Part of the surprise of Savage’s book is just how old the current youth-culture regime has become—it’s only two years younger than Mick Jagger. And the system has, in many ways, worked well. The problem with kids today may be precisely that there’s no problem. Perhaps this is a trick of perspective, but youth now doesn’t appear to be a particularly revolutionary or transcendental force. In fact, MySpace notwithstanding, it’s hard not to think now that teenagers are the repositories for much that is most conservative in the culture: partially retrograde ideas about sex roles, careerism, rampant consumerism, too-extensive knowledge of the Led Zeppelin discography, you name it. Youth culture has had a certain Groundhog Day–like sameness, which can seem a little dull, especially to those who’ve seen a few cycles.
Still, the accelerating disappearance of the shame culture and its replacement with a positively Samoan, largely consequence-free sexual openness is a positive thing, unfortunate consequences though it sometimes has (one doesn’t reject its excesses—Britney Spears’s lack of underwear, say, or Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis’s bank account—because one is a prude). And though today’s youth culture may seem a little shopworn, after reading Teenage, with its deluded young legions and doomed heroes and dead-end kids, one doesn’t want to think about what it would take to overthrow it.