THE RISE AND FALL OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER by Thomas Hine

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER

KIRKUS REVIEW

This attempt to create a new historical perspective on the American teenager barely scratches the surface. Cultural historian Hine’s (Populuxe, 1986, etc.) larger argument is fairly convincing: the American teenager was a social invention of the New Deal, designed to get the young out of the workplace in order to provide more jobs for adults with children to support. As both social and market conditions have changed in the last few decades, this social construct has become obsolete and actually a hindrance to society, but has continued to maintain an important structuring idea about the way we think of our young. The “fall” (dropping out, becoming pregnant, joining gangs, etc.) of the teenager can be attributed to a tension created between a loss of license for irresponsibility (youths tried as adults, etc.) and a continued denial of their place within society. His solution to this problem is both simplistic and impossible to set into action—he envisions an ideological shift by which we come to view teenagers as beginning members of society who need to continue to be protected but are allowed an active, albeit, provisional access to meaningful cultural interactions. His only practical suggestion toward this end is the continuance of charter schools, which he views as at least organizing schooling around a specific goal rather than the “wasting” of teenagers” time. The weakness of the book is primarily methodological; Hine seems to confuse his social constructivist notion of the teenager as a historically contingent creation with a universalistic ahistorical notion of the teenager as a young person who is actively attempting to find his or her place in the world. This confusion causes the purely historical chapters, such as “Dancing Daughters,” which focuses on changing female sexuality, to seem disconnected from the larger focus of the work; it reads as a rather random exposition of the shift from kissing to dancing to heavy petting. A rather weak treatment of an important and timely topic.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1999
ISBN: 0-380-97358-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999




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