Nothing to rebel against - pity the poor conformists without a cause

Youthful dilemma

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"Human beings make war and hate one another. They do not understand their young, they reject their ideals, they make them come home early from the disco. They are doomed."

(From The Concerned Adolescent by Wendy Cope)

It's hell being young. No - really it is. No one understands you see. And no one cares about how dreadfully difficult it is to find something to rebel against these days.

Youth, as Bernard Shaw pointed out, is there to shock the old and keep them up to date. Well maybe in the past. But think about being an 18-year- old in 1997. You were born a Thatcher's child and you now have to adapt to a new caring, giving Blairite society. Your older siblings knew what they were against - the Tories - even if they weren't quite sure what they were in favour of. What can you do to show you're different?

Youth icons of today offer scant support for rebellion - do you choose the Spice Girls (in essence siding with Pepsi-Cola rather than Coca-Cola?), Chris Evans or Zoe Ball (Virgin vs Radio 1), or Oasis (hanging round Downing Street and sucking up to Tony Blair).

The music industry has been particularly bad in letting poor adolescents down. Where is today's Eton Rifles (The Jam) or UB40 singing "I am a One in Ten", or even Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" - the anthem of the International Trade Union Movement.

Instead on Sunday the Spice Girls played their first live concert - not a bad achievement for a band who have already had three chart-topping singles. "If you really wanna know, yes they can sing," said the Daily Mail yesterday. But what you should really wanna know about is the marketing.

While in the past bands may have worried more about social injustice, the Spices obviously have their heads screwed on the right way by allying themselves with a soft drink brand. All 8,000 or so people attending the concert had done so as competition winners for Pepsi-Cola. Pepsi has received 12,000 applications a day for a Spice Girls single that can only be heard by buying a can of the soft drink.

The proponents of Girl Power did remember to spout a bit of their philosophy "We are five individuals who do not have to be the same," said Mel B (Scary). "You can start your own business and believe in yourself. But you must help your sisters," said Geri Spice.

But perhaps Posh Spice summed up their thoughts best. Asked if she would marry the England footballer David Beckham she replied "That's none of your business... But he drinks Pepsi too." she parroted. Product placement like no other.

Marketing Week warned last week that the Spices were in danger of overkill - besides the Pepsi deal there is a link-up with Walkers crisps, an Impulse Spice range of scents, a tie-up with Chupa Chups lollipops, a Polaroid SpiceCam and a BT advertising campaign planned before Christmas.

How can an adolescent take such a marketed concept seriously? But then the Spices aren't alone in disappointing today's youth. Even Guthrie himself who inspired Pete Seeger in the Forties, Bob Dylan in the Sixties, Bruce Springsteen in the Seventies, now finds himself part of the establishment as one of the singers he influenced - Billy Bragg in the Eighties - has been chosen to be in charge of his archive material. Archive material!

What's the point of watching a real rock'n'roll band start their tour in Chicago when your dad next to you knows the words better than you do. And don't mention Bob Dylan. The man has yet another album out this month and he played for the Pope last month. Bob Dylan? Playing for the Pope?

And where's the excitement in telling your round-eyed parents that Noel Gallagher has compared drug taking to having a cup of tea when you open the papers the next day to find him snuggling up to the prime minister in Downing Street. You have to do a lot of spitting and swearing before you can regain your street cred after that.

Last week as well, former rock star Bill Drummond of the K Foundation warned rock stars against cosying up to the new establishment. In particular, he attacked Alan McGee, head of Oasis's record company, Creation, for joining the Government's task force on the arts.

"I'm getting very frightened," said Drummond. "It seems that the establishment has pulled the arts to its bosom, but it is the job of the arts to stand outside the establishment. As soon as you start becoming part of the PR of a government you are getting into a dangerous area."

Mr McGee justified his decision by saying that he was not a rebel. So that's alright then.

Still there's always the ginger whinger, the DJ Chris Evans, to be the rebel you know and love. No stunt's too mad for Evans, no one's too important for him to slag off. But then even he as anti-hero hasn't got that much going. Why had he gone back to breakfast show radio (the commercial kind, mind you), he was asked. Maybe to cock a snook at the authoritarian BBC? For the kids? No. "The reason we came back to the radio is because we stopped getting things for free. We didn't realise how much we got for free since we came off and have had to pay for everything." He and his team had had free car loans and scooters in their time at Radio 1 and he had a Bentley at the weekend, he added. Bet that goes down well with the eco-warriors.

Ah yes the eco-warriors, the rebels with a cause in our time. Now there's something to rebel about. Honiton, Newbury and Lancaster. Manchester Airport. Swampy. What a time that was. But now there have been cut-backs in new motorways and bypasses, cycle lanes and paths are on the increase and John Prescott announced last month that he wants us out of our cars.

It's a bit difficult to lecture your parents on air pollution if the Deputy Prime Minister is saying it first and has a report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Protection behind him. It kind of takes the fun out of it as well.

There's not even much fun in being a student anymore by the time you've finished sorting out your loans and your pounds 1,000 tuition fees, your first job and your overdraft. And then there isn't much time any more to sit around, get stoned and think about the meaning of life. If you can get to be leader of the Tory party by the age of 36 (William Hague), editor of a national newspaper by the age of 28 (Piers Morgan, who edited the News Of The World and now the Mirror) or have a novel published by the age of 18 (Bidisha), you obviously can't waste three years of university sitting around.

The point is today's would-be rebels need to sit tight. These things go in cycles. Some of us lived through the era of the New Romantics ( radical to wear long frilly shirts) or even those highly political animals themselves, the Bay City Rollers. For every punk or flower power era there is a time when Celine Dion just has to top the charts. Grin and bear it.

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