white, muslim, oriental kids want to be street – the same is happening in Europe. Glorifying stupidity! Get a clue; rap and the culture that it promotes is a direct result of what you're seeing. Look at the time line of when rap got popular among others and check out the end result. Rap in Crap out. We are so used to the line of morality being pushed back that there is no line any more. Imagine if you played a popular song today 20 years ago in front of your MUM?
USFATTY

Adbusters won't last. Why? because it wants to replace the norms with even more market reasearch, and brutal looking shoes. As well, adbusters is Friends of greenpeace, if there was an astroid heading for the earth greenpeace would protest against it, and that's all they would do. So Invading england with this UNICEF propaganda, raises a question. What do you want? Because 90.9% of the time people talk to one another it is because they want something. Regardless and random for some, Americans will heal they need assertive art, examples of veganism and the suffering it forsees, fun ways to refuse military service. And last but not least, The people of England are clever people, they know the times. They don't want cheeky federalists (or otherwise known as neo cons) greening the green.
Bert Consumer

Britain not having a sense of society is a modern thing. We had it in spades when I was a kid. You can blame Thatcher for that one at least.
BKPIP

Hey kevo, learn to spell or don't bother, please; it's embarrassing to our generation.
jenefer

The article is revealing but the main problem I think is that man has totally separated from his CREATOR now and he does not fear HIM. Parents do not have spiritual values because they are just looking material things and for that reason are destroying our planet and raising little monsters. I hope we all start looking right now to please our CREATOR and not men. Parents teach your children to fear GOD, you still have time left.
ramon

Teenage years are a holding pattern. You can't be an adult, you can't be a kid. You have to consume, you have to be who you want to be. Then the holding pattern ends and we are dumped into life AS an adult. THAT is what the problem. Fix the fact kids CAN't DO anyting REALLY until they are out of School and an Adult. Get more apprenticeships, entreprenurialships, mentorships from then local business communities. High School sucks. It's just a factory for kids to hold their dreams at arm's distance until true adulthood. That's Frustrating.
Alphawozz

Hey jenefer, I think Kevo was actually being ironic... ;)
Evil V

George Watson – So you're just going to run away? Where will you go when Latin American countries develop the same problems?
JH

chavs can read?
jenefer

I admit it, I had a crush on a chav once, then he started to dress like the rest of us,he even purchased blackspot shoes. Anyway and to be honest even more honest your poetry in class was really nice and neat, in a town yeller fashion, I guess right now I believe in happy endings. Love you whereever you are.
jenefer

[Comment deleted to comply with hate speech laws in Canada. — Eds.]
Tony

first of all f*ck all this squabbling amongst ourselves. anyway, it is easy to speak of symptoms, harder to speak of sources, and harder still to speak of cures, especially all at once. there's a balance in there somewhere, with statements and opinions lensed by one's own feelings or coldness. as revolutionary as we may try to be, the most difficult revolution is the one that takes place inside yourself, in which you take a stand against everything that keeps you self-absorbed, and therefore ineffective. effectiveness is found in complete presence of mind, addressing the world fully FIRST with one's own many senses, THEN applying knowledge, and taking it from there. armies of distraction, discouragement and overwhelmed confusion lie in wait in every moment. we've gotta take them out first.
tyler

Tyler, you are SO deep, man....Can we take out the real estate agents first please? Thanks. I blame them for all of this.
Evil V

"We shall have World Government, whether or not we like it. The only questions is whether World Government will be achieved by conquest or consent." — Paul Warburg architect of the Federal Reserve System, to the US Senate, 1950
the one

TYLER LEARN HOW TO SPELL FUCK AGAIN!
JENEFER

I want to be balls deep in this marxist HOLE of yours!! adbusters! You Guys RULE!
bose

Tyler, leave the hate at the door man, I go to the same hippie school as you! Pussy Love Man
AMY

Dear Maria, One way out of frenesia is English teaching in China. I have a 14 hr weekly load, free flat & utilities and more money than I can spend. One international air ticket per year. Lots of free time. Lots to learn too. However, be sure to select a government university as your primary employer. Good luck.
Arthur Borges

