Goths, punks, jocks, nerds, loners, stoners, floaters, geeks. Slackers, gangstas, bo-hos, skaters. Ravers, choirkids, headbangers, freaks. Every high school is a swirl of labels, of cliques and enclaves; a jungle of tribes, alliances, and social rules that make Survivor look like the kindergarten sandpit.
The latest mega-marketing trends of data mining and geo-demographics are revitalizing this theme of tribal identity. Research companies gather information on us based on our postal codes, our magazine subscriptions, our spending habits, and slot us into clusters of social values. Our membership of a neighbourhood cluster indicates our most likely spending patterns. Just as in high school, you could locate the people-most-likely-to-buy cigarettes/black T-shirts/pink lipstick, based on their hangout zones (behind the bus shelter/in the basement locker rooms/out on the playing fields watching the football team train), todays marketing analysts are compiling data to let companies know the most likely postal codes to hawk wine club subscriptions/hunting paraphernalia/commemorative royal wedding plates. More and more were being repackaged under labels that make you wonder if high school was actually the pinnacle of social engineering, instead of the nadir many of us remember it as.
U.S. studies show that most parents would rather their kids be cool than smart; so that social programming clearly still has many of us in its thrall. (A 2004 article in the Journal of School Health reported that 60 per cent of American parents, if forced to choose, would prefer their children to make C grades and be active in extracurricular activities rather than make A grades and not be active. The article writers argue that for those parents, "making A grades and not being active" is a code for being a nerd or dork, while athletics is the ticket to social status.)
Whether parents want to expose their children to theatre sports or swim training, increasingly in British Columbias regional communities the burden has become not just a matter of signing them up, but extensive chauffeuring, volunteering as a coach, finding a facility to host the event, or lobbying the local government to build one. The impacts of provincial and federal funding cuts are being felt at home, as school boards are forced to meet budgets by moving to four-day weeks, or cutting art, drama, physical education and outdoor education. Teachers and custodial staffs work-to-rule policies preclude after-hours access to school facilities, gymnasiums and art rooms. Smaller communities resources are stretched with local governments and non-profits forced to provide more and more services, from public transit to policing to recreation.
And the kids have nothing to do.
Geoff Pross, a corridor youth worker and co-ordinator of the Pemberton Community Centres youth centre, recognizes that youth are universally united under the war-cry that "theres nothing to do." However, in Pemberton where a dearth of recreation infrastructure is set to become the election issue this November, there really is a sense of genuine longing from the youth accessing the drop-in centre. "I hear from a lot of youth that you just cant go to a party and just hang out," says Pross. "Its almost expected that therell be heavy drinking, at the least. I tend to see the certain cross-section of youth who are actively looking for alternatives to the house parties and bush parties."