“24 and there’s so much more”

Like becoming completely out of touch and irrelevant: Today on NPR on my drive to work, I heard a segment about Hot Topic, the chain of teen-focused mall stores that sell rebellious music-related clothing and other similar fashion merchandise. My initial reactions to this segment went something like this… “What the hell? I’ve never heard of that store before.” This gave way to, “Stupid kids! How can they let themselves get tricked into buying this crap by corporate AmeriKKKa and the evil record industry.” And then after listening to a kid who was shopping in the store explain why he was there (the store plays loud music and has cool stuff) and what he was looking for (a new Blink-182 T-shirt), it dawned on me: “Fuck. That could have been me when I was 17.”

I realized, right then and there that I’m old. (For the record, I turned 29 in December.) Not old in the sense of physically old, but old in that I have no idea what in the hell is going on in pop culture the way I used to, mostly because I’ve outgrown the demographic that most of it is aimed at. Is this a bad thing? Not really, but there is a corresponding effect that’s downright awful. I hate and resent the kids who are still in the loop, and pass this sickening judgment on them, of the sort that caused someone far younger than I now am to utter that ingenious phrase, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

Considering that I and most of the GloNo gang were the types of people who wore Smiths jean jackets in high school (alright, I wasn’t that cool, but I did wear a ridiculous jean jacket with a British flag backpatch, The Who logo, and lyrics from “The Real Me” written on the back of the collar), why can’t I “get” Hot Topic as an adult? It sounds like it’s just the cool store that I didn’t have in my crappy mall when I was a teenager. But my immediate reaction to hearing about Hot Topic for the first time isn’t to say, “Cool. Good for the kids that now they have this store” Instead, I get mad about the kids and the store. Why? Old and crotchety are the words that come to mind.

But, and this is a big “but”, is there actually some legitimacy to my outrage? Is the level to which teens are marketed to at such ridiculous levels that there’s no such thing as legitimate rebellion, as healthy teen angst? Can teens still lay waste to society through music without just being pawns in the game of the marketers? Do the marketers even matter? This is an issue we’ve touched on before on this site, but it bears bringing up again. My thoughts come down to a simple fact: I can’t even begin to think intelligently about Hot Topic and the kids who shop there because they might as well be Martians; I have lost even my slim toe-hold in the society of the young.

Thus, my new promise to myself and the kids: I’m done passing judgment on rebellion, I’m through with that “I’m more punk rock than you” ethos, I’m hereby embracing what the kids do even if it is largely a product of those hucksters at MTV.

That is, at least until I find the nerve to go hang out at the mall and figure out what’s really going on.

19 thoughts on ““24 and there’s so much more””

  1. The real difference between the kids today and when we were growing up is that you can’t get away from the fact that music is all about mass-marketing these days, and there really is no room for “rebellion.” The difference between wearing a Smiths jacket in 1987 and shopping for a Blink-182 t-shirt at a chain mall store is beyond obvious (as least those of us who aren’t ashamed of the “I’m more punk rock than thou” ethos), but the whole thing is that music has become so much more mass-produced and mass-communicated through MTV, lollapalooza-esque concerts, etc. Nonetheless, music is still a way of expressing identity. In some ways even more so today than ever before. Because music is so much more accessible, it has really become of way that kids define themselves. It’s cool that a kid in rural Iowa can go to the mall and get a t-shirt with his favorite band. and there really aren’t a lot of ways for teenagers to express themselves, and music is a healthy way to do that. so maybe what we’re saying is that the difference between the Smiths jacket and the Blink-182 t-shirt isn’t so obvious after all…cool article

  2. The real difference between the kids today and when we were growing up is that you can’t get away from the fact that music is all about mass-marketing these days, and there really is no room for “rebellion.” The difference between wearing a Smiths jacket in 1987 and shopping for a Blink-182 t-shirt at a chain mall store is beyond obvious (as least those of us who aren’t ashamed of the “I’m more punk rock than thou” ethos), but the whole thing is that music has become so much more mass-produced and mass-communicated through MTV, lollapalooza-esque concerts, etc. Nonetheless, music is still a way of expressing identity. In some ways even more so today than ever before. Because music is so much more accessible, it has really become of way that kids define themselves. It’s cool that a kid in rural Iowa can go to the mall and get a t-shirt with his favorite band. and there really aren’t a lot of ways for teenagers to express themselves, and music is a healthy way to do that. so maybe what we’re saying is that the difference between the Smiths jacket and the Blink-182 t-shirt isn’t so obvious after all…cool article

  3. There is another difference too. When “we” were kids it was fucking work to track down obscure (hence, the term) music. It was a badge to have a certain sleeve of a certain Smiths single. It was a sign of your committment to “alternative” or whatever we called it then. The Net makes it much easier to download or bid on rare shit.That and the fact that the alternative nation presided over by the Mayor of Truckville.

