This week the Bluewater Shopping centre announced a ban on hooded
tops to deter young crims from thieving and general yobbery. John Prescott supported the move and said he had almost been a victim of youthful yobbery: 'happy slapping', hitting someone and filming their reaction on your mobile.
This sounds entirely plausible: who wouldn't like to give Prescott a slap? In fact, he's lucky he doesn't get slapped 24/7. Slap, slap, slap. It would be great. You could put it on a webcam, never mind a phone.
The Bluewater ban is yet another reminder of the fact that Society Is Going To The Dogs In A Handcart, a trend supported by another series of reports that today's teenagers are a bunch of sexual degenerates. (If anyone knows of a good way to meet teenage sexual degenerates, please let us know. Just so long as they're not too spotty.)
Every paper reported the story that teenagers are bunking off school to do 'daisy chaining' (having group sex) while some teenage girls are forced to perform sexual favours because of 'gang culture', ie. wanting to keep in with their gang.
Taken together, it all paints a picture of teenage life that is a world away from the traditional one of homework, wank fantasies about the fit teacher and worrying about spots. But is it really this terrible?
The daisy chaining story is particularly interesting. It originates at the Royal College of Nursing's annual conference, where a single speaker raised the issue (another speaker raised the rather more disturbing issue of having sex to keep in with your gang, and a number of other speakers raised general concerns about teenage sex, particularly the risk of STIs and pregnancy.)
The speaker, a school nurse, said she had heard 'reports' of daisy chaining taking place. How many wasn't clear, but the entire press picked up on the story and started portraying daisy chaining as a fact of contemporary teenage life. The (INSERT WEARY SIGH HERE) Daily Mail went particularly barmy, rushing out a series of features about teenage promiscuity and drug taking in general, using a number of case studies of private schoolboys who said they were shagging around and taking cocaine. This is classic Daily Mail manipulation: the teens in question were 16+, which is exactly the time lots of people experiment with drugs and sex, but the articles implied this was connected with daisy chaining. The Mail also filled its pages with pictures of snogging, groping teenagers - invariably accompanied by the disclaimer 'pictures posed by models'.
For some reason daisy chaining reminded us of something that happened back in the 1970s - the skinhead scare. There was an urban myth in circulation in the dark days of strikes and shit hair that skinhead gangs were targeting schools, arriving en masse to slash people. There is at least one instance of a school being closed for the day because of this myth. This contributor remembers a similar bit of urban mythology from their own small hometown around the same time: that skinheads had stripped someone naked and super-glued them by their hands to a local railway bridge, leaving them dangling precariously over a busy road.
This story was universally accepted by us schoolkids, and also by quite a few adults. Of course, it never happened. Something like this would have made the national news, and would almost certainly have resulted in a number of convictions. It's also surely no coincidence that at this time Super Glue was a real novelty. Glue your hands together and you would NEVER be able to separate them.
Now, we're not disputing that skinhead violence and daisy chaining are real, actual things that have happened. But did they, or are they, really happening in the way that they are being portrayed? In the case of daisy chaining, is it really so prevalent?
Almost certainly not. We're not saying daisy chaining is made up, but schoolchildren do talk crap. When you were a kid you would relate any fanciful story, however improbable. Another skinhead story from this contributor's youth was that local skins were having sex in a wood adjoining the school. Not implausible in itself, but the 'skinheads' were using balloons as contraceptives. All the kids at school accepted this as a fact, but with hindsight you have to wonder how easy it is to get your knob inside a balloon. And indeed why you'd bother. Still, it would have made sex with condoms the last word in thrilling
That some teenagers have had group sex isn't surprising. What issurprising is that scatalogical, unreliable, anecdotal evidence is being presented as a massive trend. Teenagers are probably more 'sexualised' than ever before, and teen pregnancy is a genuine problem, but are there hundreds of teen orgies taking
The alternative view is that the various claims about feckless, promiscuous, criminal teenagers are largely true, in which case there are some things that are seriously wrong with society. And if you live in an area with a genuine teenage crime/anti-social behaviour problem, you'll realise that petty yobbery is a real
But the whole daisy chaining phenomenon seems a little bit too convenient. And frankly it taps into the popular notion that today's teens are having a lot more fun than earlier generations. Plus there's something slightly unhealthy about all these pictures in the papers of teens snogging - how many middle-aged readers are actually thinking 'This is a terrible cheapening of the sexual act', and how many are thinking 'She's fit. Jammy bastard'?
If daisy chaining is wildly exaggerated, then it's yet another example of how proficient the UK's press has become at creating its own reality. Frankly we're getting a bit sick of this, because when national newspapers are presenting the Bible Code as either fact or deserving of genuine investigation, why should we believe anything else we read in them?
And like the Bible Code, we'll be able to tell if daisy chaining is a genuine problem simply by observing its shelf life in the papers. Last year the Bible Code was huge - and then it just slowly drifted out of the press's attention, never to return.
We've got a feeling daisy chaining might go the same way...