Youth Gone Wild
A recent article, rather innocuous in nature but deserving of scrutiny, bleeped onto my radar and I have to admit that I got a chuckle out of it. Apparently, there was a minor controversy over a clothing designer using imagery meant to conjure up a visual proclamation of military service while having the audacity to keep all of the profits for himself rather than pass along some of the proceeds to a bonafide veterans group.
In all honesty, I am uninterested in that aspect of the story, but am truly intrigued with the other part of the story: Clothing which explicitly says veteran being marketed to an intended demographic which, on the young end, is not old enough to serve in the United States Armed Services and why they would wear a piece of clothing which claims, in some instances, this false glory.
The desired market is males between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four who have supposedly mastered something and are a ‘veteran’ in an area of purported significance. Sure, there are always stand-outs and we do have real life veterans in that age group, but a misguided attempt to claim something which is not deserved is somewhat pathetic.
The subject is deemed sensitive enough that it has garnered a political war to be waged on the legality of this type of misrepresentation for personal gain. These kids running around saying they’re veterans, when they’re not, would be like me going around telling people that I was independently wealthy, which I’m not, and what good would they or I be doing by saying that other than creating an illusion? I could try to impress people, but what have I done for myself by being deceptive for no reason other than to boost my ego over something that I know is inherently inaccurate? At a base level, I think, many people understand this concept and why honesty is important. However, this idea of an illusion seems to be becoming the norm and the intent for today’s youth.
My father and I have spoken many times about how each generation seems to get further and further from truth and reality. Those conversations are typically biblical in nature and revolve around the idea that our country is losing sight of God, and thus purpose. I think that this creates a gap or an emptiness aching to be filled and when this vacuum is created, when meaning is absent from our lives, then self-centeredness will fill that void. It reminds me of the adage about idle hands.
It is my opinion that, as people lose purpose and fill their lives with meaninglessness as the adage says, deep down they know that there is a deficiency and furthermore, feel the need to promote something no matter how insignificant. Now, do I think that everyone buying a ‘Veteran’ t-shirt, who is not actually a veteran, is a selfish, deficient heathen? No, but it seems that we live in a world of entitlement and self-importance and a facade is constantly being constructed to make younger generations feel as if they have accomplished something meaningful when, in fact, they have not. Children are being told that they are special more than they are being told ‘no.’ When everyone in the league gets the same trophy then the trophy is an illusion of accomplishment. When everyone passes to the next grade level regardless of their marks, then the A+ student’s real achievement is cheapened. However, tell a 12th grader who cannot read that he cannot read and you just committed an offense against his or her sensibilities.
We live in a culture where our kids are shielded from reality to the point where it is now impacting the very reality that they will face. Recent studies show that over the last forty years or so, teenagers, while given less school work than their predecessors, perceive that they are ‘A’ students even though the facts suggest otherwise. In addition, we refuse to let our kids grow up. Somehow we have even reached the point where kids can stay on a parent’s health insurance policy until they are pushing thirty years old and this is described by politicians as a right rather than a privilege. Everything is given while little is earned, yet one is encouraged to feel good about not earning what he has been provided. We are turning into a society of narcissistic, under-educated lemmings, but we think that we rival the mental agility of the Babylonians. Add social networking sites into the mix and the younger generation will even tell you that they fancy themselves as being over-confident self-promoters. Look no further than Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter and within a couple of minutes you will find someone displaying their ego, for the world to see, in their never-ending attempt to gain more followers, to gain recognition, to gain fame.
Ironically, while we are teaching our kids to be this way, we shake our heads in disbelief at their antics. Television commercials and ever-present advertisements tell us that we deserve what we desire while, conversely, society increasingly tells us that we shouldn’t desire what we possess. Is there any reason to believe that some hipster wouldn’t act resentful when told his faux cowboy hat is anything less than awesome? Kids are always telling us how cool they are because they have been told they are cool their entire lives. They are told that their dereliction is independence and that their detachment is admirable. They are given the world for little more than existing, so it should come as no surprise that a disenfranchised youth will occupy city streets because they feel their fair share is being withheld.
Think about what we do to ourselves when it comes to something as simple as personal finances. In his article “Drowning in debt — American arithmetic,” Donald Quinn hits the nail on the head when he points out that “Americans have spent more than their fair share on credit cards, are underwater in our mortgages, and simply cannot afford the higher cost of living that seems to be the blight of American society.” Our generation is digging a hole to China with debt. Money is spent on houses we can’t afford, cars we can’t afford, and meals out that we can’t afford because we feel entitled ourselves. In many of these cases, we haven’t earned the money yet but are willing to gamble our future on the idea that we will. Then, we have the gall to tell our elected officials and future generations to act in a manner which contradicts our own lifestyles, choices and spending habits. We have set an example, but look down on our kids when they emulate our actions.
So, you can understand my interest being peaked at the idea of a group of young adults who will wear a piece of clothing symbolizing one of the greatest sacrifices one can offer to his or her countrymen and wear it with a straight face. Then again, why be offended? We have taught them that undeserved recognition is the norm by relentlessly rewarding mediocrity. Inappropriately displaying medals of honor is not a disease, but rather a symptom of a larger decay. Are youth to blame for this decay or are they simply living within the bounds of the rules that we have created? My guess is that as we move further from our heritage, values, and an unwavering truth, this amusing non-controversy surrounding a questionable clothing fashion is just the tip of the iceberg.