Wow. Four days since I last blogged. Back then I was young, naive and optimistic. The world was an exciting place and possibilities were endless. I was leaner and lighter, the lines etched on my face weren't so deep. Now, older and not necessarily wiser, the horizons have narrowed and death is that bit closer.
Still, at least the teaching keeps me in touch with the world of 'the youth', though the first-years fresh from school were born while I was studying(ish) for my first degree and the cultural gap widens rapidly. It's fascinating seeing what they know of the 90s: they recognise but don't watch The Simpsons, whereas Friends is widely watched still, though to me it looks impossibly dated (and I hated it back in the day too). I guess I watched some 70s comedy in the 90s: To The Manor Born, Yes, Minister, The Good Life and several others, though not always by choice. With one TV in the house, we watched whatever my parents or grandparents wanted. Though I still adore Yes Minister.
My students watch remarkably little TV, and rarely on an actual television: they have access to so much programming without the constraints of technology or time. In some ways it's liberating: the past is as immediate as the present, though without the context it means something different. In other ways, the dislocation is disorienting. For instance, most of my students have never heard of BBC Radio stations 2, 3, 4 or 6, and tend not to listen to 1 or 5 unless they're football fans. BBC TV 2 and 4 may as well not exist, and channels themselves mean relatively little: it's programmes that matter. They never read newspapers other than Metro on the bus, and have never watched a news broadcast. I discovered this when lecturing about genre the other day. In the course of explaining the characteristics of a news programme, I played this opening clip, expecting laughter:
Laughter came there none: not having ever seen a real news broadcast, with its portentous music, pompous graphics and demanding editing, they didn't realise that this was a parody, and assumed it was news.
This isn't their fault, of course: contemporary news broadcasts make The Day Today ('bagpiping fact into news') seem less parodic than prophetic. Plus, most of them are young and I'm acutely aware that being a teenage news junkie made me less than normal. It's tempting to dismiss them as ignorant and incurious about the outside world, but wrong: they do have concerns, but aren't well-served by news media (especially outlets aimed at young people) and don't have the social and cultural capital to make news relevant. News happens elsewhere and features the activities of other people. My students are on the receiving end of political activity, but their disenfranchisement is so complete that knowledge, in their case, isn't power. Or so it seems, anyway. The media economy isn't really set up to engage the young masses anyway: in a world of corporate power, reducing citizens to passive consumers is pretty much the game plan. Why give them the means to hold power to account when you can distract them with the opium of the people, whether that's religion or Angry Birds?
It is frustrating: I'm always trying to encourage them to read newspapers, watch the news or engage with the world outside home and the university, but the immediate rewards are pretty low, frankly. It's partly a regional and class thing: while the children of privilege in élite universities are being trained to rule, it's hard to persuade my students that they too are equal citizens with a valid voice: because however much I'd like it to be true, it definitely isn't: they don't have the social capital to succeed en masse in a competitive society. That's why I see education as an act of civil resistance. We could do the empowering thing like an intellectual Oprah, or we can flag the inequalities inherent in the system to rile them up. I try both at different times, but it's hard to beat generations of internalised acquiescence.