Emo: Older Than You Think

It comes as no particular surprise that my writing advice to teens occasionally irritates teenagers, many of whom do not take kindly to someone telling them their writing likely sucks and the only thing for it is to keep at it until it doesn’t suck anymore. They also occasionally get annoyed when you suggest to them (as I do in this follow-up to the original article) that the condition of being a teenager now is pretty much the same as it was 20 years ago (or 40 years ago); the trappings may change (iPods instead of Walkmans instead of transistor radios) but the basic concept is pretty much the same, so despite their feelings that ZOMG EVERYTHING IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT NOW, it’s really not so much.

This was brought to mind when a teenager, blogging on her own site (no, I’m not linking to it; I don’t think this unsuspecting teenage girl needs her site to be overrun by Whateverites, do you?) detailed the various ways she’s offended by my advice piece and how it is wrong, and in pointing out how her generation of teens is drastically different than any other, asserts (and this is an intentional paraphrase) that when people her parents’ age were in school, they didn’t have Emos skulking about in the halls.

This made me giggle. I’m old enough to be this girl’s dad (or at least her dad’s slightly younger brother) and I can assure you that 20+ years ago, we certainly did have Emos, i.e., sulky and morose teens scribbling bad poetry into notebooks and retreating into their music because no one understood them and so on. Our Emos listened British post-punk rather than American post-punk by dint of British post-punk hitting a couple decades earlier, but, otherwise, yeah, pretty much the same concept. We had Bauhaus, they have Fall Out Boy, and both bands just really want to go back in time to the Weimar Republic, what are you going to do. And I’m happy to say the emo-iest folks I knew in high school have acquitted themselves pretty well. Here’s one of them (still looking pretty emo-y, frankly); here’s another. Every picture I have of them in the 1984 yearbook is of them dramatically gazing down at their shoes through their hair. I should really dig that yearbook out. It would be instructive.

And of course, we didn’t invent the dramatically moody young person, either. If you want to take it all the way back, I submit to you that the true Godfather of Emo is not Kurt Cobain or Robert Smith or David Bowie or even Brecht/Weill, but Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who in 1774 unleashed The Sorrows of Young Werther upon the world, with its oh-so-artfully despairing young protagonist doing everything he could to make himself absolutely friggin’ miserable, because it was so much more interesting than being happy. The novel helped to kickstart the Sturm und Drang movement in German literature and music, and what was the Sturm und Drang movement — a movement devoted in wrenching every single possible emotion out of words and music — if not the very proto-est of proto-emo movements?

Sturm und Drang in its turn motivated the Romantic movement, giving us Shelley and Byron and all those other poetic shoe-gazers, and so on and so forth and blah blah blah blah blah until you get suddenly find yourself wedged up against the stage at a The Academy Is… concert with a bunch of sixteen year-old girls screaming their lungs out at William Beckett, who, I gotta admit, has got a whole adorable “Suburban Shelley” look going for him (Seriously; compare and contrast, people). To be clear, I’m not comparing The Sorrows of Young Werther with, say, Fast Times at Barrington High; one’s a landmark of world literature and the other’s a decent album of power pop. I’m just saying you can get from one to the other and recognize them as appealing to more or less the same audience, albeit 234 years apart. So, yeah, Emo’s been around, folks.

This is not to trivialize this girl’s experience of being a teenager, mind you. Being a teenager is powerful thing, because every single damn thing that happens to you happens to you turned up to 11, which is fundamentally different experience than being an adult, in which most things have happened to you more than once, and you’ve generally found the volume knob and cranked it down a couple of notches simply to keep yourself sane. And of course her experience of her teenage years will be different from anyone else’s not in her age cohort; she’ll have different music and movies and world events and generational issues and so on. I for one would not wish late 80s hair metal on anyone else; I’m glad no other teenagers will have to take that bullet.

But at the end of the day, and when you peel away the affects of one year or another, the teenage experience — the massive highs, the crushing lows, the frustrations and irritations and alienations and deep friendships and crushes and riotously funny moments — is what it is, and remains fairly constant. Put a sixteen-year-old from 1968 in a room with one from ’78, ’88, ’98 and today, and after everyone stops laughing at everyone else’s ridiculous clothes, I think we’d find they shared a commonality of experience and outlook. And they would all know an “emo” kid, whether they called him emo or not.

193 thoughts on “Emo: Older Than You Think

  1. That is truly wonderful and also so sensible that every self-respecting teenager is going to shoot it down in flames at first sight. You see nobody can really relate to what they’re going through – if it isn’t a truly soul-searching and painful experience what is the point of all that angst?

  2. I wanted to be able to form some sort of witty/insightful response to this witty/insightful post…but all that is going through my mind is “kitty is so cute!”

  3. I’d like to go through at least one iteration where youth culture isn’t fixated on California. (Does Grunge rock count?)

  4. Weirdly, John, I was just thinking that Young Miss ‘You don’t know what it’s like to be a kid in the new millenium!’ needs to be exposed to a little Bauhaus. SHE thinks emo was invented by Sasuke Uchiha.

  5. Nothing’s wrong with California, but they could give another state a go. Did we really need another attempt at 90210? Maybe it’s time to do a 44104 or a 15213.

  6. Well, there was original Rock and Roll, which was from the south, not to mention Motown, and Philly Soul, and Rap, and, yes, Grunge (which was a Pacific Northwest thing). One could very legitimately argue that emo has its roots in east coast punk. And, of course, there are all those British bands. It’s not all California.

  7. My sixteen year old son and I had a discussion the other day about who is more emo, Batman or Spiderman. Batman broods and mopes and has never gotten over the loss of his parents but Spiderman was sort of designed to be emo and carry the tragic burden of Uncle Ben’s death, as well as worry that he’s not doing a good enough job, or making the right decisions and generally be all angsty.

    I think we decided that Batman is more emo and has more Goth trappings. He spends half his time in a cave for God’s sake.

  8. I recently posted a photo of myself from circa 1990 and kidlet found it HILARIOUS. She is a chipper, highly social smartypants athlete who openly loves Hello Kitty. I had a wardrobe of various shades of denim, gray, and black and The Cure on vinyl.

    One of these days I have got to remember to expose her to Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands; she only knows him as Capt. Jack Sparrow. And she loves Meryl Streep…in Mamma Mia and The Devil Wears Prada.

  9. Ha! I just had this conversation today with someone whose son has turned into one of those melodramatic teens who throws his arms around while declaring “You don’t have a CLUE, Dad! Things are DIFFERENT!”

  10. I was a clinically depressed sixteen-year-old a few years ago (and am now a clinically depressed college student, but that is a story for another time), but I can’t remember ever thinking that nobody else was capable of feeling what I felt, and I don’t think I would have had that reaction to your advice at any point past the age of thirteen. In fact, I finished an entire novel when I was fifteen with the help of an intensive writing workshop, and I cheerfully acknowledged that it was probably crap even as I was gleefully telling everyone I knew.

    I realized that my novel was probably pretty mediocre in the grand scheme of things, but what made me so happy was that it had any merit at all, that while the entire second half was a bit stilted and forced there where still bits in there that could make even my mother* snicker.
    *who doesn’t laugh, or cry for that matter. It always makes me giggle helplessly whenever she DOES laugh, at the sheer incongruity of it.

    Most of my pride was centered around the fact that I had finished it at all. Like I said before, I would only have reacted the way this girl did at some point before the age of thirteen or so (and only because as a child I was firmly convinced that all adults had my oppression as their sole cause in life).

    The problem with that girl is not being a teenager. It is the “I-take-everything-way-too-personally” syndrome, which unfortunately stays with people long after they’re “grown up.”

  11. I must have been raised wrong. The music I listened to as a teenager was whatever my parents turned on, which was usually Hank and Andy Williams and Jim Croce. I’ll say this about it, Hank Williams’ voice has a nasal rating on par with Fran Drescher.

  12. *Sigh*

    This late-80’s hair metal veteran suddenly feels rather emo.

    *Sigh*

    “It is the “I-take-everything-way-too-personally” syndrome, which unfortunately stays with people long after they’re “grown up.””

    Ah, you’ve met my fiancee. :)

  13. I remember thinking that nobody could possibly understand when I was thirteen through fifteen. I think I started developing empathy at around sixteen.

    I was Goth before I knew there was Goth too. I just liked wearing black clothes and drawing entrails.

  14. I distinctly remember being showered with praise for my writing ability as a teen, and thinking I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Luckily, I kept a journal, so that now I can look back and see just how terrible I was.
    It is possible, perhaps, that with the handy-dandy constant revision afforded you by web-pages and online journals these days, teenagers will lose the perspective that comes from seeing how terrible their writing used to be.

  15. Well, there’s more of a difference than that between goth an emo… about 2 octaves of vocal range for a start. I’m also not convinced that Fall Out Boy would know who Byron and Shelley were. I’d feel pretty safe assuming that Smith, Bowie and Murphy know, have read and can likely quote from both.

