Program Notes: The kids are all right
By GWEN OREL
Program Notes: In the theater, program notes are inserts into a program that provide further background on the play. In this series, I comment on what I'm writing about, what I'm thinking, and what's in the paper at the time.
“When your old-ass parent is like, ‘I don’t know how to send an iMessage,’ and you’re just like, ‘Give me the [epithet] phone and let me handle it.’ —David Hogg, to theoutline.com, March 5
Really, I shouldn’t be surprised.
I was someone who read Young Adult novels in college before they were even called that. There were fewer of those books published then, so the ones that did make it had to have a great plot and gorgeous writing. Cynthia Voight. Paula Fox. Lois Lowry.
My niece and nephew are both smart and articulate.
Yet, when I heard 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez speak four days after she witnessed the Parkland shooting three weeks ago, I was as surprised and as anyone. She had the cadence. She had the righteous rage. She had the audience.
And then there’s Parkland student David Hogg with his quick mastery of the facts and his Twitter zingers. Student Cameron Kasky putting Florida Senator Marco Rubio on the spot at the CNN Town Hall.
Are they exceptional?
They’re wonderful, but not exceptional. At least, that is my takeaway from talking to Montclair students this week and last.
The Montclair High School (MHS) teens who spoke to me after a rally in Livingston with the survivors and about the March 14 walkout spoke equally eloquently and decisively.
The MHS teens I spoke to about their Scholastic Award wins had a lot to say about using their art to change the world. At Buzz Aldrin Middle School, the cast of “High School Musical” who spoke to me don’t identify with cliques. They believe in inclusion and live it every day.
None of this should surprise me.
I, in particular, and everyone who is part of Generation X, should know better, because we know first hand what it’s like to be stupidly underestimated and patronized.
Before you think, wait, you’re not Gen X, consider Douglas Coupland, who wrote the 1991 novel “Generation X,” was born at the end of 1961.
I’m not part of the generation of kids who went to Woodstock and marched against Vietnam. Some of those kids were my babysitters.
While they worried about the draft, I was learning to write the letter “G.”
Nor am I, like Montclair High School teens, young enough to be the child of a Baby Boomer.
By the time I got to be a teenager, youth culture had vanished.
I admit, I was bitter. I spent years hating the Baby Boomers for leaving me behind. When they elected Reagan, I was still too young to vote.
But it’s good to recall that now that the Baby Boomers are retiring and finally stepping aside: They were teenagers who sat in at lunch counters in the South. They were college students who were freedom riders. The three activists murdered by the Klan in 1964 as they were driving to promote Civil Rights and voting in Mississippi were 20, 21 and 24.
It's been fashionable to belittle teens for a long time and I did it too. I laughed with a sketch on Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live mocking a teenage film critic who played with her hair and giggled.
But ageism isn’t really funny. It should be as abhorrent to mock teenagers as it is to mock old people.
With rocker Mick Jagger having a baby at 73, it’s striking to recall that rock and roll was once performed not just for teenagers but by them. Joan Baez recorded her first album at 19. And the 1967 musical “Hair” centers on a “tribe” of drop out high school kids, meaning that they were younger than 18, but still worried about the draft.
My honorable mention in the Scholastic Awards when I was in high school was for a short story I wrote about an old woman dealing with the Baby Bust, when few children come to trick-or-treat.
And I did care about social issues when I was in college.
I even wrote a play, my first produced one-act, “Pink and Black,” which morphed rockabilly, fear of nuclear war, and the Angel of Death. (I did say it was my first.) Like the survivors of Parkland, I had a friend die in gun violence and briefly considered becoming a C.I.A. analyst.
Today, I’m sorry that was only a brief interlude. I didn’t stay in.
But I know the teens determined to change the world are not playing. And I will support them however and where ever I can. Gold Key Award winner Olivia Kossakowski contends because more teens are using their voices, more attention is being paid to them.
As Montclair High School Senior and with Students Demand Action Corinna Davis said, “Our generation is not going to be complicit and silent.
“Our generation is going to speak up for ourself. And we are going to change the world.”