Monday, December 01, 2003

Schoolies week as a rite of passage

Gold Coast blogger Jonas, at 24 years of age, has been observing the Schoolies festivities from a slight distance – hopefully far enough away to not be seen to be leering over the balcony at 17 y.o. girls as they relax in a spa in their bikinis. I had always thought that this high-rise leerer/leeree relationship was the only thing the Gold Coast had going for it, but it now turns out that such behaviour (well, the leerer side of it) is “sick and disgusting" – and serious enough to get Dad on the phone to the powers that be.

Anyway, the above is just an oblique introduction to another piece of Dad-wisdom on Schoolies week – that the under-agers’ Bacchanalia is a Good Thing, in marking a rite of passage into adulthood. Here, I’m only guessing that Gold Coast academic and psychologist Dr Phil Harker is a father of teenage children. As to his being a baby boomer, I’m quite confident to nail him on this evidence:

Dr Phil suggested parents should organise their own schoolies equivalent. ‘When a young person makes it clear that they want to be an [independent] adult, parents should throw themselves a big party.’ (same URL)

I have no idea as to what Party Central postcode, if any, the nation’s baby boomers may be currently checked-in at. But I’m pretty sure that if I found myself staying (or living) there by mistake, the words of one of those 17 y.o. girls in the spa (above) would ring true:

"It was just yuck. They asked us what room we were staying in but we gave them a fake number because they were so suss and creepy.”

Jonas also points out that, in his day, they didn’t have Schoolies. Even at the distinct risk of starting a “sheer looxury” arms race with the written equivalent of Yorkshire accents, I can’t help but point out, in my day, we didn’t have anything even remotely festive – other than going down to Centrelink (or DSS, as it was then known), the day after one’s last exam, to sign on for the dole (true story).

With the unemployment rate for teenagers and young adults now being not much lower than that of my 1982* salad days, one has to wonder about the paradox of the modern Schoolies phenomenon – parents giving their kids bucketloads of cash, to go interstate and drink and fuck until they . . . grow up?

On the other hand, it is possible to see the twisted baby boomer logic in the equation here. When Dr Phil spoke of the importance of having a rite of passage for late teens, he wasn’t just massaging acute parental guilt – Maybe we should have bought two cases of Jim Bean & Cola for young Daniel after all; what are his peers going to think when they see him drinking Woodstock? – nor inventing the lamest, bogus-est piece of pop-psych ever: why boomers should now shout themselves a piss-up (and don’t spare the credit card, Jeeves). No, it turns out Dr Phil’s real message is to nail it good’n’hard into the carcasses of we GenXers, who didn’t get a thousand bucks and a few cases at the end of Year 12:

Denying young people such rituals . . . could result in "25-, 26-, even 30-year-old children still relying on their parents for guidance", he said. These sorry adult-babies were "frightened of the world and don't know how to grow up".

So you heard it here, Mum and Dad – you fucked up my life by not sending me away, all-expenses-paid, after Year 12. Never mind that you didn’t have the money (and that I didn’t ask for it), how could have have denied me? Denied me that literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

Finally, it remains to get over the hurdle, re how the girls in the spa/Dad on the phone scenario fits into Dr Phil’s rite of passage thesis. By definition, the girls can’t be “sorry adult-babies” – Mum and Dad’s thousand bucks has bought them unequivocal emancipation, on this front. But freedom from what?

Ah – now I get it: the alleged leerer was 38 years old, young enough to be still “frightened of the world” (having never had a proper passage into adulthood) and not old (nor rich) enough to do it all vicariously, through one’s teenage children. Such uniniatiated people are dangerous – their leering is never just a look, but an attempt to get for free what they couldn’t afford now, and which their parents couldn’t or wouldn’t get them back then, either.

* The national unemployment rate for 20-24 year olds was 10% at the start of 1982. Michelle Turner Stuck Penguin Books (1983) p 13. The unemployment rate for 20-24 year olds (in NSW) was 9.4% in March 2003 and 8.5% in September 2003.

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