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Why Johnny can't rebel

JOEL STEIN

October 03, 2006|JOEL STEIN | jstein@latimescolumnists.com

KIDS TODAY are no good. They have failed to fulfill the basic responsibility of every generation: to offend their parents. After Coltrane, Elvis, the Grateful Dead, the Sex Pistols and NWA, they came up with The Killers and 50 Cent -- who sound just like the groups I grew up with. The most daring kids pierce their eyebrows and get tattoos -- which my friends in high school did 20 years ago. Maybe not my friends, but people I saw in the halls. You can't convincingly represent Hungary at the Model United Nations with a pierced eyebrow.

Neal Pollack, who dresses his 4-year-old son, Elijah, in rock T-shirts and is the author of the upcoming book "Alternadad," believes that this generation of parents is unshockable. "If my son can invent a new form of music that I'm offended by, I'm going to be very proud of him," he said. "Which shows how hard it's going to be to offend me." His son's best chance, he believes, is to attend that place in the "Jesus Camp" movie. If he keeps dressing Elijah in Franz Ferdinand T-shirts, I think he's got a fair shot.

"They've let us down," said Chris Noxon, author of "Rejuvenile," about the creatively laziest group of teens in history. "If you listen to indie rock today, it all sounds like Joy Division, and I can get down with that. That's the stuff I was listening to in junior high school. Everything is a regurgitation of what happened five minutes ago, thanks to VH1."

Noxon claims that there is, in fact, creepy, weird music -- which I'm guessing is made by bald, gay German men -- but teenagers aren't latching on. "It's all about the impulse," Noxon said. "You have to hate your parents first. As adults act more like kids and go to the Pixar movies and wear skater shorts and go to the Boom Boom HuckJam, it engenders more goodwill. Parents have a lot more credibility." The culture wars might never have happened if Ozzie and Harriet had just gone to the Boom Boom HuckJam.

Noxon paints a utopia where kids bang their little heads right next to their dads at the Kidzapalooza festival. He says that the idea of rebelling against your parents only dates back to the flappers, and it didn't really take off until the '50s. "It's not nature that did it. Maybe kids don't necessarily have to hate their parents and express their hate through music and fashion." As I'm sure he'll find out in a few years, kids can, however, express their hate by writing anonymous negative reviews on amazon.com.

Everyone is blaming my generation for not growing up -- wearing Ed Hardy T-shirts and Diesel jeans, blasting the White Stripes out of our minivans. But it's not our fault. Why would anyone choose to grow up when no one has bothered to make youth look as dirty and scary as it really is? I think about today's kids myspacing and texting votes for "American Idol" contestants and I think: I could beat them up. Teenagers can't even come up with a new drug, sticking to '60s pot and '80s coke and '90s ecstasy, though (to give them credit) avoiding '70s angel dust. "Grand Theft Auto" seemed promising until I tried it and saw how tedious it is. You can't rebel by killing pixilated hookers when it takes four hours.

If my generation ever hopes to grow up, we have to work harder to make our kids hate us. More timeouts. That rule where schools replace birthday cupcakes with carrots and festively decorated seat covers seems perfect. Naming girls Nevaeh was also brilliant. So is pumping out lots of carbon dioxide. Hot kids get cranky.

With a little effort, our kids might yet create some kind of atonal, white supremacist, jihadist electronica that samples Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas. "I can't believe we've extinguished our ability to shock," Noxon said. "Something has to come up. We're sick people."

I hope he's right. These Juicy jeans kind of bunch up in the front.

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