Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Imagining Youth

"The discourses of the state, the mass media, pundits and professional commentators tend, on the whole, to position Middle Eastern youth as lacking in agency, needing protection and requiring the tutelage of state institutions, experts and the nationalist intelligentsia. " (Ted Swedenburg, Imagined Youths)

In his article on the symbolisms that 'the youth' encapsulate, Swedenburg makes some interesting connections between youth culture, youth as a threat to nationhood, and mass media in a way that resonated to me with Anderson's Imagined Communities. Swedenburg posits that in the West, 'the youth' are seen as a group that poses a potential threat, and thus need to be educated and given responsibility and employment as soon as possible. We can see this symbolism as having manifested itself in the latter part of this century, where 'youth' and 'rebellion' were associated with one another from the time of the Vietnam draft evasions to the Kent State shootings to the punk rock era. 

He contrasts that image of trouble that serves as the underlying connotation of Western youth with a Middle Eastern view of youth that renders the youth as passive and in need of care. Swedenburg argues that Western media, and the culture it channels, pose a threat to the Middle Eastern youth. This 'cultural invasion' implies a vulgarity that threatens to corrupt young adults, and thus warrants protection from the state. I found it interesting too that Swedenburg draws our attention to how the recent uprisings in the Middle East have created a tension between a perception of youth as 'victims' or perpetrators of violence and unrest. 'The youth' has certainly become a strong group to identify with - it was the social media generation that contributed to the Arab spring and elected President Obama to office in 2008. 

In light of Professor Muhanna's lecture, I am left wondering how these perceptions of youth in the public consciousness of the Middle East will factor into the forging of new democracies and states focusing on building a future. Will the social media generation in the Middle East become influenced by Western culture because of today's fast flow of communication, or will the youth cling to heritage and the traditional? And will the categorization of 'youth' as a group become an identity that spans across countries and borders?

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