  16. Uh, I think I *was* emo twenty years ago.

    Also, regarding the ridiculous clothes? I don’t think the different generations would be laughing that hard at eachother. The same crappy styles keep coming back…WHY?

  17. akeeyu #21 Charity shops?

    As for obsessive emo behaviour, anyone else copy the poster of David Hemmings falling off his horse that was ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’? and then give it to their girlfriend who still hasn’t grown up?

  18. Dear god, I was totally emo as a teenager. No, we shan’t discuss how long ago that was.

    Still have the lingering feeling that nobody understands me, though. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that it’s just because I’m weird.

  19. Completely OT comment.

    I just finished reading The Android’s dream, which I thought was fantastic.
    I would very much like to get it for my brother for Christmas, but he only reads French. I tried Amazon without success.
    Would you happen to know if the book is already translated (and if it is, could you please point me in the right direction ?) ?
    And if it has not yet been translated, do you know if there is planning to do so ?
    Thank you :)

  20. the true Godfather of Emo is… Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who in 1774 unleashed The Sorrows of Young Werther upon the world,

    It is immensely annoying to me that if I make a joke about “so, that means Werther’s original?” most Americans probably won’t get it because you probably don’t have them over there. Similarly one about Emo Bru, made in Germany from Goethe.

    But I’m going to make them anyway.

  21. Yeah, emo kids in every generation, no matter what you call them.

    I’ve always thought the baby goths are just hilarious…they all wear black clothes with black eyeliner and black nail polish and talk about how nonconformist they are.

    *pets emo kitteh*

  22. ‘…I think we’d find they shared a commonality of experience and outlook.’

    You really think that an American 1968 male teenager, facing the draft for a war during the Cold War, would have no real differences with a 1998 male teenager?

    Or that the 1978 teenager, growing up in a time of generally carefree sex (and what a shame that went away), shares a lot with a teenager from today’s world of AIDS?

    OK.

    Not only do things changes, things change people.

    If, however, you meant that most teenagers are unaware that being teenaged is pretty much a universal experience that everyone older than a teenager experienced, then sure, such a trivial observation is true. Just like saying that all adults, and especially parents, tell teenagers that, without it making any difference at all.

  23. My emo period was 30 years ago, and I thank god every day that my parents didn’t UTTERLY ANNIHILATE me for all the whining and brattishness and “Nobody loves meeeeee!” crap I put them through.

  24. I am currently in the midst of my last 2 teens after getting my older teens out of the house (well, at least until one boomeranged back in with her daughter). My experience with my son will be entirely different since he’s autistic, but each and every girl has given me the whole dramatic, “but you don’t uuuuuuundeeeeeeerstaaaaaaand!” wail. It would be kind of funny if it didn’t occur at moments when we were…er, discussing house rules.

    What’s interesting is the autistic kid does the whole sullen and moody kid without being aware of doing the whole sullen and moody kid, whereas I think the girls are perfectly aware of it. One of his teachers and I have agreed that we can handle the autism stuff, it’s the teenage stuff (which is very hard to explain to an autistic) that we find hard to deal with. I’ve also noticed that each girl has totally lost her mind and her emotional balance in EXACTLY the same way when they first started their woman stuff.

    And no, none of them (well, none of the girls, anyway; as I said, the experience with my son is very different) believe I even remotely had the same experiences. Not quite sure what they think I was like and experienced in high school, but it definitely wasn’t on the level of what they go through. How little they know. lol

  25. @27 – You are missing the point, rather largely I might say.

    What John is saying, and it is true, is that the experience of being a teen is the same regardless of the times: i.e. “No one understands me and my parents music sucks.” for instance.

    I was a teen in the 80s. I was worried about nuclear annihilation and cold war and didn’t think I would live past 30. I bet teens in the 60s worried about being drafted and not living past 30. Probably teens in the 90s worried about drugs and venereal disease, or some other such issues, and didn’t think they would live past 30. (OK, I felt the 90s were a bit bland – still, teens will find something to worry about, which is the point.) Teens in the 1800s worried about polio or somesuch and didn’t think they would live past 30. (Or 25, or 20 … that part is relative).

    But we all found something to worry about, felt our parents music was awful, felt no one understood us, felt adults were ridiculous and just holding us back, and felt we would never grow old. How we each felt those things was individual to our circumstance, but feeling those things is directly linked to being a teen, for the most part.

    Personally, I feel pretty good about being mostly the same as everyone else, except I’m the same in my own way. I feel a kinship with people knowing they are worried about rent and mortgages, whether they are raising their kids the right way, and enjoy Disneyland. We may each like something different about it, or see something unique that relates to us, but we are all in the same place enjoying the same things sharing the same experience.

    And this is not a trivial observation, as you dismissively noted. This is actually a pretty deep and nominally difficult realization – most people feel pretty alone because they don’t think anyone else can identify with what they feel or think. They think they are weird. It is actually pretty comforting to know that there a ton of other people out there that feel like I, you, or any of us do or have in the past. That is something that took me years to understand, and my wife still doesn’t get it. To some people it seems to come easier, but that doesn’t mean it is any more trivial.

    We are all individuals in the same way.

  26. I think the real thing to understand is that all teenagers are ‘emo’, whether they dress the part or not. As a 17 year old, I can speak authoritatively on the subject. I buy my clothes at American Eagle and Hollister instead of Hot Topic, but the bottom line is that every teenager goes through big emotional swings.

    As to teenage writing, I completely agree with the articles you’ve written on the subject. (In fact, it was one of those posts that first got me on your blog, and I’ve been reading it ever since.) I’m not trying to sound completely arrogant: I’m probably the best writer in my senior class of 330. However, I suffer from the exact same problems that you talk about. Every time I read a new novel, stylistic and thematic elements from that work pop into my writing almost without me noticing.

    Ultimately, I think that one could argue that everyone, adults included, suffer from that problem. I just think it is less noticeable in adults because they have had more time to sift through the various and a sundry works out there and consequently have been able to dilute their influences more. Original ideas are very few and far between in this day and age, and I think that they will become more scarce as time wears on. If you pay even the smallest amount of attention, it is glaringly obvious that nearly every fantasy book contains the same elements that were popularized with Tolkien. (For example, look at one of the new series, Eragon- there is not a single original idea in the whole book, but they are worth the read simply because he packages the same ideas in an appealing way). To a lesser extent, these problems extend to Science Fiction, Mysteries, and most other genres.

    For yet another example, simply look at today’s television shows. Hollywood quit writing original scripts along time ago. Nowadays, most TV shows use the same plots with a small twist to make it ‘unique’. Unfortunately, I don’t see any way for these tendencies in television and in writing to change.

  27. “What’s wrong with California? Asked the California native.”

    Nothing, as long as you avoid Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

    (Yes, I like San Francisco and the frosty warmth of Chicago and New York better and am allergic to show biz types, said the some-time comedian. Sue me.)

  28. O Wordily Boring Scalzi, how excessively wordy and boring. This post started off so promisingly with the kitten picture and rapidly descended into irrelevance and near terminal boredom.

    You could have more efficiently written the post as “ZOMG kids are still self-centered narcissistic nitwits” or even better yet, stopped with the picture of the kitten, replaced it with a series of 20 or 30 images of the Beauteous Ghlaghghee, and spent your time (and ours) far more importantly by describing in detail Her Glorious Shimmering Radiant Perfection’s latest accomplishments.

    It’s not too late to redeem yourself. Do so now. You know you want to erase the shame of this moment.

    The Official Ghlaghghee Fan Club

  29. Lysambre:

    I think I’ve sold Android’s in French, but I can’t remember off the top of my head.

    ajay:

    We have those candies here. And they are yummy. Your pun… maybe less so.

  30. Ok, sort of OT, but:

    ZOMG YOU WENT TO HIGH SCHOOL WITH THE GUY WHO DIRECTED TEKKON KINKREET?!?!?!

    Can you get me his autograph?

    (if you haven’t seen it, see it. It’s brilliant. And, unsurprisingly, rather emo.)

    Slightly more on topic: has anyone noticed that emo itself, that particular brand of music and label for Angsty Teen, has been around longer that folks seem to give it credit for? There was emo in the 90s, certainly, and possibly the late 80s as well. So, even emo wasn’t invented by these kids.

    Take that, whippersnappers. Now, get off my lawn!

    *re-lurks*

  31. I always thought William Cullen Bryant with his “Thanatopsis” poem would’ve made a good goth or emo kid.

    Captain Sensible could’ve played him in the movie.

  32. My husband likes to refer to his time as a morose, black-wearing, self-mutilating adolescent 20 years ago as being “pre-mo.”

    But I suppose we should be kind – it’s a hard day when you realize that it really *has* all been done before, and all you have left is to do the same things in your own way and hope that it’s unique enough to leave an impression.

    I think we call that “maturity.”

  33. John @ 10

    I think that illustrates the differences between the two subcultures quite well.

    Now you emo kids get off my wife’s carefully cultivated black lawn of gothic horrors!

