Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture

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From the author of the critically acclaimed England's Dreaming, a landmark cultural history of youth

Teenagers—as we have come to define them—were not, award-winning author Jon Savage tells us, born in the 1950s of rockers and Beatniks, when most histories would begin. Rather, the teenager as icon can be traced back to the 1890s, when the foundations for the new century were laid in urban youth culture.

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Overview

From the author of the critically acclaimed England's Dreaming, a landmark cultural history of youth

Teenagers—as we have come to define them—were not, award-winning author Jon Savage tells us, born in the 1950s of rockers and Beatniks, when most histories would begin. Rather, the teenager as icon can be traced back to the 1890s, when the foundations for the new century were laid in urban youth culture.

Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture is a monumental cultural history that charts the spread of the American ideal of youth through England and Europe and around the world. From Peter Pan to Oscar Wilde, Anne Frank to the Wizard of Oz, Savage documents youth culture's development as a commodity and an industry from the turn of the last century to its current driving force in the global economy. Fusing film, music, literature, diaries, fashion, and art, this epic cultural history is an astonishing and surprising chronicle of modern life sure to appeal to pop culture fans, social history buffs, and anyone who has ever been a teenager.

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Editorial Reviews

David Fricke
Teenage is the definitive history of youth in revolt, from the gaslight age to the dawn of rock. Jon Savage captures the hell and adventure of adolescence with stunning detail and the thrilling force of the first Ramones album.
Rolling Stone
Wendy Smith
Savage's evocative, exuberant chronicle overflows with ideas it will probably take a dozen writers a decade to work out in more rigorous books. It's safe to say that none of them are likely to be as marvelous or maddening as this one.
— The Washington Post
Camille Paglia
… once it gets going, Teenage becomes compulsive reading. Savage parallels the “militarist vision for youth” promoted by newly industrial and aggressively nationalist Germany in the 1870s and ’80s to the “cult of masculinity” and bullying suppression of individuality embodied in team sports in elite British schools, which shaped boys for imperial service … Teenage is a rich, rewarding book that makes an important contribution to cultural history.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Although popular assumption might place the birth of teenage culture alongside the rise of rock 'n' roll in the 1950s, Savage (England's Dreaming) traces a more elaborate backstory that extends into the late 19th century. His catalogue of influences and indicators bounces from Goethe and Rimbaud to teenage girls' diaries, but the account only begins to pick up steam at the end of the First World War, as a generation of British youth reject the values of the elders who sent them into battle. Later, in the U.S., Prohibition not only taught booze-loving college students disrespect for the law, it put them in contact with a criminal underground that strengthened their subversive tendencies. The analysis of teen culture during the Second World War is particularly strong, moving from the Hitler Youth and rebellious " swing kids" in Germany to the Zoot Suit riots of Los Angeles and the "Zazou" movement of occupied Paris. Savage weaves his disparate sources into a convincing narrative of how adolescents were molded by political and cultural pressures into the consumer-friendly category of " teenager" by the end of WWII, but while individual anecdotes carry some verve, the writing never fully sheds its dry academic tone. (Apr.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

Controlled, protected, or embraced, relentlessly courted as consumers in times of affluence and mobilized in times of war, teenagers have played an increasingly complex role in Western society. Award-winning journalist Savage (England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond) has written a thorough history of the role of youth in American and European life from 1875 to the end of World War II, when teenage culture may be said to have taken off. He addresses American and European youth cultures separately while covering the American influence on European youth after World War I. For each time period, he uses diaries written by teenagers, media reports of the time, and books and movies to evoke the era. He shatters the popular myth that the teenager, as we know it, did not exist until the 1950s. Among other points, he reveals that G. Stanly Hall, a psychologist, coined the term adolescentin 1898 and defined it as a separate stage between childhood and adulthood. Savage has produced an enjoyable read for history buffs, but while he claims to see it as a work of popular history, at over 500 fairly dense pages it is recommended primarily for academic and large public libraries.
—Jennifer Zarr

Kirkus Reviews
From the author of England's Dreaming (1992), a dense cultural history of adolescence from 1875 to 1945. Savage's choice of timeframe for this work makes the point that the concept of adolescence as a separate stage of life is not recent. To demonstrate how different Western nations have conceptualized and utilized youth, he draws on diaries, newspapers and magazines, novels, movies, advertisements and psychological and sociological literature, particularly G. Stanley Hall's two-volume 1904 work, Adolescence. Savage opens with fervid entries from the diary of an imaginative, articulate Russian teenager living in France, followed by the flat statements of a 15-year-old Massachusetts youth who committed a series of horrific murders, both recorded in 1875. These polar opposites, the author argues, "showed that it was no longer adequate to think that adulthood immediately followed childhood; they were the harbingers of a new intermediate state that as yet had no name." Savage then follows the twists and turns of youth culture through seven decades, examining urban gangs, the Boy Scouts, socialist and religious youth groups, young soldiers embittered by their role as cannon fodder in World War I, the Roaring '20s exuberant jazz babies and Nazi Germany's militaristic Hitler Youth. In the United States, awareness of adolescence coincided with the growth of the mass media and the rise of consumerism; youth styles were spread by movies, radio, magazines and ads. Savage analyzes the impact of such real and fictional characters as Baden-Powell, Peter Pan, Dorian Gray, Rudolph Valentino, even the murderous Leopold and Loeb. In conclusion, he points to adolescents' economic clout and asserts that thepostwar spread of American values has been spearheaded by pleasure-seeking teenage consumers. While Savage focuses on the young, he paints a broad social and cultural portrait. Slow going at times, but with some fascinating characters and anecdotes.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670038374
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/19/2007
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 1.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Jon Savage is the author of the celebrated England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond, winner of Rolling Stone's prestigious Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award. He has written widely for American and British newspapers and magazines on music, pop culture, and social history.

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