Murray Pomerance

A poem is a petition. theo's father, in The Dreamers adolescence

Age grading is a widely distributed feature of human societies. The allocation of rewards and responsibilities, the designation of dependent groups, and the differentiation of rights and obligations on the basis of age is widespread among communities primitive and advanced, ancient and contemporary alike. Most typically, two broad categories are to be found, defined in mutual exclusion: childhood, a zone of technical incompetence and spiritual innocence; and adulthood, a zone of capacity, knowledge, moral duty, and ethical maturity. Between childhood and adulthood there is often imagined to lie a boundary of sorts, traversable in ways that can be ceremonially demarcated and publicly signified (typically through a puberty rite). When technological and social change are particularly rapid, as happened at the time of the Industrial Revolution, for example, machines learn to do work and come to replace human adults in the economy. Thus is created, under social arrangements where some people are forced to market their labor power for sustenance, a relatively intensified competition for work in an ever-shrinking workplace. It becomes thinkable to delay the onset of adulthood, that period of life when the responsibility to work and the rewards of working fall—usually in some unequal measure—upon the shoulders of the socialized. While in feudal society youngsters who were "children" only days before might well have become "adults" and have found themselves working in the fields beside their parents as full-fledged members of the "adult" class

(might, indeed, have married and themselves borne children at the age of 14 or 15), the labor competition of early capitalism (when mechanical systems began to assist, and then assimilate, labor) now provided the foundation for an age hierarchy among adults. The youngest of them—in some societies, the most physically fit—could be held off from demanding the jobs their parents wanted by means of an institutionalized redefinition of their strengths and powers, a reappraisal of their condition of embodiment, and a recalibration of their historical state, that grounded them in a special period (or moratorium) after childhood but prior to adulthood: adolescence.

If they were physically mature, something could still be said for the un-preparedness of adolescents to handle challenges now considered socially significant rather than personal and experiential: to leave awkwardness behind and develop smooth, fluid, and deft interpersonal skills; to attain some philosophical "understanding" or "knowledge" of one's world; to become confident and capable of chastity and other honors; to learn loyalty and fealty, and so on. The emotional sturm und drang that would fall upon eager young people held off from meaningful participation in their social world could itself be used to legitimate that holding off, according to a rationale that would in fact praise rationales and the ability to live strictly by them. If adolescence has certainly existed since the middle of the nineteenth century, it was around a hundred years later that, as Doherty (34-40) has pointed out, it became a commodity to be marketed and consumed—marked as the domain of "the teen-ager" and consumed often by teenagers themselves—and thus a mainstay of the capitalist economy of exchange, overproduction, and mass consumption. With the postwar creation of "teen-agers," soon enough they became targets of a "teen market"—teenpics, teen clothing, teen music, teen literature, teen imagery, and teen counseling—and thus came a bevy of professionals equipped, so it was claimed, to handle "teen problems.'' Teen life became increasingly problematic, requiring an institutional solution.

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