  34. Sferrari17, you have just convinced me that I am an adult.

    I remember the argument that there is nothing new. I remember making it, ten years ago. Now I don’t believe it so much, and if I do it’s not with nearly as much bitterness as I did then.

    I was the kind of angry, angsty teenager who tries to be angry and angsty because she thinks it’ll make her cool, when really she’s still a friendly teacher’s-pet of a nerd. I didn’t know which stereotype to conform to, so I aimed for the wrong one for a while there. It didn’t take me long to become embarrassed of it.

  35. I remember reading The Sorrows of Young Werther in a college humanities class and recognizing him instantly: he was the kid in the dorm wearing all black and listening to the Smiths.

    And that was, uh, around the time that today’s teenagers were being born. I guess this is what they call “middle age,” huh?

  36. One of my very best friends is about 18 years younger than me. The first words out of her mouth after telling me that her new boyfriend -really- liked the Bauhaus that she got from me a couple of years back and was never that into were “not a word”. This put a big smile on my face.

    On a related note if you like Bauhaus, Sisters, etc. Give She Wants Revenge a try. They aren’t quite as great but they are really good.

    (Don’t get me wrong she liked them well enough but was just never a big fan.)

  37. Your point about young Werther and the Romantics (they had young Chatterton with the lovely suicide portrait) is one I just made to my 15-year-old daughter, in the course of which I quoted Shelley to her: “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” She’s still laughing.

  38. If you want to take it all the way back, I submit to you that the true Godfather of Emo is… Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who in 1774 unleashed The Sorrows of Young Werther upon the world…

    My cover of Werther had the protagonist staring out with a single tear running down his cheek. Now, if he’d had black hair falling into his eyes, that would’ve been perfect.

  39. I’m with Emily: emo kitteh 2 qute. Cannot concentrate on big words now. Or anything else, really.

    TOTALLY off topic (so I understand that it’s likely to be struck and I apologize in advance, Mr. Scalzi, if it requires any work on your part) but I could use mythago’s input/help with something and I’m hoping there’s some way he reads this and emails me: mrswaltz at aol dot com

    Damn, do I have to type “kthxbai” now? Kitteh sort of invokes that closing….

  40. I’m not sure if it’s precocious or just sad that my “you don’t understand meeeee” phase was over by the time I was 14. Well, except for with regards to my parents. I still don’t think they understand me, but that’s more to do with them being nice normal people and me being Fundamentally Weird than any emo tendencies.

    Also? It’s okay, emo kitty. Come here and I’ll pet you.

  41. I am on the verge of having teenagers, and I am scared. It is already obvious to me that I know nothing, just as my father knew nothing before me (insert relevant Sam Clemens quote here). I don’t know that I can watch them become adults without bursting into ironic laughter.

    All I know for sure is that the me now thinks that the me from 1984 was a navel-gazing, self-absorbed fool and that the me then would think that the me now has lost touch with everything that’s important.

    It’s a bloody good thing we’re separated by time instead of something as easily overcome as distance.

  42. John my grandfather couldn’t have said it better. Nothing changes. It’s all the same every generation, birth, school, misplaced angst, work/taxes, mating…death. Might as well be living in caves after all. In fact why don’t we trundle down to the Creation Museum and collect some of Ken Hamm’s wisdom to add to yours. Emotions make the middle-aged uncomfortable so they mock them. My God if the middle-aged feel something they might (unlikely I know) be motivated to do something foolish and neglect the lawn. It takes a lot of careful hard work to maintain that lawn after all, and what about community standards, homeowners associations and property values. John you are a true Role Model.

  43. Well, I’ve heard of Werther, but only because Michael Moorcock referenced him with Werther de Goethe, who is bidding to be the last goth/emo/whatever in the The Dancers at the End of Time series.

    Speaking of which: Elric of Melniboné – Goth, Emo, or other? Discuss.

  44. Oh, Werther. Singlehandedly removed my desire to be a German major. The only more emo-tastic German lit I can think of would have to be Bahnwarter Thiel.

  45. I guess I was a weirder kid than I thought.

    In the 1960s, when I was a teenager, I quite enjoyed life, wore colorful clothes, kept my hair cut short, loved listening to Lawrence Welk, and got near straight A in school. I was part of a teen-age square dance exhibition group. I was the one of whom my friends’ parents said, “Why can’t you be more like him?” I realized my parents didn’t understand me, but I didn’t understand them either, so it was OK.

    Of course, there was that atomic bomb thing, and a good possibility that I would get killed in a war before long, but that just made me want to enjoy life while I could.

  46. Excellent post–so true, and it takes me back to my German M.A. days of reading about Werther and all his Leiden. “Woe is me,” etc. Every generation likes to think it invented everything, that no one could have possibly gone through what it’s going through before.

  47. Really, now, Scalzi. It’s just like an insular American to blame the Germans for Sturm und Drang, which is more an offshoot of seventeenth-century Italian opera, and a variety of other Renaissance influences, than a truly Germanic phenomenon. (Bonus points for measuring exactly how far the tongue is in cheek.)

    All seriousness aside, if you want the English-language forbearers of Emo and Goth, you need look no farther than The Hard Bard: Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest… the bloody sonnets… and the Italian influence (Bocaccio and Ariosto) in there somewhere. I’d love to set a compare-and-contrast essay up involving an Old English transcript of Beowulf and some Emo and Goth “hits,” but I might be too scared by the result.

  48. Jess:

    “ZOMG YOU WENT TO HIGH SCHOOL WITH THE GUY WHO DIRECTED TEKKON KINKREET?!?!?!

    Can you get me his autograph?”

    Probably not. He was a senior when I was a freshman, so it’s not like he and I were pals, and in any event he lives in Japan. I doubt if he actually remembers me. Although maybe I should send him the Japanese version of OMW.

  49. I was a goth lite in my university/law school days. I had a penchant for black and listened to folks like the Cure and Siouxie and the Banshees (like I said goth lite).

    My only affectation these days is my collection of black t-shirts; I have drawer devoted just to plain black t-shirts. I started dated a woman a few years ago who did not believe me about the black t-shirt drawer; I ended up showing it to her.

    I don’t know whether this is related to your post, but it seems so to me. Along with teenagers always complaining that their parents don’t understand them is the complaint from parents about the habits of their teenagers; it almost always get fought out over music.

    Alan Cross is a local DJ who has a syndicated program called “the history of new music”. On one show he read a quote from someone that said that the music that kids were listening to at the time was bad; the music itself was barely better than noise and the lyrics ought to have been banned (I am paraphrasing here). It turns out the quote was from Aristotle. I am willing to bet that emo is even older than Goethe; you probably had teenage cavemen grunting to their parents “you just don’t understand”.

    Cheers
    Andrew

  50. @ Jaws – Why stop with the Bard? “Tristan” from Tristan and Isolde means “sadness”… and that myth goes back to the very foundations of our culture!

  51. LOL. John, this girl will probably come around to your point of view–in twenty years. I admire the articulate way you are making your argument, and you’ve scored like twenty-thousand debate points, but you will never win. Why not? Because you just don’t get it. And you never can. You can’t possibly understand. YOU JUST DON’T GET IT!

    (And it won’t be long before you’re having this debate with your daughter, LOL. How are you finding the “tween” years, by the way? At my house, we have discovered “backtalk” but I’m told that girls are born knowing how to do that.)

  52. “I like sad. It’s like happy for deep people.”

    But what’s this? No mention of that emo-iest of all emo teens: Hamlet, prince of Denmark? Drops out of college to come home and slouch around the castle, all upset that his mom’s seeing someone new, and worry if he’s maybe, like, secretly crazy–because, like, how could you tell, man?

    (Note to emo teens: this would be a great topic for a term paper. Hell, I’d read it.)

  53. John, I was thinking their cover of “Spirit in the Sky” would be a good choice, but what’s life without “The Sky’s Gone Out”?

    (Yes, yes. Happy, cheerful and full of sunbeams. I knew that, but I mean rhetorically.)

  54. I’m not sure if I could tell if emo teens were standing on my lawn. I stopped mowing in some years ago and the footing is treacherous and a large groundhog has made some huge exit holes which might swallow up some of the more slender emo types. (grin)

    If anyone asks, I tell them we’re growing butterflies. Which is actually true.

    Dr. “Fifty is Nifty” Phil

  55. Catherine Shaffer:

    Oh, to be sure, I have no expectation of bringing her around to my point of view, just as I have no expectation of bringing around people of other political views in comment threads. The point is to have the conversation so other people (who have not necessarily set their minds) can see it.

    Mythago:

    When I first heard Bauhaus’ cover of Ziggy Stardust, I just about died of squee. Which as I understand was not necessarily the intended reaction. But there it is.

  56. This is coming at a most appropos time, because I’m unpacking my office and just found my journals from when I was 17. Oh…dear. “Twee” is the best way to describe them. The 42-year-old me wants to slip the 17-year-old me some St. John’s Wort and suggest I go out dancing and maybe get laid.

