Music Critic Jon Savage and the Birth of the Concept of the Teenager

The idea of a “teenager” is a fairly new concept.  Up until the 1950s, you were a child…and then you were an adult.There was no futzing around in between.

But with the end of World War II, there came this new construct: a new and rapidly growing cohort of people in their teen years who seemed to have ever-increasing social and economic power.  What followed was the birth of modern youth culture.

John Savage, the author of London’s Dreaming (still the best book on English punk) and Lipstick Traces, takes a look at the birth of the teenager.  This appeared in The Dissolve.

Author Jon Savage has been steadily making his way through the 20th century’s fourth quarter, writing The Kinks: The Official BiographyEngland’s Dreaming, the definitive history of U.K. punk; and the essay collection Time TravelFrom The Sex Pistols To Nirvana.But with Teenage: The Creation Of Youth Culture, he jumped back to the 20th century’s first half, to a time when adolescence as we now know it was thought of only as a brief way-station between childhood and adulthood. Between the first and second World Wars, popular culture discovered the teenager, a new audience whose preferences could be served and shaped without passing through the closely guarded gates of parental approval. I

n Matt Wolf’s documentary, which Savage helped adapt from his book, the coalescing of this newly understood demographic is broken down into representative characters like movie star Brenda Dean Paul, a member of the London social circle that became known as the Bright Young Things, and burgeoning Hitler Youth Melita Maschmann; not everyone who learned how to exploit adolescent psychology did it with good intentions.

In a sense, theTeenage film isn’t a documentary so much as a séance, transporting viewers into the minds of those who, unbeknownst even to themselves, helped give birth to a world where the whims of teenage consumers leave marketing mavens quivering with a mixture of anticipation and fear.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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