The Age Demanded.

The phrase used in the title above I believe first appears in the poem "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" (1920) by Ezra Pound, in which it states, "The age demanded an image/ Of its accelerated grimace". However, it was also later used as the title of a poem by Ernest Hemingway in 1922.
Anyway, this little phrase, and also Hemingway's poem, got me thinking, after writing in my last post about public reactions to the recent riots, just what our own age "demands", which in itself may be a little demanding for me, and I would say these are just a few thoughts on the subject, and aren't intended to be some kind of exhaustive analysis.
I thought I would concentrate on the young, as it appears that most of those involved in the rioting were young people, some mere children at only 11 years old. So, as I remarked in my previous post, people have launched out on countless lines of speculation as to what might be going wrong with our younger generation, most of the public seeming to advocate more discipline with a return to things like conscription, corporal punishment and some even the use of "the birch".
To my mind, though, a return to these kind of, in some instances, almost medieval, punishments is not at all the answer and I think that many of the older generation underestimate the pressures faced by our young.
For a start, it seems, the younger generation are constantly bombarded with images and messages from advertising and the media which continually tell them what they should aspire to be. For those at the lower end of the economic scale, such idealised images contrast harshly with everyday reality, and yet there they are, every day, suggesting that to be accepted or to "belong" requires that you have this or that particular product.
Indeed, the whole of our society seems to be based around the acquisition of money and things. How do you become respected? Through having money and owning stuff.
However, for many, the means with which to go about getting what you want, or what you are taught to think you want, are being continually eroded. Inroads for the poor to education now appear to be getting narrower, with only those who can afford to come out of university with an enormous amount of debt being able to go there. Unemployment is high and, increasingly, with government cuts, support for those who find themselves in such situations is being taken away. Even speaking for myself, at the age of nearly 40 and having had a long-term illness, I can say that while the government advocates a return to work for many in my situation, one wonders where the jobs are and what support is out there to achieve the goal of actually gaining employment. It seems that we are having a carrot constantly dangled in front of us, only to have it rudely snatched away in some kind of perverse, sarcastic game.
Add to that that the government seeks to blame such socio-economic ills on the poor and vulnerable, forever suggesting that people like myself are cheating the system and getting something for nothing. And the public appear to swallow this and thus ask for more and more stringent measures. The young working-class also, it seems, do not escape this sort of demonisation, consistently being portrayed as feckless, lazy, even criminal yobs. The ubiquitous image of "the hoody", causing trouble for everyone, has now become, in my area at least, a sort of short-hand to describe what young people are like. We have even managed to criminalise their behaviour in the form of the ASBO. Growing up around such a negative image cannot be easy, even if you are not in any way like what others seem to think you are. Having had experience of schizophrenic illness, I can attest to the difficulties caused by such stereotyping.
People also often speak of role-models. But who are the role-models of today? Those in authority would appear to consistently let us down. MPs lie and cheat themselves. The banking crisis revealed truly reckless and greedy behaviour on behalf of what must be some of the richest people in our country, but where is the punishment for them? And yet, it is some of these very people in authority who say that it is our standards that have dropped. That it's really all the fault of a certain "sick", as David Cameron put it, section of society.
So, I think that our society sends out many conflicting messages to our young people, and if it upsets a burgeoning 40 year old, I can only imagine what it must be like to grow up amidst all this, where you must see your opportunities constantly dwindling and your hope slowly fading.
I must say then, I concur with the message in Hemingway's poem, which I shall print in its entirety here:
"The age demanded that we sing
And cut away our tongue.

The age demanded that we flow
And hammered in the bung.

The age demanded that we dance
And jammed us into iron pants.

And in the end the age was handed
The sort of shit that it demanded."           


klahanie said…
Dear David,
As you are very aware, the plight of the youth and the stereotypical labels is something that has caused much concern in my household.
We see the lack of role-models with any tangible morals, come up with hypocritical statements.
Sadly, at present, my own unemployed lad, even with his qualifications, feels an overwhelming sense of despair and resentment to those who turn a blind eye to corrupt bankers and MP's who fiddle their expenses.
A provocative posting that I can relate too.
With hopes for a better, more equal, more understanding future, for all of us.
In kindness, Gary
David said…
Dear Gary,
I am, of course, aware of your own situation, and can sympathise with it.
I don't have the answers to all this, and my "provocaitve" post was just some passing thoughts, and I feel I have said enough about all this now, so I shall leave this comment just with a thank you for understanding my own pint of view.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,

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