  4. I don’t think we can be pissed that music is more acceptable now. We can have the “indier than thou” attitude though. Who are we to complain about the more widespread availability of good music? Who that reads this site, doesn’t use the net to download rare tracks or to check out a band before purchasing an album? We’d still be working a lot harder to listen to the music that we love if we relied on tracking down all of our precious rarities at our local music store.I can still remember times when I’d trade tapes with friends in Canada, the UK, and around the states just to hear what’s latest and greatest. It was “cooler” to get new music that way, but a much bigger pain in the ass and I wouldn’t want to go back to it.If kids want to take the music that’s mass marketed to them today, that’s no different than the kids that were kicking it in the Tesla, Poison, and Madonna t-shirts in the 80’s. Just because Hot Topic is labeled as the “alternative store” doesn’t put on par with our idea of alternative. Alternative music has become pop music. It’s pop culture for teens. There are still teens out there that seek out their own music and their own styles. Hell, a kid a couple of months back was checking out my cds and recommended that I check the Mooney Suzuki. God, they’re great. Right now I think they’re recording their new album at Ghetto Recorders in Detroit.Wow, what the hell? I just read my post and it’s quite the rant. Sorry about that. I guess my summation is Alternative music and apparel of the masses of teens does not equate with our image of alternative. There’s still teens out there that are just as into rebellion and finding their own scene as we ever were.

  5. I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but it seems like the indie scene today is a lot more hardcore-obscurist than I ever was. Check out a few of these sites: http://www.ringsurf.com/netring?ring=indieblogs;action=list

    I’ve never heard of 99% of the bands these kids are writing about. Even if the info is right here at my fingertips via the web, I’m still not going to seek it out unless it’s recommended by someone I respect. Or unless I somehow hear it and like it, from somewhere crazy like at Abercrombie and Fitch or in a Gap ad…

    I think the “kids” today are more impressive because they seem to know a lot about a ton more bands than I ever did. I might have know everything about the Smiths and the Beatles and the Dead Milkmen, and traded bootleg tapes via airmail with kids in the UK, but these kids know everything about, like, a million different bands! Have you guys ever heard of HALF of the bands they mention on buddyhead.com?

  6. I don’t mean to say “back in my day we had to trade crappy tapes to get the good stuff” as any slam on teens today. I wish the Net was around for me back in ’89. I agree with you, Prop. Alternative is pop is mainstream is marketed is…As Jake often syas, “Who cares as long as it’s good?” and there are plenty of good bands put there.

  7. Yeah, I do get a kick out of the punksters that are teenagers. I have one that’s my cousin and he knows that I buy tons of music but gets entirely appalled if I haven’t heard of the latest hardcore/punk band out of Kansas City that, to me, sounds like every other band he’s played for me. I still have to respect his passion for it though.Sorry about the previous rant, it was partially spurned on by lack of motivation to get anything done here at work today.- nathan

  8. Those sites were really interesting, Jake. Yeah, although I think I listen to some pretty obscure indie bands, I haven’t heard of many of the bands they mentioned…But what struck me as even more interesting, made me feel even more disconnected was that I didn’t realize this trend of internet journals for teenagers. I kept a journal when I was a teenager (and still try to), but it’s wierd that these kids are posting their innermost private thoughts for random strangers to read — I would have died had anyone got a hold of my journals at that point in life. I am not sure how to think about that…being an adolescent psychologist in training, I feel as though I should be more in touch with these things. anyway, does anyone else think it’s kind of disturbing?

  9. Jeff: Don’t forget that the creation of Pop Culture now or then (in your time or mine) is not a function of “Them,” it is a function of “Us.” It is not something that Someone Else creates; it is what is created even in places like, well, this.

  10. There are those who are cutting/bleeding edge, those who aren’t cutting edge but can at least recognize it when it comes along (that’s me in a nutshell), and there are the sheepy masses who follow the crowd (the bulk filler of society, if you will). I think culture has been that way for ages, at least back to the Victorian era. Every generation has it and loses it. You can take cold comfort in the fact that 10-15 years from now all the kids of today will be wondering what happened to Hot Topic and the underground/alternative scene they were familiar with, and why they never heard of half these crazy-ass bands on the web nowadays. That’s already happened to me – I used to be all down with Husker Du, Skinny Puppy, Butthole Surfers, etc. Look at me now – I’m old and weak! As far as corporate hooks go, I think they’ve been sunk into youth culture for at least a couple of generations now. Once they figured out how to make a buck off the hippies it was all downhill from there. Now it’s all about how long something can last before it inevitably ends up at the Sears in South Dakota.Also, is teen angst and rebellion always a good thing? A lot of the ‘rebellion’ nowadays seems to prop up the status quo…

  11. I just finished reading Fred Goodman’s “Mansion on the Hill” about the evolution of the rock and roll business, and it’s a fascinating story. Yes, there were a lot of people into making a lot of money of the counterculture, but there were also a lot of people who were genuinely attempting to change the way Business works to jibe with their ideals. They failed, of course.

