Teenage wasteland

The Boston Phoenix wins the "oops" award for a piece claiming that the gun-toting teen is a media myth -- one day after Littleton.

Published April 23, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Boston Phoenix, April 22-29

Rebels with a cause by Jason Gay

Somewhere in Boston tonight, there is a writer sunk low in the mire of his own humiliation. His name is Jason Gay and his cover story, which appeared on the cover of the Boston Phoenix one day after two teenagers went on a murderous rampage in Colorado, argues that teens today are a bunch of goodie-two-shoes -- not the gun-totin', pot-smokin', AIDS-virus carrying monsters the media potrays them as. (To his or his editor's credit, the piece does include an inserted sentence about the tragedy in Colorado.)

The real problem with Gay's piece, however, isn't so much its terrible timing as its banal cluelessness. Referring to the generation he seeks to analyze as "these kids," Gay defines them by the products they embrace, from body glitter to "The Todd Green Show" to platform sneakers. He refers to the Internet as "the info superhighway" -- the "rmation" amputated from its prefix in a failed effort to give the hackneyed, old-fogey phrase the sleek, '90s minimalist whiff of cool. He tosses out every overused clichi in the book about "these kids" and their predecessors. Try this sentence on for size: "In the late '80s and early '90s, the recession-bleary nation embraced its older, twentysomething slackers, a group whose overeducated pessimism was embodied in grunge anthems such as Nirvana's Smells like Teen Spirit and domesticity-mocking satires such as The Simpsons." For God's sake, if I have to read another sentence like that -- and admittedly, I might have written such a sentence once myself -- my head is going to pop right off!

Gay can't decide if he's writing about "those kids" themselves, the consumer culture they grew up in, the entertainment industry catering to them or youth-oriented American culture as a whole -- though he does manage to come up with some interesting observations about all of those things between the lists of products, TV shows and movies. It's too bad he felt the need to lump all these topics into a sweeping, overgeneralized piece about teenagers from Manhattan to Little Rock to Alaska. This kind of crap belongs on the cover of USA Today, not the Phoenix, which I know can do better.

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Shelf life by Michelle Chihara

The American Booksellers Association has announced a nationwide marketing strategy aimed at preventing independent booksellers from becoming a thing of the past. Chihara touches on the far-reaching consequences of chains dominating the bookselling market -- from midlist authors not getting published to the harder-to-measure loss of musty smelling, cat-inhabited neighborhood bookshops. It's a fine piece.

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Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, April 21-27

Mise en Mall by CP Staff

There is no large, "kick me"-festooned derrihre quite as inviting as a choice sample of Bad Academic Prose. So imagine the delight of the City Pages staff when they came upon an article by Jon Goss, a professor of geography at the University of Hawaii, titled "Once-upon-a-Time in the Commodity World: An Unofficial Guide to Mall of America." The 28-page article, in the March issue of Annals of the Association of American Geographers, features such toothsome statements as "The gendered nature of this expression is only too appropriate since The Mall celebrates mutterrecht [the 'maternal principle'] in its embrace of nature, its nurture of the child, its erotic community, and its womb-like architecture." Holy signifier, Batman! What it all means, according to the sharp-witted writers in the Mother of all Malls' hometown, is that today highbrow snobs and postmodern "these kids" can sip their Orange Juliuses and peruse the butterfly clips at Wet Seal without fear of seeming blue collar. Huzzah.

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New Times Los Angeles, April 15, 1999

Eulogy for a Large Beige Concrete Box by Glenn Gaslin

And while we are on the topic of malls (where the hedonistic, "neo-Me generation," consumerist impulses of teens today are indulged, saith Jason Gay), let us pause for a moment and bid farewell with writer Glenn Gaslin to Sherman Oaks Galleria, the first mall, the |ber indoor shopping gallery, the model after which all malls were fashioned. It once appeared in "Valley Girl" and "Weird Science," but now it is no more.

Waiting for C3PO by Glenn Gaslin

Glenn Gaslin, it seems, is a very prolific writer. In this great article -- great! -- Gaslin poses, investigates and answers every question you've ever had about those "Star Wars" fanatics, from the raver-looking-guy who's already camping outside the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard for the May 19 opening of "Phantom Menace" to the publishers of "Star Wars" fanzines to the cultlike following of Boba Fett.

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Seattle Weekly, April 21-27

Seven Ways to Die Outdoors by Bruce Barcott

Bruce Barcott sticks his tongue out at manly-men Jon Krakauer and Sebastian Junger with this morbid little piece on seven instances of death in the great outdoors: people felled by trees while on family picnics, buried to death by avalanches, frozen while dangling from a cliff awaiting rescue. Nature is cruel and without scruples; people are stupid, Barcott explains. He could also add that rubbernecking in print is fun.

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L.A. Weekly, April 23-29

Gone North: Tom Waits Upcountry by Robert Lloyd

Tom Waits is turning 50. His first album in six years, "Mule Variations," is receiving critical acclaim. He rarely gives concerts, yet his fans are as devoted as any Deadhead, maintaining active online discussions, exchanging bootleg tapes and jumping on a plane at the mere hint he might give a performance. Robert Lloyd's interview with Waits gives some insight into the enigmatic musician and actor who's been making great music for almost three decades.

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The Village Voice, April 21-27

Third Annual Women in Sports Issue

Title IX blah blah blah; woman succeeds in male-dominated profession (in this case, she's a coach) blah blah blah; girls different biologically from boys blah blah blah; WNBA, girls' self-image, those Nike ads blah blah blah. Move along, people. Nothing new to see here.

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The Spy Who Bugged Me by David Kushner

Not too long ago, I turned off the TV to listen to a woman cruelly berate her mother, claiming that she was a buttinsky sans clue about bridesmaids' dresses. The conversation was taking place on a seemingly private portable phone somewhere in the neighborhood. I'd picked it up on a friend's scanner, which we avidly used for eavesdropping entertainment -- it beats digital cable anyday! Earlier in the week, my friend overheard his neighbor who, after describing his ass as "hairy," ordered a male prostitute, who soon knocked on his door. Sound like wholesome fun to you? David Kushner reports on the growing popularity of phone scanners, digital spy cameras and other gizmos with which to invade the private lives of others.

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The Stranger, April 22-28

"For the Love of Liquor" by Wm. Steven Humphrey

Is it possible to praise one form of booze without dissing all the others? Can't a girl have her Scotch and drink her microbrew too? The Stranger celebrates hard liquor with an excessive package that includes drinking books, songs and essays on Jagermeister and a tribute to blacking out. While hard liquor is admittedly more interesting than women in sports, it's still far less interesting to read about than to imbibe.

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The San Francisco Bay Guardian, April 21-27

"Absinthe: The Green Muse" by Taylor Antrim

Not to be outdone by their binge-drinking neighbors to the north, the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Taylor Antrim sets out to get him some absinthe, which, in the decadent spirit of these fin-de-sihcle times, has made a comeback of sorts.

Smells like teen spirit ...

In honor of the diversity of teenagers today, I offer these stories by, for and about the next generation.

His and hers teen Web sites: Teen Web sites, news and chat rooms for gurls and boys. I like the teen-written essays and short-stories.

Yo! (Youth Outlook) features serious articles and essays by teenagers.

Boston Phoenix reporter Nancy Gaines on allegations of homosexual rapes and molestations among the boys at the prestigious Groton School.

Thrift Score Al Hoff's anti-mall zine.

The I hate Jen homepage dissects the motivations and actions of one "Dawson's Creek" character.

By Jenn Shreve

Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

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