WHY BEING AN UNDERACHIEVER IS THE ONLY OPTION
Youth has always been coveted in the creative industries, particularly in the world of music. Expendable teenage pounds are the holy grail, and the answer to the question ‘How to appeal to the Youth’ tends to appear in the form of recruiting said ‘Youth’ to do the work. I saw a sixteen-year-old Britney Spears rebel against the buttons on her school shirt and Peaches Geldof writing a column in the short lived publication Elle Girl. This was fine, I felt mildly related too and patronised as the years progressed. But now that I’m attempting to infiltrate the world of cultural commentary, I’ve realised that I’m up against a psychological wall that has always been present but undoubtedly accelerated in the last 15 years. Where as before it was the girl that had Disney funding, or the one with the famous patronage, now anyone can do it via interwebbal means. “How democratic!” I hear you cry. And I agree with you. But as everyone debates exhaustively on the doom of their chosen industry in the wake of the online era, no one seems to be talking about me. And I’m important right? I have an opinion, and people often retweet it.
In this case, ‘me’ is teenagers and those in their early twenties, currently struggling with how we’re already too old to do anything. I’m not talking about your Willow Smith’s and your Miley Cyrus’s (although they do contribute to the problem). I’m instead talking about Tavi, the girl who went from blogging in Chicago to being on the cover of i-D at fourteen. And Jamal Edwards offof the Google chrome adverts. And hundreds of other kids that you may not recognise their names, but have quietly made careers for themselves before they’ve hit 20. I could never have been a Britney, but I could have been one of these guys, and right now I feel like everyone’s looking at me saying “Why aren’t you?” As I apply for internships, I’m constantly being confronted with applications asking for links to the blogs I should have been writing since I was born, requests for me to quantify the hype that I haven’t accumulated, and large text boxes to fill in on the topic of why I can vote but I haven’t already made it. The Internet has created a climate where anybody can do anything, so how am I meant to do something?
I once thought I was just indulging my depressive temperament when I moaned about this subject, but it seems whatever creative career you want to enter into, you will be confronted with soul-destroying expectations of awesomeness. Want to be a writer of fiction? How many short story competitions did you win by the age of 18? Fancy a career in fashion? Do you have more hits than the Satorialist? Music journalism? Where’s that copy of the NME you were featured in? Want to make music? Well I’m sorry, you do realise that decent things can only rise out of the ashes of the band you had at sixteen? Like Yuck would have been signed half as easily if it weren’t for their GCSE Cajun Dance Party promises.
My generation is utterly despondent about these accelerations in expectation. Everyone that I’m at university with, on some level, seems to believe they are completely wasting their time. I’ve been told countless times that my degree is totally useless in relation to the career I’m hoping to have. Experience is key. But the possibility for experience is now as infinite as the Internet. This is great for lots of people who would never have another means by which to be creative, but how about those of us that are working at a pace that’s a little more human? When I was sixteen I bought a camera and accidentally fell in to taking photos. I loved it, and I still do, but I now know it’s not what I want to do with my life. I have a great skill that will always be of use, but at the same time I’m completely freaking out about how I’ve wasted four years doing something that isn’t my priority. By these new Internet standards, I should have been steadily building up a body of astonishing work in my chosen field since I was old enough to be drinking underage.
Constantly we’re being told that kids are being raped of their innocence through sexualised and violent images, but what about the pressure to be a precocious talent? I feel I’ve been stripped of growing up by Wikipedia. I want to write about music and as a consequence I’m constantly pouncing on obscure bands from different eras and following hyperlink trails until I feel dizzy. The Internet has resulted in the assumption that I should be aware of every band to have ever existed. I should also know what label they were on, what bands the members were initially in and what their most seminal chord progression sounded like. I should then be able to reproduce these chords with a hum or, even better, on a keyboard web app during my Skype with a 50 yr-old man who’s spent his life in the music industry and he doesn’t even know this shit. Finally music is available to all by legal means or otherwise, and instead of being excited about this I feel like I’m drowning in a salt-water sea of “I’m not good enough” tears. It’s an issue with up-and-coming music as well. I’m currently in my final year of my degree and due to all the work I’m a little out of the contemporary culture loop – I don’t scout out new artists with the same vigour I did a few years ago because I don’t have the time, and therefore I feel like I will walk into the office of some East London publication and be laughed at because I’m not sure what Lana Del Ray’s more alternative sister is called. Even now I’m looking back on what I wrote earlier about Tavi Gevinson and worrying that the reference isn’t up to date enough. Tavi was 13 when she blew up. She’s now 16. She probably has a different career path by now. I’m so behind the times I don’t even know which young people to be jealous of any more.
Of course, I’m aware I’m getting grumpy mainly because of my own laziness. I could have tried to start a music blog a few years ago so I could now be dishing business cards out to everyone in Dalston, but the thing is, I was sort of busy growing up and deciding who the hell I was. And I’ve always had a vague idea of what industry I was aiming for. Most of my peers don’t. Now they’re all running around like headless turkey dippers attempting to make up for lost time. The fact that ‘lost time’ is now time spent not being infinitely knowledgeable and productive is a little sad. Just because we now live in a world where everyone can broadcast an opinion, that doesn’t mean you’re any less valuable for not doing so. There’s nothing wrong with mediocrity. You’ve always got your twenties to aim for exceptional.