    Which is probably what Goethe needed, as well — talk about Dietrich Downer…

  57. Sorry folks, I left out the most important and fulfilling part of my comment. It should go like this.

    Nothing changes. It’s all the same every generation, birth, school, misplaced angst, work/taxes, mating, lawn-care… death.

  58. Just last week, one of my twenty-something employees said, “I’m so glad we have the word ‘emo’. How did you ever describe emo kids without it?’.

    Really, it wasn’t that hard. As was said upthread, we all knew emo when we saw it. Or were it.

  59. LOL, the word “emo” is like twenty years old! And the baggy pants — who knew the baggy pants were going to stick around since the 1980’s? And now AC/DC is a hot band and 80’s big hair is apparently going to be the next stylistic trend they revive. I don’t know that things are different. They may just repeat them every two decades or so.

  60. I went to high school in the 1970s. When my English teacher wanted someone to read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” or “The Raven” aloud, I was the obvious-to-the-point-of-their-being-no-other-choice choice.

    I read “The Raven” dressed all in black (as I frequently did anyway) with my collar turned up for an 18C effect, by the light of a blood-red candle shaped like a skull. The candle was not purchased for the occasion; it was just something I happened to have. My room was full of such things.

    But I was alone. There must have been other such kids in a school of 1100, but I never found them. Nowadays I would be able to find them by wearing fishnet stockings on my hands, and they would too, and we’d have actual CLUBS to go to.

    This is why I say “I’d’ve been a Goth kid if there’d been Goths when I was a kid.”

    One thing really HAS changed, John. Today, in a school with only one Goth, the Goth kid wouldn’t be an isolated weirdo (or feel like one). S/he’d be part of 20 different Goth groups on MySpace, and have a whole network of Goth buddies on FaceBook. But teenagers don’t want to hear how their lives are so much BETTER than ours were, hrrmph, get offa my lawn.

  61. As a teenager, I would like to say thanks for the writing advice. (And I believe you. I found some of my middle school and high school writing when I was home for Thanksgiving break, and it truly did suck. It sucked much worse than my writing does now. Which still sucks, because I don’t do it enough.)

    Regarding differences between my generation and yours: We really do like to think we are the “different” generation, don’t we :-) For my generation, there seems to have been what somebody aptly referred to as a “traffic jam on the ‘Road Not Taken'” because we’re all so busy trying to be different and original that there aren’t many middle-of-the-road people left!

    Also, I think your last idea, putting teenagers from a bunch of different eras in a room, would be interesting because there seems to be a cycle of fashion. (The bell bottoms of the 70’s and 90’s probably aren’t that different.) It would make for an interesting short story!!!

  62. I was that emo kid in high school, and clinically depressed, but I never broke out of it and spiraled down hard until I broke like a china plate against a concrete floor. It took me an extra 5 years of my life to stop being a teenager (does that mean I’m really 42 instead of 47? Now there’s a thought…). Now the father of three boys the teen years have been wierdness in the extreme because when I get the “you don’t understand” line raised up like an impenetrable shield of stupid* I can batter it down mercilessly by recounting my years between 13 and 23 in gory detail.

    My boys are strangely well-adjusted as it turns out and one even regularly reads your site after I sent him that original article :)

    *Don’t remember where I stole that line from, but damn I like it.

  63. Captain Button: Wouldn’t Elric be more visi-goth?

    For that matter, I wonder if any goth kids could tell you the different between visigoth and ostrogoth. Seems like it could be a useful non sequitir to throw into a conversation that is becoming too overwrought.

  64. Being a teenager is powerful thing, because every single damn thing that happens you happens to you turned up to 11, which is fundamentally different experience than being an adult, in which most things have happened to you more than once, and you’ve generally found the volume knob and cranked it down a couple of notches simply to keep yourself sane.

    This is probably the best encapsulation of growing up I’ve ever read.

    Thanks, John.

  65. When I was a teenager I think I could have been classified as a “geek-mo”. “Oh, the world is pain and no one EVER can understand me! No one in real life understands or loves me! Off to the most secluded computer in the school library during lunch where I will check my email and participate in my Dragonriders and the Weyrs of Pern listserve. Paaaaain! Oh, hey, did Marty bring Ranma 1/2 tapes to watch during creative writing class? Awesome. Oh, yes. Paaaaaiiiiiin!”

    Thank goodness I grew out of THAT. Wait… :)

  66. You can tell I take care of two small kids all day…I initially parsed that post title as “Elmo: Older Than You Think”.

    That gives me an idea…I need to add another line of dolls to my “Geekz” and “Nerdz” dolls. This one will be “Tickle Me Emo”. I’m still undecided on the accessories, though. Razor blades, bulk pack of mascara, and an iPod loaded with NiN, The Cure, and Evanescence, maybe?

  67. What I don’t get is, if teenagers whining “You don’t understaaaand!” is so untrue, why do adults persist in saying things that make it clear they have no memory of what being a teenager is like?

    Specifically, I’m thinking of “These are the best years of your life” or “You think you’ll live forever.”

    Not true. I acted recklessly as a teenager because life was suffering and pain (like, obviously) and I didn’t care if I died.

  68. John @ 65: I am, in fact, a very squeeful little former goth-grunge club queen, and I also nearly died of squee the first time I heard the Ziggy cover. Hee! That’s exactly what I thought.

    My Puppy revels in the gothiness of his mom, because now that he’s all gothy and emo, he can lord his superior knowledge of his musical predecessors and early club days in Detroit over other gothy and emo kids at his school. They say Fall Out Boy and MCR, and Puppy raises them Bauhaus, The Cure, and The Legendary Pink Dots. And although they usually know about Bauhaus and the Cure, they rarely know Joy Division or the Dots, and he gets to be the MOST insufferable music snob gothy emo boi of all.

    But then he shares mp3s so they can all be “traditionally” gothy together.

    It always makes me giggle.

  69. One of my stepson’s friends is very emo, and is also discovering he swings both ways.

    There is something disturbing about a 15-year-old hitting on BOTH parents, let alone one.

    I know. Double standard, but I’m also this kid is a future Republican executive type after he has a free-wheeling college life – flaming freshman, John Belushiesque sophomore, the junior who turns everything from a beer bottle to a 1987 Thunderbird (the whole car) into bongs, and the preppie senior kissing lots of recruiter ass to get a sweet job FAR from his parents.

  70. John,

    that’s hilarious. Figures that somebody already took that ball and ran with it.

    I think I still have the market cornered on the other doll line, though.

  71. Just as an aside, Steve Jackson’s Warehouse 23 sells a shirt that says,

    “If You’re Really a Goth, Where Were You When We Sacked Rome?”

    We never had cool shirts like that in my day. We had to make our own fun! GOML!

  72. Good stuff. Nothing to add other than, stop torturing that poor kitten.

    That and I went over to a friends house the other day and they were watching South Park and the episode was about goth kids who’d been goth forever being angry at all teh kids pretending to be vampires.

  73. A crow falls.
    miasmatearsmiasmasadness

    Falls.

    Falls.

    fallsfallsfallsFALLS…

    Impact.
    soulcrushingdefeatsoul

  74. Well, see I think you can be very persuasive in some situations, using reasoned arguments supported by good examples. But in the case of trying to convince teenagers that you Understand them, all of us over 30 are just wrong by definition. LOL. It is extremely amusing, though.

  75. sferrari17–
    “Ultimately, I think that one could argue that everyone, adults included, suffer from that problem. … If you pay even the smallest amount of attention, it is glaringly obvious that nearly every fantasy book contains the same elements that were popularized with Tolkien. (For example, look at one of the new series, Eragon[.]”
    Though to be fair, Eragon was written by a teen writer. :P

    There is a lot of fantasy out there that’s really deriative of Tolkien (Wheel of Time, Dragonlance Shannara…) but I wouldn’t go as far as “nearly every”. Look at Song of Ice and Fire, The Fionavar Tapestry, even the Belgariad…* And then of course there’s the science fiction fantasy like Pern, Darkover, Majipoor…

    *Fionavar physically looks a lot like Middle Earth and the Belgariad (and, let’s face it, all of Eddings works) have a powerful magical object that’s the focus of the story – but there’s a lot of different stuff there.

  76. I was just talking to my students about Werther being emo and the roots of the Romantic movement last week. It made my day to see him blogged.

  77. Well, teenagers want to show they’re different, but they don’t want to be so different that they’re regarded as freaks. So yeah, while it’s amusing that all the ‘nonconformists’ are basically conforming with each other, it’s just part of human nature to want to belong somewhere. Being a somewhat acceptable style of different is better than becoming Hannibal Lecter or an anarchist just so you can claim to truly be a nonconformist.

  78. Goethe? Goethe? He’s a Johann come lately; Jaws has it more nearly right.

    The original emo kid of literature, the guy who dressed in black, moped around the house, obsessed endlessly about death, snuck off to read alone before it was fashionable?

    Hamlet.