  12. I shop at Hot Topic and I’m 31 years old!! What’s not to get? I think the last thing I purchased there was a Deftones shirt.There are many differences today vs 20 yrs ago.1) technology. MP3s, CDs, the internet and computers have helped to spread music around. There was a time when stuff was hard to get. Until last year I never owned a Violent Femmes album that wasn’t a tape of a tape. Kids are deluged with different artists, genres, etc.2) Music is cheap. At least recorded music is. MP3s are floating on the net for free, and the relative price of CDs today vs. Vinyl 20 years ago is cheaper. I pay an average of $13.99 at my local shop for a new CD. In junior high I was paying about $10 for a vinyl album. Blank Tapes (good ones) used to cost several bucks a piece. Blank CDs cost just pennies today, so cheap that you don’t care if they get scratched…you just burn another one.3) The generation of kids in junior high and high school 20 years ago was one of the smallest, in absolute numbers, of the current 4 or so generations living in the US today. Todays Teens are part of the “new baby boom”. They are a larger, wealthier demographic group than the group I grew up with. Likewise, my parents generation was larger than mine. This means that people around the age of 30 are sandwiched between a bunch of old farts who corporations want to market to and a bunch of kids that they also want to market to. 4) Niche marketing, driven by technology which allows more detailed data analysis and consumer tracking by marketers, has led to a commercial cornucopia of music. 5) Kids today are also a bit more savy. Because the music industry is everywhere, and continually coopting “indie” movements and hits that have become part of our culture (ie. Doctor and the Tardies played at football games), kids today don’t have to sequester themselves in the dank hole of obscure Smiths teen culture. Kids today use pop culture itself as a way to rebel against the status quo. Hence, the hipster kids who think Weezer is a great “classic” emo band, recycle things like Spiderman, Choose Life t-shirts, Scooby Do cartoons, classic Atari Video games, etc. etc. adinfinitum. While it seems unoriginal to untrustworthy 30+ year olds like myself, to them there is a subtle message of context that is completely lost on the adults who are decades out of step.I could go on and on, but I have to get back to work.Peace

  13. Funny, my website is an indieblog and I guess me and my friends do talk about some obscure bands, but I don’t know. Hot topic sells some tee shirts and CDs of bands I like, but still its cooler to buy them at shows. It is wierd to see your subculture go mainstream and then notice all the industry guys taking notes at shows. Corporate America will attempt to make money off of whoever they can. That’s the point of capitalism and all, but something in me believes it is better that Hot Topic is selling tee shirts and music from bands that are resonably talented. What is unfortunate is when Hot Topic drives out your local indie/punk/emo/hc record store. In providence, there is Contrast Records, a shop which sells some of the stuff you can get at hot topic and a whole lot more, but in really suburban places there is nothing like that. I guess kids can just order it off the internet, but for them, Hot topic serves a purpose. I just hate to see pop culture bought and sold. At least Hot Topic gives people with excessive piercings and tattos a place to work…

  14. I heard the story on NPR and was pissed off for at least 32 minutes. Muttering under my breath. Etcetera.And so as a thirty-year old, ex-rebel now a father, husband, and (in public at least) stand-up guy, I’d like to weigh in on the side of being old and crotchety — as a social responsibility.I couldn’t have been a punk ass kid without some old SOB standing in antithesis to me. Ying and yang baby. So my official stance is: “these kids today are just zombies; they shovel consumer products in one orifice, it comes out the other a pale yellow paste. The marketers of muzakland just keep getting better and better, smoother and smoother–like an evolving virus. May their vapid empty souls burn in hell, along with all their lousy music!” I mean that. With all my heart.At the same time: That’s what they said about me back in the day. Part of the cycle of life. I can accept that.For whatever reason–technology, increased economic activity and greater diffusion of wealth, post-modern angst the urge to drown ourselves in white noise, whatever–the way we experience time is speeding up. On that level, Hot Topic is a brilliant idea. Just a new epoch, I guess. And not my own. The bitch is that the differences between generations are becoming more marked more swiftly. My mom could (almost, or sometimes) relate to my tastes when I was a teen. I cannot even hold a conversation with my 22-year-old neighbor, even when we are both drunk.Me, I plan on sitting on my porch in the afternoons with my dentures out, drunk, my mangy ass dog at my side, and yelling at the punk kids to get the hell off my lawn as I watch the world go to hell in a handbasket.It’s almost a duty, I think.gP.S. I think what bothered me the most was that 30/40-something-marketing b—- describing the Hot Topic marketing philosophy. P.P.S. Discussions of most pop music and taste or artistic merit are pointless. The vast majority of pop music sucks. Blink whateverthefuck they are and Asia, for example, will both end up burning in hell.

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