Bookblog: Teenage Mystique + Entitlement = ??

I’d propose the answer is bullying, although the equation is of course not that simple. My private research has suffered a little recently as I’ve been preoccupied with rehearsals for “Hamlet” at the ART and with the neverending funding search for my upcoming study at UF. However, I’ve been able to keep up with a sprawling, if a little dry, overview of the cultural construction of the adolescent, The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, by Thomas Hine.

With a core thesis that teenagers are not an inherent division of the human life cycle (not that there are any), Hine, primarily a historian and greatly influenced by Erik Erikson, takes us on a journey through America from the Puritans to the Millenials, tracing the development and alteration of the teenage persona in accordance with the sociocultural, psychosocial, and political factors of the times. As discussed by Jean Twenge, the children of the baby boomers were taught an attitude of entitlement. But boomers themselves never would have imparted that ethos were they not themselves the product of a blossoming teenage “character” seeded by the post-Industrial Revolution and spurred by 1920s pop culture. Moreover, this new age group had little to do with the creation of the high school, although that institution became not only the venue but the instrument of the eventually exclusive youth culture.

I do not have time at the moment to discuss Hine’s illuminating stories and incisive historical analysis, but even before my thoughts have finished coalescing, it seems apparent that the necessary separation of a heterogeneous high school from working society, combined with entitlement, has not only enabled the spoiling of Americans who are excluded from the labor force, but the cementing of a youth culture that is so long divided from the real world that it never truly leaves the real world.

Wow, lotta long sentences tonight. I guess I’m in a flow mood.

This bookblog to be continued. Then I begin reading the work of foremost bullying expert Barbara Coloroso.


Linkblog: Can we stop diagnosing and start solving?

As anyone slightly familiar with psychiatry knows, psychiatrists reference a text called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders both when diagnosing the source of their patients’  troubles and when determining how to treat them. Among the DSM’s many criticisms is that it enforces cultural stereotypes and its use is subject to the observer’s biases. In addition, the particular sets of symptoms have undergone alteration over the years (the next edition, DSM-5, is to be released next year), and even the names of disorders are cleaned up or rearranged, such that someone diagnosed with multiple personality disorder years ago would be described as having a “dissociative identity” now, and someone termed schizophrenic before may be bipolar, manic depressive, dissociative, or chronically depressed now.

The problems with defining mental problems have been dramatized endlessly in films, plays, and TV shows, and one in particular is the most compelling reason to change or eliminate the method. In anthropology, “labeling” is more than an action; it’s a set of symbolic actions, words, and sociopsychological connotations, in which labeling both produces the label and the associated activity that confirms the label. In adolescents this can both reinforce stereotypes about adolescents, contribute to “typical” adolescent behavior, and, for bullying victims, in particular, be potentially damaging.

Interestingly, the DSM is under attack:

Many [clinicians] will participate in “Boycott Normal,” a demonstration planned for May 5, when the American Psychiatric Association (APA) meets in Philadelphia and is likely to vote to go forward and publish the DSM-5.


Foremost among these advocates is feminist psychologist Paula J. Caplan, a fellow in the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and the Joan-of-Arc of the new PLAN T Alliance (Psychiatric Labeling Action Network for Truth). The alliance is a coalition of individuals and organizations formed because of frustration with the unscientific nature of the DSM, the harm done to many people who receive arbitrary diagnostic labels, and the unwillingness of the APA to undertake serious reform.

Imagine being a troubled teenager, bullied, ostracised, and confused, and going to a counselor who recommends a psychiatrist who tells the student that they are A, so take B, and behave like C to “get better.” It frees the tormentors from responsibility because the victim was “just that way to begin with,” frees school counselors and administrators from responsibility to provide a safe, judgment-free school, and it slaps the “crazy” label on a vulnerable person in an overstimulating environment.

Am pressed for time so will continue this topic on my next bookblog, which is on the topic of adolescent culture.


Bookblog: The Cultural Roots of Bullying

Thanks to Dr. Jean Twenge, one of my key questions, i.e. key aspects of my core hypothesis*, is a step closer to being answered, by accounting the self-esteem movement as a primary psychological factor among people under 30. This also means that my project will have to take generational differences into account, particularly when analyzing workplace harassment (BWAISH).

Twenge’s 2007 book, Generation ME (the “ME” is short for Millennial Edition but reflects the selfish attitudes of the folks in question) makes one argument and makes it well: that the children of Baby Boomers and their children were raised to believe they were special, and this has massive implications for all of American society, particularly in schools and workplaces, by causing a sense of entitlement and an abandonment of responsibility. Twenge writes in a snarky, lighthearted style even when doing a big sell, which is good because most of her data is statistical and based upon personality questionnaires and survey data going back decades, which is a fantastically scientific approach but hard to digest without a little humor. Twenge impressively crunches this data, comparing results across economic and political factors to demonstrate large shifts in basic American personality over the past 40 years. She also demonstrates that the changes are still occurring (boosted, perhaps, by technology, a factor Twenge will hopefully address in her next book). Twenge’s age (she’s just past 30 as of publication) is occasionally a distraction more than an asset (she references “Avenue Q” a few too many times), and her cynicism threatens what would therefore be inappropriate ageism. Twenge is attempting to apologize for her generation, but doesn’t address the same behaviors and tendencies as conducted by older generations (and trust me, from working in retail, I can say with certainty that 80-year-olds can be just as bratty and snooty as 20-year-olds).

So, the self-esteem movement has produced feelings of entitlement in people under 40, particularly the tweens, teens, and twentysomethings. This leads to bullying, harassing, and violent behavior when those feelings are challenged or otherwise need to be reinforced. This isn’t the only factor, of course, but I strongly believe that any narcissistic tendencies mixed with a capitalistic one-upmanship worldview means not only acceptance of psychological cruelty, but acceptance of, and furthermore excuse-making for it. (This is an excellent source on this topic.)

* Roughly: that bullying and workplace harassment are linked phenomena encouraged by an ethos that emphasizes supremacy, competitiveness, and replaceability, and reflective of hierarchical social institutions as well as economic and cultural markets that are oversaturated with choices. See also here.