The Autistic Lens

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How 30 Years Later, the "Teenage Wasteland" Hasn't Improved: A Generational Indictment

Hello there! I'm going to preface this with the disclaimer that I have no idea how to review a book, and that this is not a review so much as commentary from a generation that didn't exist when the book was writen.

So, I've been trying to read every book I own. That led me to Donna Gaines "Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids". It was published in 1991. It exists because of a mass suicide that happened in Bergenfield, NJ, in 1987. Gaines, who would've been in her late 30's during the reporting, befriended a group of teens to figure out just what was wrong with the youth of the day.

As it turned out, the 80's fucking sucked for teenagers who weren't smart or rich enough for college. That's the decade that income inequality started skyrocketing and the expectations for kids to go to college was beginning to grow out of reach not due to lack of talent, but lack of funds. The book was written by a Baby Boomer for others of their generation about the first cohort of Gen X (a term not mentioned until the afterward, added in '97), commonly known as the baby bust. Reading it as a millennial is just depressing, because you see where everything started. Except now, everything is accelerated.

Today, the job market for recent college graduates feels like an echo of the landscape for high school graduates back then; the difference is, one cohort has debt while competing against those that don't. I myself was lucky that my dad could pay for college; no idea if I'll ever be able to go to grad school due to the sheer cost. The minimum wage in 1991 was $4.25/hr...it is now $7.25/hr, which it has been at for 10 years...so in almost 30 years, the minimum wage has risen...$3 whole dollars. This would be fine if it enabled people a living wage, if average rents and food prices had only risen $3. And that's not even considering those living on the tipped minimum, which is still $2.13/hr. Yes, employers are supposed to make up the difference, but we all know that doesn't always happen.

I'm sorry if this is a rant kinda all over the place, that's how my mind works, I usually get to my point by the last paragraph.I think it's perfect that the book was given to me by a friend who is a "xennial" born in '83, 10 years older than I am. He has an advanced degree because a long time ago librarians wanted to feel exclusive so they made an advance degree necessary to...organizing books? I know y'all do other things, but we all know that easily be a bachelor's level entry profession. My point is, he struggled to find a job in his field and is barely surviving Shit is fucked.

Meanwhile, the kids in this book are all now in their prime earning years, currently 39-55, and the generation the media forgets about all the time; the media finds middle age unexciting, especially when Boomers still own the majority of wealth in the country. Basically, Gen X got fucked, and then we came along and got even more fucked. Seriously, there was a recent chart in Wa'Po showing generational wealth. I believe we are 5x behind where X'ers were around this age, but like 20x behind Boomers or something. I'm typing this on my phone, otherwise I'd add a link.

Anyway, it was neat to read a book about Gen X as teenagers. Talked a good deal about music as religion and all the weird satanic panic that went on in 80's, which was largely overblown by parents and the media. I think "satanteens" is such an apt descriptor, truly. Kids latch on to things that give them a way to be different, to rebel, to feel belonging. Few were actually earnest satanists. It's definitely a book critical of the government policies of the 80's, how kids were labeled as disturbed and shuffled to vocational schools so more resources could be spent on the promising ones, how kids and teens have such little agency and society wants to infantilize them until they do wrong, and then punish them like adults. It's a great book, but it's depressing because nothing has improved, it's just been dressed differently or increasing, a snowball running down an endless hill.



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