I have always found myself absorbed in generations I’ll never know, attempting to connect to movements I’ll never be a part of, nostalgic for a time I’ll never experience. But it’s not a wistful look to a bygone era, it’s a desire to understand where I’m going. As someone on the brink of real adulthood, well past adolescence but freshly into a new chapter of life, I find myself reflecting back on the years in between, wishing I could retrace my steps. Never having truly appreciated the freedom and spark of youth, always longing for adulthood, if I knew then what I know now, would I have allowed myself to just enjoy it? Would I have been so afraid? Now, at the age of 22, I’m constantly wondering where to place myself. If this was the 1930s, I would have been an “adult” for years now, possibly married off and succumbing to whatever societal standards were set in place for me, or perhaps fighting against those standards. Either way, I wouldn’t have had the luxury of making the mistakes and having the experiences of being a teenager, because the cultural construct of a teenager had yet to even come into existence.
It’s strange to believe, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that there was a flourishing youth culture, and with Matt Wolf’s fantastic new documentary Teenage, he uncovers the history of youth’s origins, examining the birth of the teenager. Based on punk author and critic Jon Savage’s 2007 book Teenage: the Creation of Youth Culture 1875-1945, he and Wolf worked together to create a living collage of the 20th Century roots of the teen, weaving together archival footage and subjective voiceover narration, interspersed with recreated footage from the time period to tell their story.
Matt Wolf, Jon Savage, & Jason Schwartzman On the Birth of Youth Culture & Their New Film, ‘Teenage’