  79. Hee! Awesome. And even older than that, man.

    “By Saint Egbert, have you seen Aelfric lately? Mope, mope, mope. Wouldn’t even go to the bear-baiting last week.”

    “And have you heard that song he’s writing?”

    “That ‘High-ho high-ho holiday, best day of the year, little Mattie Groves’ thing? I’ll wager my best trews he thinks he’s the star of it.”

    “And it goes on forever. Blood of Saint Sebastian, I wish the king would pass a law that all ballads must be two minutes and fifty seconds long.”

  80. Abi:

    Yeah, but Werther was vaguely autobiographical to Goethe; from all evidence Shakespeare himself was not much like his melancholy Dane. My vote still stays with Johann.

    Also: Emma FTW.

  81. I was 16 in 1998. It was a good time. I drank a lot of beer, got into a lot of mischief, and listened to a lot of metal. Actually, now at 26, I’m not all that different. Less mischief, but I would say I’m on par with the metal and beer.

    Though I was not an emo kid, I was friends with a couple. They were always my favorite friends for sharing biting cynicism. Just great.

  82. 93 made me think of…

    Brian: “You’re all individuals!”
    Crowd: “We’re all individuals!”
    Voice in crowd: “I’m not!”

  83. As I noted on a different forum, if the 34 year old me was to go back and be put in charge of the 14 year old me, I’d probably have the 14 year old me on the ground doing several hours of push-ups, followed by a good waterboarding.

    The 14 year old me was a sheltered little snot who needed some hard learnin’ and some growin’ up.

  84. Well, as Heinlein may have said before I began to appreciate the look of a leather jacket and black t-shirts in the 80’s, “To be a nonconformist, you’ve got to wear the proper uniform.”

  85. After reading Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde in the spring, I realized that Troilus and Pandarus were truly the proto-Morrissey and Johnny Marr–I even taped a picture of them to my notebook. Happily, I was able to re-use the notebook for my Christopher Marlowe class this fall.

  86. I hate to even attempt to remember all of those five and ten (and in one case, twenty-four) page pseudo-poetic odes to … that I wrote as an angst-filled teenager in 1966. Thank the Lord for Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, who led me out of that self-indulgent darkness.

  87. Scalzi @ 106 Sure we would, as long as we could have the remote possibility of maybe, possibly having sex with our 15 year old girlfriend/boyfriend, or looking cool (chariot + dead body=cool) before the authorities drag us away anyway . What don’t you understand. A sex offence is worse than disrespecting a dead body. Fucking Adults!

  88. Of course you could combine a sex offense with disrespecting a dead body…as Achilles did with Penthesilia.

  89. Further, Alexander the Great is a prime example of an emo kid with *way* too much power. The other kids don’t understand you? Dad laughs at your harpistry? Your Mom’s nuttier than grandma’s fruitcake? Got the hots for your best friend? Fine, go conquer the world!

  90. I was a teenager in the 1970’s. I hung out in graveyards. Wanted to wear black, was poor, small town, wore what I could find. I was so goth!

    Xopher@71 – This is why I say “I’d’ve been a Goth kid if there’d been Goths when I was a kid.”

    I so agree.

  91. not sure of this was covered yet, but you cant leave Goethe’s contemporary, William Blake – the 18th century Trent Reznor, off the list of proto-est proto-emo’s.

  92. Nah. Emos would never drag a body around the walls of Troy.

    I thought emos never went outside during the day.

    Oh wait, that’s vampires again. Shoot.

    I remember reading a review somewhere of the newer version of “Troy” and the guy said he thought Brad Pitt was being rather emo for Achilles. “Achilles believed his own PR” was how he thought the character should have been played.

  93. Well, there’s at least one difference between teenhood then and now: my generation’s /not/ used to not knowing what everybody else is up to at any one moment. An unfortunate thing, perhaps, as it seems to serve as an amplifier to the usual cases of teenage drama. It may very well be that what we think of as an 11 may not, in fact, be the 11s you remember- and, worse, somebody stuck gum under the damn dial…

  94. Certainly doesn’t win prizes for being the first emo character, but:

    eoyore: emo
    piglet: A-D-D
    tigger: bipolar?

    No, hm. Tigger is like the anti-emo, he’s always happy. Do we even have a word for that?

  95. We recently watched the film “if….” It’s Malcolm McDowell as the emo kid in 60s British public school, who eventually goes Columbine. It’s all true.

  96. I wasn’t cool enough to be emo in high school; I was just the weird kid at the back of the class. Now I’m the weird guy in front of the computer. :D

    The way it was explained to me; Emo is feeling righteous for feeling sorry for yourself, Goth is feeling righteous for feeling sorry for yourself, with added vampires.

    Regarding the scattered comments about how all fantasy is imitative of Tolkien; it’s true that Tolkien is one of the granddaddies of the fantasy genre, and it’s further true that he has a great many imitators. If you want something that doesn’t imitate Tolkien, I can suggest Lois McMaster Bujold’s /The Curse of Chalion/ – which I got from the library, read in one sitting, went back to the beginning and read it /again/, and then went out and bought it. It’s still one of my favourite novels.

  97. Chucharro @ 119: Blake? BLAKE? Blake wasn’t an emo. He really was different from everyone else, then and now. Unless . . . am I missing something in the definition of “emo”? Would an eight-year-old potential emo-teen have seen a vision of the prophet Ezekiel in his garden one day? Or believe himself to be the re-embodiment of the spirit of Milton? (Which spirit, if I remember correctly, Blake described as having entered his body via his left foot.)

    Nah. Blake was one of a kind, even as a teen–had to be. The exception that proves the rule. Shelley and Keats, now–or even Wordsworth and Coleridge . . .

  98. @ mary frances: wild visions and general craziness is most certainly emo… and for further evidence, read his poetry and look at a painting or two… I mean, the dude paints dragons.

  99. Chucharro @ 126: Okay. I didn’t realize that. But I still say that developing one’s own pantheon is sort of unusual . . . maybe an extreme case? (I have fond memories of trying to explain to someone, once upon a time, that Blake wasn’t an atheist; he just figured that as a poet-prophet he ought to create his own gods.)

    And I had forgotten the reference to Shelley in the original post–sorry about that. In any case, I’ve decided that for me, the quintessential emo-kids will always be the Pre-Raphaelites: Rossetti and Swinburne and Co. Now there was a bunch with over-the-top emotions raised to a high art!

  100. Um–I should clarify that what I didn’t realize was that “wild and crazy visions” qualified as emo. I did know that Blake painted dragons. Among other things. And I’ve read his poetry.

  101. I am going to print this article out, laminate it, and let my 12 year old daughter read it (after she’s finished the second book in the Twilight tetrology) to nip any teen gothy emo moodiness in the bud.

  102. “nip any teen gothy emo moodiness in the bud.”

    “after she’s finished the second book in the Twilight tetrology”

    Too late.

  103. All of the Twilight hating makes me sad. I’ve read the books, and at their worst, they passed the time pleasantly. There isn’t really much in them to make them emo at all. Haven’t seen the movie though, so I can’t pass judgment on it.

  104. I see now that teenagers in ’50s London were emo too, only we didn’t know it. What we knew was that we were the only generation ever who would probably never live to adulthood (because of the shadow of The Bomb hanging over us). And our parents’ music sucked, too. We stayed up late to listen to pirate radio (offshore) to get away from Auntie BBC who had a monopoly.

  105. I plan on reading Twilight after I finish some Charles De Lint books and Fight Club. After that, I might go Emo myself!

    It is reassuring that my daughter thinks that yes, Edward is kind of a creepy stalker type even if he’s Ultra Romantic, and Bella is beyond believably clumsy, and that it’s all amusing: all the while she’s _enjoying_ reading the books. Hey, if it gets her reading, and I can talk to her about some of the worst of the tropes in it, I’m cool with her reading these. Harry Potter didn’t do a thing for her.

  106. Hamlet deliberately tormenting Ophelia is pretty much Not Emo. A truly emo Hamlet would have mooned around after her reading bad poetry.

  107. I just want to throw in that the most consistent pattern has to be one generation’s emo hating the following generation’s emo more than the following generations not-emo.

    In evidence by Byron above. Of course, I agree with him (we come from the same place, emo-riffically)

    “Look kids, you’re not even doing it right…”

    A few years ago, I decided that one of the more significant signs of old-age is not seeing things exclusively for what they are, but including in your interpretation/analysis other things which were similar (or different). Doing that is why I can’t stand Interpol (I can’t listen to what Interpol actually is, all I hear is Joy Division if they had never had fire in their belly).
    Now that I’m a few years older than that I finally realized that I already knew the name for that kind of growing up: context.

    Teenagers don’t have it? No kidding Scott, you’re a GENIUS. *sigh* Sometimes, I think I’m smart, but then it usually turns out I already learned all about whatever, I just never noticed.