The part about bicycle seats really moved me.
Jill

I've not been free of school that long. We were never expected to achieve anything, never told we could do well and what was the result? Several of my classmates ended up in mental health institutes, one girl left at 15 to have her 4th child and a year after we left a friend of mine was murdered by her ex-teacher. Several girls had babies in the last few years of school, and almost everyone works in part-time, dead-end jobs, if they work at all. It was a poverty-stricken area, and so I can fully understand what you mean about hope. We never had any – I was lucky enough to get mine from my mother, so I started my own business rather than be marginalised looking for work suitable for someone from a poor place, who presumably is an idiot. That's my personal experience. As for how to fix it, I don't know. I don't believe that there is an easy answer. Blair loves to talk about building the strength of family units, and kids need two parents for stability; I had my mum, that was it, and I was happy enough. The estates probably don't help matters though – no true individualism, monitored by CCTV and scrutinised often unjustly by the government and tabloid medias alike, it's no wonder that teenagers feel segrated from society, and feelings of abandonment never do anyone any good. I was brought up rurally, so I never spent time with anyone my own age outside of school. I guess I had the time and freedom to be myself, and not be pressurised into the cliques and gangs other teens were in. I was allowed out and about as much as I liked, but if it was dark or far away I had to tell someone. My mum still rings my mobile if she can't catch me at home after 10pm – freedom on a leash, I guess. But then again, my mother always took responsibility for my behaviour and let me figure things out for myself, rather than handing me all the answers. Now the roles have reversed somewhat, which is something a lot of older people will have to fear. Having emotionally crippled their offspring, will they trust them to look after them? Anyhow, I guess when you get down to it, the above bit was just me figuring out that what I believe is that we should give our children more attention, as well as more positive stimuli, rather than negative.
Jo

The main problem with British youth is that the whole country has this attitude that children are a burden and a pain and we are forever focussed on disciplining them to stop them being a problem rather than offering them fun things to do and treating them as a valued part of society. For instance, nowhere else in the world do almost all social venues in the UK (pubs) ban children from their premises. In France and the rest of Europe families take their children to bars and order them an orange juice and talk to them. In the UK people just moan about not being able to go drinking and telling people not to swear in front of the children. We need to remember children are actually human and actually a fair bit smarter than the average adult most of the time.
Cruella

Well, I liked the article, and the comments were keen. I was a teen in the late 70's, early 80's around Detroit for those who don't know or don't remember, 25-30% unemployement of Union-normed blue collar workers. After they chopped our local schools into those who will get out and those who won't, most of us turned into a sort of chav, though less commercially, it seems. I was selected into the won't get out catagory, which suited me fine, since I never thought about the future. Never. Drinking, drugs, fun, danger, fights, the occasional bombing or arson not caused by me were my world. Then, someone told me that I can't go to college. Can't?! I interpreted this to me to live this life forever. Those became fighting words. So I learned to read, spell, then write and got myself into college. It is education that the kids need, but you have to find the right way to present the material. I've been teaching overseas for 11 years, and the best educational policy I've ever seen is the bait and switch – sure, teach the kids something dreary like grammar, or typing, or how not to fight, but start from where they are now. If you want to teach them about self-respect and responsibility, have them make in-class gangs who rob one another of fake cash. They would have to make detailed plans in groups on the best way to get the most cash in the shortest amount of time, while also protecting their asses. Not what the head master probably wants to see, but I bet the kids would think it's funky. Then, have them buy stuff on credit cards and have the teacher be taking sizable chunks out of their profit for interest. In the US, need to buy a gun? Well, first you gotta decide if partying all night is more important than getting it now, or waiting till X shoots ya cold. etc. Start young, start small, start real. It's they who need to learn, not the teacher who needs to teach. p.s. Brazil is nasty, but I would live there in a heartbeat. And China, if you don't like consumerism, I wouldn't advise the East coast.
Thoughtprovoked

This article was extreme and paints a bleak picture of Britain today. But it is also a gloomy tabloid version of the country in which I was born and raised, and while I recognise some parts, it is totally out of proportion. Britain has always had a problem with 'youth culture' whether they were teddyboys, mods, skinheads, punks – the list can go on. But who really has the problem? I think if we take a look at the age of the complainers and bleaters about 'young people today' most are well past their youth. I find that a lot of today's young people are bright, articulate, enthusiastic and full of hope for their futures. So what if they don't have the same values as their elders – I never had the same values as mine. If we look back at the British media of the 1950's, there were endless articles on TV, radio and the press, bemoaning the state of the country's youth and the general decay of society. It is always easy to make sweeping statements about life in Britain today – especially when you are living in a cosy middle class town like Cambridge. If you don't live in the UK how would you know how much of this is fabricated, or the truth? I could tell you that cannibalism is a worrying trend on a lot of British housing estates, or that children as young as 3 are dousing old ladies in petrol and setting them alight. It doesn't make it true because I have written an article or produced a report. Are we not supposed to be using our own judgement here? All I can say is that Britain is not at meltdown yet, despite what a nice middle class lady wandering around Cambridge on a bicycle tells you.
john

