… when your chief means of signalling rebellion against the staid, venal world of adulthood is buying products marketed to you and manufactured by that very same adult world, the relation between rebellion and conformity is ambivalent at best. … it’s this underlying drive that explains the protean quality of the Omnicause, and its seemingly endless ability to ingest new causes and transcend new contradictions. The Protestant tradition — and especially the Puritan one — always repudiated religious authority in pursuit of religious purity. And the same mix of idealism and secession persists to this day in secularised form, in the ritual of adolescent rebellion” incubated by 20th-century American marketeers and granted idealistic form today as youth activism”. The myth of the West” is that you aren’t Westerning properly unless you’re seceding from something, and what powers the West” — really, America and its provinces — in its restlessness is this impulse to keep seceding until you find the purer society you were seeking. At the smaller scale, the myth of the American teenager is that you aren’t teenagering properly unless you’re rebelling against something and pursuing something higher. Each American teenager is thus the West” in miniature, complete with the modern West’s baked-in will to consumerism.

Mary Harrington

May 15, 2024

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