  108. For some reason this post reminded me of some of the sixties rock that was kind of the equivalent of emo, being poppy and popular. Now it’s just Golden Oldies, but there’s a lot of darkness in songs like Last Kiss, Tell Laura I Love Her, and Needles & Pins.

  109. Man, I was wondering what phase my nephew was going through. First he did himself up like Blink 182’s front man (a bit like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.) Then he went dark with the long hair. Now he’s going to Pentacostal church ’cause his girlfriend goes there…

    Yep, no one in teenage history has ever felt alienated from their peers. It’s unique to just you.

  110. I have no idea what the position of the EMOs is in the current high school clic popularity chart. However, the Goths of our day really were not considered the coolest of their classes. Arias and Pitzer likely hated high school to some extent and only enjoyed massive popularity when spinning records for the rare campus dance. The classes of 1983 and 1984 had this bizarre mix of Goths, Madonna-be’s, Surfers, Preppies, Mods who later all seemed to switch to punks, and New Romantics (New-Ros). Our “Goths” really weren’t all that Gothy in look but I do agree they were bleeding edge knowledgable on that music.

    The early mid-80ies have a lot of conflicting groups. However, what will never change is folks in their mid to late teens will always believe their problems are far bigger and more unique than they really are. I was no different in my lack of appreciation that my concerns were typically overreactions to situations that I just was not familiar with.

  111. Gilgamesh is the original emo story… srsly.

    “Why am I to die? You to wander on alone? Is this the way it is with friends?” (Enkidu to Gilgamesh)

  112. There is more of a void than one may think. Oh yes, the technology has changed, but that doesn’t quite finish the comparison. We’ve almost all had some of the same daunting experiences however the fact is that modern teens are faced with more difficulty than any time before. Forty years ago did you need a college education to make money? The materialism has increased greatly, look around yourself right now and count the number of things you don’t need to live reasonably. This is not how it was when I was a kid. The stress upon women to push the boundaries of their bodies has increased significantly. These kids feel alienated by everything, and its because societal interests have changed and the rise of the individual has created boundaries among people that separate by style and not by any actual substance. Yes, the current generation has iPods, they also have thousands of other electronics that pave the way for humanity. As these technologies change so do those who implement them. 40 years ago would it have been acceptable to berate people online as an alternative to actually accomplishing anything?

  113. Fall out boy is for 11th grade fruits. The troubled teenagers today listen to bright eyes, elliott smith, and broken social scene…the cool ones at least

  114. Gu Ku Gaguon,
    “modern teens are faced with more difficulty than any time before.”
    No. Different but not more. Are you going to get kidnapped onto a ship at age 10 to be a powder monkey. Do you lie awake and wonder if you are going to catch polio and die like your classmates. Do you ponder is this the day I lose my arm in the machinery at the mill because I wasn’t fast enough while sweeping underneath. Will I get paid my 3 cents so can eat some bread this week. Do you wonder after you graduate when that piece of paper from the draft office will arrive in the mail. Do you practice hiding under your desk for when the whole world burns to ash 5 minutes after the siren sounds. So what difficulties do you face that are more then previous generations?
    “Forty years ago did you need a college education to make money?”
    Depends on what kind of money you wished to make. Also even today it is not certain having one will allow you to make money. But if you think in terms of career pressure well all the teens that faced having to learn a trade or join a union will tell you it’s the same thing as the push to get that degree. There are plenty of records going back centuries of teen angst about their occupational futures. Should I join guild? Mom wants me to be priest. Dad says go on a crusade. My friends are out fencing and courting. I don’t want to work the farm for the rest of my life. You know what’s different now from before. You don’t have to face this at the age of 12 or younger like generations had to before you.
    “The materialism has increased greatly”
    No it hasn’t. Ever seen how many knick knacks were in a typical Victorian home. What has change is more people have the means to acquire stuff they don’t need. That teens give into the urge for stuff some how makes their lives harder now than previous generation, oh please thats BS.
    “The stress upon women to push the boundaries of their bodies has increased significantly.”
    Nope. I, my mother and grandmother can tell you that clearly. All that has change is the methods women use to push their bodies to their limits.
    “These kids feel alienated by everything, and its because societal interests have changed and the rise of the individual has created boundaries among people that separate by style and not by any actual substance”
    Social interests change on the surface every generation for thousands of years but also remain the same at their core. And it is not the rise of the individual that puts style over substance; those shallow vain boundaries have always been. Kids will always feel alienated because they are not adults, and are still forming their identities. It’s the part of the process and it is not new or unique. The majority of you life will be as an adult in adult societies. Childhood and the teen years is but a brief blip of being a work in progress.
    “40 years ago would it have been acceptable to berate people online as an alternative to actually accomplishing anything?”
    40 years ago we berated people to their face, in public speeches, print articles or in letters. It accomplishes something to those that are listening and is a better alternative to boxing them upside the ears. You obviously were not listening. There is nothing new or special about today’s teen woe but the adolescent ego both self centered arrogant and frail insecure convinces themselves of that myth until they actually face reality and grow up.
    The only void is the one teens have created in their minds to prop up the need of believing no one understands what they are going through.

  115. So what’s wrong with locking all the Emos in cages with rabid Dobermans? I think it would solve a lot.

  116. absolutely right. thank the lord. im tired of hearing about the “emo” fad and i’m tired of hearing insults against them. teen angst is called teen angst because it happens to everyone. thanks for the article.

  117. To: Whomever so mentioned The Cure.

    Now I have “Friday, I’m in Love” running through my head.
    I think I’ll go cut myself now.

    (On that note, allow me to tell ye a story. A few years back, I started going down the emokid route. Or maybe it was punky/goth/emo/whatever. Depends on your definition, amirite? Anyway. I got to cutting, realized IT HURTS and immediately stopped. Now I just wear a lot of black shirts, but that’s just me being a metalhead.)

  118. The Fighter:

    Don’t be knocking “Friday I’m in Love.” That was the song that was playing the first time I danced with the woman who would become my wife.

  119. You forgot to mention Sartre and Camus as the progeny of the late Romantic Period Emo movement with their nauseating “I’m so sad; I’m so alone” philosophical edge in the early twentieth century. They are surely the Emo poster children of World War II. And, if you really want to get nit-picky about the progenitors of Emo, (and, I do, at least), I would wager that Sophocles, author of Oedipus, Antigone, and Electra (NOT the comic book, kids), probably had some emo gloom about him too as evidenced by his dreary text. He probably had, what? a thousand years on Sturm und Drang? Bravo! Your article made my day.

  120. Look at the Beatniks. Black turtleneck sweater, long haircut, listen to weird music (jazz). Instead of text messaging they had their own crazy language (Dig? Daddy-o). They had Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsburg for their counter culture literature. Emo new, nah. It’s all Similar but Different.

  121. “Emo.” Hmm. Only SCUM think that suicide is hilarious.
    Using the term “emo” so forth makes you scum.
    What cruel being would make a planet, where every one hates, and is out to get each other?
    Ah, see there is no “God.”
    You scum prove my theory. I hope you’re happy that every 18 seconds someone commits suicide in the world. It is because of scum like yourselves. You have damaged the minds of children. The next generation will put on tombstones of people who kill themselves, “haha. Stupid little emo kid shot himself!”
    God is a lie. Hope is a lie. Happiness that is not artificial is a lie.
    Suicide is not a lie. Scum who drive innocence beings to suicide is not a lie.

    I don’t blame people who take their life. I even hate being in the same universe as you soulless parasites.
    It seems that the only way out is a bullet to the temple.

  122. re: 150
    Wouldn’t that comment be a perfect exampe of emo?

    A thought: considering teenagers in desperately dark feeling circumstances and with all due respect to Goethe (I’m impressed that native English speakers have heard of him), wouldn’t Shakespeare’s Hamlet be the oldest well-known example of an emo kid? Or is that a problem because due to the plot he actually does have real issues…

  123. I’m eighteen and I can get behind this.

    But I think what people find is most offensive about this type of diatribe isn’t “our generations are pretty much the same”, but “WE are pretty much the same”. Generations are pretty much on-par with one another, but a lot of “grown-ups” tend to assume that each teenager is more or less identical and can be handled the same way. It encourages a stereotype that can offers a lot more damage than aid. It’s all too easy to read a statement like yours as saying “all teenagers are the same” instead of “teenagers are similar from year to year”.

    Just sayin’.

  124. Xopher et al.

    You are so right about the ability of kids who are “different” to hook up with each other online. And, that’s a good thing, for them and everyone else. Shared pain is diminished pain.

    The bad thing about all this connectedness is that it has created new and ubiquitous paths for causing pain. We all had bullies around no matter what decade we were teenagers (mine was…..the 50’s). The difference when I was growing up was that bullying and slander were more localized. Now, if a bully goes after you, it’s no longer you against him, but it can become you against the whole community. This is even more isolating. In the past you could count on the likelihood that not everyone knew your problems.

