23 January 2014 by

'Adults Consume Like Teenagers Now': Jon Savage On New Documentary, Teenage

A still from Teenage

Praised by Lena Dunham and featuring the voices of Ben Whishaw and Jena Malone, Teenage is a fascinating documentary about the birth of adolescence. We spoke to screenwriter Jon Savage whose book Teenage: The Creation Of Youth 1845- 1945 formed the basis for the film.

Where did you get the idea for Teenage?

In 1976 I went to see the band The Runaways and noticed that the audience were full of young people who were wearing clothes from the 40s to the 70s and they’d ripped them up to create a ‘living collage’ look. They were combining Teddy Boy outfits with Zoot suits. The mixing of time and cultures blew my mind. I had been alerted to the idea that pop culture had a past which made me think about being a teenager. Later on I found a book called Adolescence by G. Stanley Hall from 1904, which was the first time anyone had written about youth culture. That was the start of the book.

When did that transform into an idea for a film?

Well in 1981 I worked in television and was asked to prepare an episode about subcultures. I did a pilot about Teddy Boys. It never went any further but I kept hold of that idea.

The idea of ‘the teenager’ feels predominately American

Well it’s an American invention that came about at the end of World War 1. There was this view of youth as destructive and it coincided with ideas of youth self-determinism and consumerism which are tied into the American way of life.  

I think the other trigger was mass production and urbanisation.  It was about kids who had money is their pocket and the feeling that they could do whatever they wanted.

How do you think youth culture has changed now?

The main shift is that adults consumer like teenagers now so the idea of ‘the teenager’ has broadened out. My parents didn’t buy records and now parents and children buy the same things. 

At the same time the government are downgrading youth culture with unpaid interns and unemployment. It’s disastrous for this country because adolescences are important and have something to say.

What affect do you think social media has had on youth culture?

It’s had a profound affect. The acceleration of media and the growth of the ‘faster, faster, faster’ culture will eventually wreck people’s heads. It’s overwhelming. People will get bewildered by information overload.

Teenage is out on Friday


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