As there are already some titles informing about this “feature” of modernity (youth cultures), the title at hand by Marcel Danesi convinces with a solid introduction of what “the youth,” (“a youth,” “a teenager,” or a person in its “adolescence”) actually is and how the “species” was first, well, discovered by sociologist. And how, after the youth had invented various stages and names of those cultures over the decades, this phenomenon today has more or less vanished, for technological reasons.

Danesi rightly identifies a large part of youth culture as essentially a process promoted by the media, or rather, the media made it easily accessible: “Youth culture has been largely a technologically constructed culture, reinforced by culture industries that influence our perception of young people and their trends; making us participants in its products and processes whether or not we are conscious of the factors at play.” So the many youth cultures listed here, with emphasis on the US, are briefly introduced, their main characteristics are discussed and all the other information such as political outlook (if any), the way they dress and preferred musical styles or sometimes their relation to other youth cultures is presented. As there are some youth cultures that originated in other environments and became a new youth culture altogether (like the goth/new romantics culture).

After all, youthful trends (or native youth cultures) strongly influenced American culture ever since the 1920. A development that was only shortly interrupted by WWII, but that continued with the beats and jazz culture after the war. And since the 1950s, new media such as TV spread trends, followed by media broadcasts of protests and violence in the 1960s and 1970s. Hence, the mainstream took over many aspects of the youth culture.

Cultural aesthetics of the youth were introduced as mainstream fashion and music, because they could be marketed as such. Beginning in the 1920 with the flappers, when a young generation broke away from Victorian moral codes and patterns of behavior, products were introduced as absolute necessities for a modern (and in this case) youthful lifestyle, no matter if the assumed connection really existed. However, there is another important requirement for a youth culture, argues Danesi: “To sustain a youth movement, affluence is required, alongside the mass media to spread it broadly…”

This is when the difference between a “real” youth culture and a simply large consumer group of young people who obviously follow mainstream tastes and advertisements is sometimes a bit obscured. Since this is also the point where the mainstream clearly “eats up” the youth culture and at this point makes a new youth culture immune to what that mainstream can offer.

From Flappers to Rappers is a good introduction to the topic. It will be very useful in the classroom, even if it sometimes oversimplifies musical histories to keep the “big picture” in focus.

Unfortunately, some aspects, some developments and some movements are not mentioned, while the functions and origins of a youth culture are explained in great detail and with a lot of background. Some movements and subcultures, particularly those of the post-counterculture era (1980s, 1990s) and rap and gangsta receive explicit attention, even though some may argue that in those decades not too much happened except a number of alterations of the punk subculture and a new variation of aggressive macho culture through hip hop.

Unfortunately there is no information on the German “Swingheinis” (or “Swingjugend”), a very early youth culture in the mid-1930s. Furthermore, the “Zazous,” an early French youth movement strongly connected to swing music during the German occupation of France are not mentioned here either. Neither are certain aspects of the American skinhead culture of the 1970s.

Nevertheless, the author’s observations in the conclusion are rather important, since he points to the massive change in the perception and meaning of youth cultures.

The different youth cultures that existed since the 1920s and prospered roughly until the 00s (and thereby often incorporating a number of features from earlier youth cultures) seem to have disappeared altogether, not producing present-day equivalents.

Seemingly, today’s youth are not at all interested in things past; with the only exception being music itself. However, music today has lost much of its community-building force, and apparently it cannot form alliances among adolescents anymore.

We need to remember this: music kick started all youth cultures so far.

The development of new local/regional youth cultures, it seems, was more or less halted or extinguished by all the possibilities of the Internet and social media. It is virtual spaces where young people for the last ten or more years have spent their adolescence, played roles, have stored their performances on photo or video platforms, developed identities, and shared venues together. The club, the meeting places, the concert, the hangout most likely always frequented by at least a few like-minded adolescents are now virtual in nature and accessible through social media software only. It is there where young people (who some 20 years ago may have been part of a visible youth culture in the streets) with the urge to express themselves meet today, suggests Danesi. There they discover, buy and consume music, chat, communicate and form groups.

“In the virtual world the past has become dim and perhaps, to some, irrelevant. Notions such as adolescence and youth culture may be things of the past and thus less relevant today. […] But … music is no longer a unifying force for change. The reason for this may well be that the Internet has give the power to anyone to become a rock star. The randomness … of online musical culture is the greatest impediment of all to adding another link to the youth culture historical chain. And without music there is no youth culture.”

Review by Dr. A. Ebert © 2019

Marcel Danesi. From Flappers to Rappers: The Origins, Evolution, and Demise of Youth Culture. Canadian Scholars, 2018, 246 p.