    Rick York

  125. I saw your post, and in some ways i do agree with this un-named girl. However proboably not in the way you are thinking. I think there are diffrences in todays adolescents than that of the past (keeping in mind that the thought of adolescence and teenagers hass only been around for about 100 years). but i also think that in a lot of ways this is a positive change. The current generation has many more oportunities than previous generations, in almost every aspect of there lives. from more youth organizations and better school curriculums and benefits for those with disssabilities.
    We aare at war, but it is not nearly as influential on our lives as any of the world war’s were, nor as contreversial as the korean war. We are for the most part children of the baby boomer’s which means a larger percentage of todays youth have access to luxury items than in the past.

    (i appologize for my misspellings, i am to lazy to do a spell check.. what an i say i am still a teenager)
    -Jayme

  126. Going on a website that is frequented by teens leaves me in a massive state of frustration when they tell me (at a mere 26) that I don’t know what it’s like to be a teen today. I’ve been saying this for years but you’ve put in an elegant and well put manner. Kudos on a great post! Expect some linkage.

  127. The stress upon women to push the boundaries of their bodies has increased significantly. (Gu Ku Gagu)

    Not to derail a most enjoyable thread, but what does this mean? My grandmother did more physical labor in one week than I will ever see in my lifetime. One of her jobs (unpaid, because as the wife of the farm manager she was expecte to) was to wash the clothes of men that worked sugar cane fields using a giant wooden tub and a washboard. Especially during the burning, it must have been a hell of a job. She also raised pigs and chickens, and grew her own vegetables, and cooked three hot meals a day for her family and the farmworkers. All her female children were expected to pitch in as soon as they could get up on a step stool or use a broom.

    “Women’s work” was difficult and exhausting. In contrast, I’m a spoiled brat with no right to bitch.

  128. Teenager here (late, old, legally “adult” teenager, but hey man) and…yeah. My “OMG nobody UNDERSTANDS ME” stage was a little more self-harmful than some, but even then I kept thinking, “I have no right to feel this way.”

    I still struggle to remember that everyone else experiences the same feelings that I do (even if only on occasion, and the exception would be sociopaths) I find it insanely irritating when my young teen brothers roll their eyes and mutter, “You don’t UNDERSTAND.”

    Fortunately, though, none of the three like having their hair over their eyes…thank the gods.

    @Only Human Whom Sees Sense: Did you get acting lessons from William Shatner, or are you just that self-absorbed?

  129. I am a few years past teenager, but I was one of the “weird” kids in school. I was so annoyed when I graduated, and suddenly, the cool thing was to be… well… uncool. I sort of had the attitude of “Hey, you guys picked on me for this crap in high school, now you’re EMBRACING it? WTF”

    I was the quiet kid (weird and quirky, but quiet), so I never had the angsty outbreaks of “OMG YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT MY LIFE IS LIKE.” I just didn’t really care.

    Though I have noticed an upsurge in the number of teenagers who seem to have skipped that stage entirely (or went through it in their very early teens), and now they all think that they’re in their mid-twenties.

    Maybe the pre-mature “I think I’m completely mature” attitude has been around for a long time and I just never noticed it before, but my little brother brings it to my attention every single day. Not even eighteen and he’s engaged, planning on moving out, and thinks he has his entire life planned out, while at the same time having NO IDEA what the heck he’s doing, because he’s never held a real job for more than two weeks.

  130. I do not argue with the fact you point out that people(teenagers) have not changed throughout decades, nor that subcultures and genres of people’s expressions of their perspective on the world have always existed, just in new and different forms. However, (I know you knew there would be a however) there are constantly different norms and expectations placed on teenagers, and every age group for that matter, that differ from all previous generations of people. The same people will respond in different ways depending on their environment. Many like to call this “pressures of society”. That said, be careful to keep in mind as you talk to teenagers that they do experience and live with different pressures and expectations of them than anyone else ever will. No adult could fully understand the types or the extremeties of how it is to live as a teenager currently, just as the current will never fully understand how their children live as teenagers. Don’t underestimate the way society has changed, and its constant differing affects on people throughout the decades. Teenagers will feel discredited and misunderstood and you will become just another part of the society they claim does not understand them. If you acknowledge their differences with your experience and use your understanding to advise them-even if it is a duplicate of prior teenage problems you know have always existed, there will be a respect for you and acknowledgement that what you know is valid and concerned for their well being.

  131. Using the term emo doesn’t mean he find suicide hilarious, that is possibly the worst interpretation I’ve ever seen, where are you getting this from?? Not to mention being emo isn’t about committing suicide and it doesn’t mean you cut or anything like that…I’m pretty sure your response was entirely unrelated to what was actually being said, this coming from someone whose brother committed suicide like 2 years ago.

  132. Ladies and gentleman, what about the Blues? If we’re going to keep drawing up comparisons between emo and other popular art movements of the past, let’s throw the Blues in there!

    I’m imagining a sort of teen angst Woodstock concert in Heaven, now. Billie Holiday, Lord Byron, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, and Kurt Cobain, singing along with Ian Curtis in the greatest ever version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”

    Boo-YAH!

  133. You forgot the part where in true modern style we mass produce the emo kids today. I was in high school about a decade ago (gettin up there in years, I know ~_~) and it always tickled me to see a flock of kids skulking down the hall, each one trying slightly harder to look more independent than those around them. Perhaps if they’d looked to the left or the right they would have seen those with whom they could have fit in.

  134. River of consciousness here — Aristotle as original EMO, Soylent Green, Dieing planet, Television and computer cultures where little children from the age of two view a constant stream of corporate sponsored violence – An average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18 – a little different than in the days of old where yes, there were other issues but pile up issues of the past on top of the ever growing current ones and well… add the math.
    Children do have better nutrition than in the past (do they? -artifical fake foods and transfats/ sugars/ GMOs). Safer working conditions (at least in the West unless your a runaway prostitute or work in the coal mines at 16). A greater standard of living – (lower education scores and dangerous school environments). Guns, bombs, biological bombs, date rape drugs, cults, teachers with substandard pay who are in danger themselves and not happy to teach. Parents who are to busy or damaged to teach, Latch Key kids who are raising themselves with Video games and TV, Ever increasing government involvment with your child’s health – questionable immunization timetables and Pharmacological controls of what used to be “normal” behaviors. Pressure to be sexually active in fourth grade national current average is 12 where they start seeing the advances. So…
    Answer is poor sweet Emos are right. Their generation is more angst ridden and tormented and every generation after them will be even more so till we end the increasing violence and hatred and materialism and evil. In a few years the planet will lose it water resources and there will be more disease and greater World Wars and the children will suffer as they always do. Our question needs to change from “How are they different from the past children” to How are *we* different. We will pile on greater knowledge and collective wisdoms onto the shoulders of collective horrors and shallow foundations. I see so many adults talking to themselves on their cell phones – out loud oblivious to others, people buying cheap foreign made goods over things that will last and are locally sustainable. Unplug. With greater population we all will be Emo at least the music will be good.

  135. Adela, you do form a good argument, however, the things you speak of such as nuclear fall-out and the draft, getting hurt at work, not making enough money for food is still a complete possibility. I’m lacking a great perspective on women and their cultural influences, because plain and simply, I’m not one. The alienation in the terms of my speaking stems from the increase in technology. Teens especially need to form bonds with nature and the option of ease and dependence on technological advantages may prove dangerous later if things on this planet were to turn for the worse. I don’t know many teens that could grow their own food if our major supply chains were to unravel. And while its not the most obvious of dangers it still poses its own problem. The complete lack of understanding of nature, agriculture, subconsciousness, and with no real need to understand these things because the option to not is so much more easily gratifying. I understand how the internet can be a useful tool but as I grew up there was a greater sense of community now it has sub-sided slowly into a complete lack of one. The internet isn’t the sole contributor to that loss however it is not to be taken lightly the importance of real human interaction. Maybe its purely my opinion but I find technological communication quite impersonal but easier because of how easy it really is.

  136. “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.”

    “Poetry is more philosophical and of higher value than history; for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular. ”

    Aristotle
    One of the original punks as a kid, went against the standard, part of a definite subculture. Wasn’t like all the other Plato boys, always doing his own thing. Full of teenage angst at the early loss of his father. Was not happy with the status quo. Would have played guitar if born now no doubt. Emo is not just music and alternative apperance and attitude, it is philosophy of not being put into a mainstream catagory, thinking along different lines and pshing the envelope…though usually eventually becoming mainstream anyway.

  137. This is a definition of emo that I am painfully unaware of. The Aristotle I’ve studied is one of logic and calculation, for whom emotion is important, but also something to be dissected for understanding.

  138. Heh, I like this. I remember my high school years of not-so-long-ago and thinking “If emo is new… did Salinger have a time machine?”

  139. As a teenager in high school right now I would just like to say that I agree for the most part, and that this is a very interesting article.
    Of course I don’t feel emo or misunderstood so I suppose that’s why I don’t find much wrong with it.

  140. daftrhetoric: not so funny, and completely on point, if you consider the THE INTERNET turns 40 this year, and the World Wide Web will be 18 in August.