This article is bleak, but I live in a small UK town and this, in my experience, is really how it can be, when it is at it's worst. Most of the kids on the street are horrible and rude. Even most of the children I have met who have been raised by good, loving families with good values are very consumeristic (is that a word or did I just make it up?) and use vulgar language they did not pick up from home. The way people behave on TV, at school, on the street, has such a strong influence on kids. The problem is deep and cultural. It is good to note that there are still some lovely kids and good people out there though. The really bad ones are a minority, they are just very loud, so they get noticed!
little dasypus

I live in Arizona, USA. There are so many obvious parallels here. College degrees are the new high school diploma. The idea of buying a house or starting a family are laughable when you can barely pay the rent living with your friends in some shitty apartment like you're still in college. We're told unemployment is as low as it's been in ages, but all those great jobs are minimum wage. Meanwhile, the lowest livable wages, considering a single adult with no special expenses medical expenses, a family, student loans, etc. are somewhere at 2 or 3 times minimum wage. But, still, we're the middle class and are told we're not justified in feeling outraged; the lower class has it much worse. Yet, we are supposed to sit idle while the super rich compress the middle and lower classes into one miserable, hopeless mass. The value of family, friends and community have been eroded in our minds and we only find accolades in wealth. And then there's our version of the Chavs, the whitetrash Walmart culture. They can afford to supplement their petty lives with an excess of cheap consumerism. And that's all it takes to placate millions of people and leave them unconcerned about any deeper meaning or worth in life. And yes, to top it off, we face the pressure of doing worse than our parents; the traditional barometer of whether or not one is successful. Bohemian despair: not starving, not on the streets, but not happy about going nowhere.
jimmy

Got to agree with most of the article – after living in Tokyo 24 years, my wife (Japanese) and I came back to the UK. To cut along story short, we're leaving again for good. This just seems like country that has lost its way. It's the most monitored country in the world. The British way of solving problems seems to be to make ever more rules and throw more paper at it. Consequently, teachers here are exhausted with the amount of paperwork they have to do. The admin is unpaid too. There is little job security anymore, just like the States. Not much mentioned in the article is the chronic binge-drinking by the young and major consumption of drugs. I've no prob with some beer and ganja, but in the UK its on a massive scale. There was report yesterday that, as result of such heavy drinking, the prevalence of liver disease in people in their 20s and 30s is rife. We are looking at a cirrhosis epidemic in 15 to 20 years. It seems that many of the young here have little hope for their lives. The males can also be very aggressive when drunk. Between that, the weather and the lousy food, we can't wait to leave and never return.
Tony Smyth

that's a lot of writing
katie

This is one of the reasons I emmigrated to Canada. :)
Will

WoW...this was the most interesting paper i have ever read. It makes me wonder...you know.
Fawn

Wow... I sure don't feel that way. There is a cure to this. Hmm, maybe FRIENDS? Like not the TV show, but like real friends. I just don't have a lot these problems. Always hated the smell of cigarettes, the bitter taste of alcoholic drinks, and have shyed away from the incessant rumble of boomboom CARTOYS. to counter my hopeless/depressed stage (around 11 to 13 years old) I got militantly optimistic. I became a warrior for happiness. Let there be no emotional dependence on things, but let joy be generated from within! And ever since I have been making friends because it's the right thing to do. Friends don't kill each other, they don't throw rocks at each other's houses, they can trust each other, and care for each other. Plus it's just easier to have friends than enemies. I'm too lazy to spend energy on fighting with enemies, or creating drama. In britain, I can see that people don't want to be monitored. They are finding clever ways to fight back the stupid boredom and wage slavery that's creeped into many lives. There is a group of people i've heard of, the spacehijackers. They're sort of warriors for fun like me. except they also drink, which I don't It's people like us that will change things. Those of us who act more than protest, because it's more fun to do what's got to be done with stealth and in a group, rather than holding up a sign alone, sticking out like a sore soul just asking to be clobbered by the police. We'll connect with you, and listen to your stories, hardships, and maybe even offer a hug. We're around if you know where to look, but might not come out of hiding any time soon unless we're giving free performances. And Kevo, lol.
Blacklight


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