  141. I have to say, I totally agree with you. I’m eighteen and am, thankfully, fully aware that I’m not out of the ‘I’m-shit-for-brains-cos-of-hormones (amongst other things)’ phase. At least I’m able to look back on my earlier teenage years and agree they were a bit cringe-worthy . Revelations teenagers have aren’t unique to the individuals having them, but the life-stage they’re going through. Every generation of young adults have gone through changes like these, and some have been harder than others. It irritates me to see middle-class, white, American teens growing up NOW that they have an unparalleled and different experience. Like you said, their experience is just a reflection of those had in the last thirty or so years, changed slightly with the upgrades in technology. How my age group can claim that their existence is full of more trials and tribulations than of teens growing up in Europe during WWII, or the bubonic plague, or even today in third world countries stricken by modern-day plague and pestilence, is really beyond me. Kudos for calling them on it!

  142. I have two teenage daughters. They definitely think they’re sooooo different then any other generation. I have to bite my cheek so I don’t burst out laughing when they complain “You just don’t get it.”

  143. Hey, don’t diss hair metal! I’m 16 and I love 80s hair metal!
    What, a comment with content? Pff. Okay, I think your article is excellent.
    …*rocks out to Alice Cooper*

  144. Here I am, a fifteen year sulky and morose kid who scribbles terrible poetry into an ever-present notebook, and I can tell you that I completely agree with what youve said. Excellent post. I only wish that more people my age could understand all of this and get over the whole “Its all so different, no one has ever experienced this before, oh woe is me” thing. Once again, excellent post, and I shall go read more posts of yours now. Very witty and wise.

  145. “That is truly wonderful and also so sensible that every self-respecting teenager is going to shoot it down in flames at first sight.”
    -MikeBon AKA Poster No.1

    Hey! I am a self-respecting teenager!

    I am also aware that my writing is filled with Suck.

    I take no offense to any of your steps and agree that they are all very important to teaching me to reach the potential I may or may not have as a writer. In fact, I had already established in my head that I am only 17 and therefor can not be expected to have the literary prowess that is required to write a profitable stack of paper and ink.

    Your step one didn’t even phase me, what did however was the reaction to your help, and I think I know why.

    Today we have one thing your generation didn’t, something that has changed the growth of our entire generation, the internet. Through the use of the internet we teens have access to knowledge that people of your generation would have trouble finding. Also we can practice reading and writing through online groups at sites like “Fanfiction.net” where we teens can read “fanfics” and post our own, completely unaware of the almost universal standard of Suck they maintain.

    These websites give people who use them a firm sense of pride in what readers call their “great writing ability” which in reality is not that great, but don’t tell them I said that, because then they will leave long, long posts about me in their blog about how wrong I am.

    That pride in their writing ability leads these particular teens to think they have what it takes to write an actual book. But I predict it will also make it much, much more difficult for them to actually become successful writers, because they are so limited by their egos and that typical teen rebelliousness that has existed for generations.

    Man, that comment made me sound mature.

  146. 50 years ago, when I was a teenager, things were not so different. Most of us, while going about our 50s lives, wearing saddle shoes and listening to music that was transitioning from R&B to Rock’n’Roll, were quite sure that we were the “Last Generation” of teenagers and that all of us would, any minute, were going to be vaporized by a USSR bomb. Of course we all knew that the “duck and cover” we’d practiced all through elementary school would avail us nothing. McCarthyisn didn’t help either – being told that our government was riddled with Commies who were probably helping the Enemy prepare to bomb us back to the Stone Age, if we were lucky, wasn’t very comforting. Most of us are now grandparents and great-grandparents, smiling at the angst of today’s teens and knowing that “This, too, shall pass.”

  147. As a teen, I have two problems with this article:

    1.) Bauhaus is way better than Fall Out Boy, and there can be no comparison.
    2.) Shelley is way hotter than William Beckett, and there can be no comparison.

    But other than that, I agree completely.

  148. I, being a teenager just about to get into the more moody years, absolutely agree with this.

    Feel free to ignore my next bit, it’s me going off on a tangent (this is why I could never be any sort of a writer, I swear I have ADHD!)

    I’ve been told I’m almost emo, but I don’t quite have the right clothing, looks or music taste. I find that really amusing, that I can’t be emo just because I’m nonconformist! I think of myself as a teenager and nothing more… Because I can be slightly depressed (tired most of the time thanks to recurring insomnia.. probably not helped by staying up on the laptop) I get stamped with “emo” by some kids on my bus. Other kids stamp me with “geek” because I’m the only girl in my computing class and I’m in the extension class. There’s multiple other stereotypes I’ve been accused of being (most without any foot in fact!) and yet.. I don’t see the point of stereotypes really when most people are a mix of all of the above.

    The idea that the overall principal of being a teen.. well, as far as I can see, it’s pretty similar (however, I’m not exactly in any position to comment). I came on here reading your original article that sparked all this debate – the list of things teenage writers should know – and I agreed with all of it. (I came on here after being referred from deviantART, which I have a fair amount of “art” which also suffers from the teen Suck syndrome – or it could just be me. No idea.)

  149. Alright, I’m a 14 year old girl, so I’m pretty sure a lot of people are going to skip this comment, but I still feel compelled to give my opinion.

    A few months ago, I wrote an essay for school to a question that asked me, “Do you think being a teenager now is more difficult now than it was in the past, or is it easier?” It took me a long time to answer this, because I was so conflicted. In the end, though, I said that the difficulty of being a teenager has stayed the same. Sure, nowadays we don’t have to work with our parents on the farm to make a living(or at least most of us don’t) and there’s no segregation, but the feelings are the same. Teenagers still have that feeling of isolation, that feeling of not knowing what you want because every thought you have contradicts the other, those times where you say no one understands, even though you know that’s probably wrong. I’ve said it before, knowing that somewhere there are people going through the same things, and I’m definitely not the only one feeling this way. I’m not exactly sure what my point is, but I guess I’m trying to say that teenagers(and sometimes even adults) don’t really think rationally, because it’s more about feeling. When we’re mad, we hate everyone and everything in this world sucks. And when we’re happy, we feel hope that the whole world isn’t stupid or annoying. I say this as a teenager who’s not sure if it’s wrong or right, but it’s what I think at the time. I’m sure my opinion in this topic will change, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

    And by the way, I’m just saying here, that the reason teenager’s think adults “don’t understand” isn’t always because we think they don’t know how to keep up with the modern generation. It’s because we sometimes think that their memories aren’t enough for them to remember exactly what it’s like to currently feel those teenager-ish feelings.

    And, and as for your article giving writing advice, it was genius. I know my writing sucks, but I think that in the future, when I’m “all grown up” I can look back at my teenage writing and use those feelings. I know I don’t have an individual voice yet, but I want to keep writing to find that voice. And when I do find that voice, I’m gonna look back at my teenage feelings so that I can remember how a teenager thought and reacted to things, rather than using the blurry memories.

    Extremely long, contradictory, slightly confusing comment over.

  150. I think if you go any further back than a century or so, you’ll find teenage life was very different – basically, because people at the time thought you were basically grown up at age 15, at least enough to make some serious life decisions like choosing a profession or a spouse, or having kids. (That’s, for one thing, why previous centuries had more Mozarts and Joan-of-Arcs than we do. It’s easier to be a “child prodigy” when you’re treated like a mini-adult anyway.) For at least the past several decades, if not the past century, though, I’d say your maxim holds true, because with things like careers and marriages expected to happen later, teens are allowed to mature at a slower pace.

    To illustrate what I’m talking about on a smaller scale, note how in recent years, there’s been this whole phenomenon of the 20s as a “second adolescence.” Until rather recently, the 20s were seen as the time when you find your job, marry, and settle down (much as the late teens were seen that way in past centuries). Now, with more and more people going to college and then getting advanced degrees, the “settling down” date is pushed toward the early 30s in more educated circles.

  151. Sorry, love… I won’t take a stance on anything else you’ve said about teenage writing (mostly because I know you’re right and don’t want to admit it – cheers), but you’re absolutely wrong in this respect. I cannot agree with you in any way; being a teenager is always completely different in any two given time periods. No matter what.

  152. a student:

    Yeah, no. Unless you can show me the published scientific papers showing how adolescent physiological development changes drastically every decade or so, your absolute statement above falls flat on its face right out of the gate.

    Likewise, with reference to the culture in which we live, unless you can show me how the educational experience of high school is so immensely different every ten years or so, so as to have no significant point of reference to any other decade’s experience, your absolute statement above falls flat on its face a second time, almost immediately after picking itself up from its first faceplant.

    Those are two big ones; there’s lots of smaller points of confluence which knock the legs out of your absolute statement equally well.

    Today’s lesson: Absolute statements tend to fail absolutely.

    As noted in the original piece, in many ways teenagers today will have a different experience of being teenagers than other generations. But in many substantial ways, the experience will be similar to what other teenagers of other time periods have experienced as well. You’re special, but not that special.

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