Youth culture has been an important facet of the mainstream culture in the United States since its continuous development and evolution during the 20th and 21st centuries. In forming a separate and distinct identity from that of adults, American youths have found numerous ways to express their differing ideas, beliefs and interests throughout the years. One of the most influential and well-recorded samples of this youth expression is student writing. High school level student publications such as literary magazines, yearbooks and student newspapers offer clear reflections of not only individual personalities, but also the ideals of contemporary youth culture.
In studying Beverly High School’s literary magazine, The Aegis, obvious and expected changes have occurred since the early twentieth century, the time period at which I began my research. Advancing technology and the increase in the accessibility of photography are two important variables that caused understandable variations in the literary magazine. However, color has yet to be introduced to The Aegis, allowing for a smooth transition through subsequent volumes. Other high school literary editions have been subject to the same expected changes since the turn of the century. Governor Dummer Academy’s The Archon and Phillips Exeter Academy’s The Pean have also been altered by technology, and similarly have yet to include much color in their publications.
Despite the previously described visual changes, the writings included in these high school periodicals have also experienced significant, yet discreet alterations since the early nineteen hundreds. The topics of expression and the language used in the 1916 edition of The Pean, seem like the ancient writings of an extinct era, which in reality, they are.
Exultant youth, at play on field and stream,-
Little limbs that leap, bare arms that lightningwise
Flash in the sun, flushed cheeks, and sparkling eyes,
How far from man’s mortality you seem!
Such vision formed some classic sculptor’s dream
Long centuries ago ‘neath Attic skies;
Such stripling in Elizabethan guise
To Shakespeare sonnetizing, gave the theme.
Though you must pass and in the world of men
Grow stiffiy-old, white haired, and sunken-eyed,
And life grow fretful as a work out tune,
Yet there shall boyhood ever and again
Renew itself and pout its endless tide
So long as Spring is Spring and June is June.
(J.P.W., “A Young Exonian,” The Pean, (1916):20.)
Despite the somewhat whimsical scenario of a youth at play, this 1916 poem also features the harsh reality of growing old and facing responsibility. “Though you must pass and in the world of men grow stiffiy-old ” tells the reader that this author is fully aware of his designated place in society. While this theme is arguably common in today’s youth culture, it is also less evident in contemporary student publications.
In comparison to the previous “A Young Exonian”, written in 1916, “Smugly Detached”, which was published in 2001, depicts a fanciful daydream, with no serious realities to face.
I woke up this morning and found
My rocket ship,
One fin detached
Laying smugly on the ground
I remember when is flip top box Sat below and under
Awaiting my watery slithered return From soccer practice.
Boy oh boy
I smiled so wide And my eyes were fried
The rocket was yellow
But has since browned from use
Burnt Yellow good-time
Flown everyday till this
And probably everyday after
I were to glue that fin
Right back to its shell
For some reason I just don’t feel like doing that.
(Steve Quinlan, “Smugly Detached,” The Aegis, (2002):18.)
These two samples of student writing both express memories of youth, but in a two completely different ways. In the version from 1916, the writer is essentially saying goodbye to his carefree childhood and acknowledging his entrance into adulthood. In the 2001 publication, the author is once again returning to his childhood. In “Smugly Detached” however, the author is not necessarily dismissing his youth. Rather, he is embracing it.
In addition to this more youthful, carefree tone displayed by high school students in their writings, a defined youth culture also brought with it a responsibility felt by many young people. That is, the desire to express their own personal beliefs towards their government and global events. The writings in The Aegis of the 1970s portrays students that are aware of the goings on in their world, and have solid opinions about them. This poem, entitled “Sending Out a Message”, displays this belief system.
Two men stand
neck deep in gas
each threatens the other
I’ll light the first match
Neither wants to burn
But they still buy more matches
They’ll threaten each other
Until the gas catches
Such utter stupidity
Why not drain off the gas
And burn all the matches
For a candle to last
They say that we’re the smartest
It’s so hard to believe
We call the animals beasts
Why is it so hard to conceive
Our government paints us pictures
Of monstrous Russian bears
I don’t care what they say
Somewhere a Russian cares
If we’d all just start thinking
About what we’re headed for
What this world just doesn’t need
Is another pointless war
Let’s get our act together
Join forces with the world
When one is all, and all are one
Under one flag unfurled
Care about each other
And ourselves too
Forever in each other’s hearts
Never to be blue
We should take care of our mother
Instead we are polluting
The animals who are living right
We end up shooting
Sending out a message
To you and everyone
Show the love inside us all
Throwaway the guns.
( David Grimes, “Sending Out a Message,” The Aegis, (1974):20-21.)
“Sending Out a Message” clearly shows that at this point in time, American youths were making their voices and opinions heard. No longer were children being told to speak only when spoken to, and if they were, then no one was listening.
In addition to the changes in writing, the visual art displayed in these publications has also differed over the years. With the advent of the 1960s, a more abstract, creative type of visual art is displayed in Beverly High School’s Aegis. The maturity and complexity of the graphics has significantly increased since the early 1900s. The introduction of photography as an art form is one of the most definitive reasons for visual changes. Although limited to black and white, these photographs have significantly altered the face of student publications. Photography has supplied young people with yet another way in which to express themselves, thus allowing for an even more developed youth culture.
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, youth culture has been developing and thriving. Displaying definitive opinions and ideas, America’s young people have created their own identity and their own unique culture. The rise of this culture is evident through youth expressions, particularly student publications. The changing mindset of our country’s youth has been clearly portrayed through the evolution of student magazines in the past century.
Grimes, David. “Sending Out a Message,” The Aegis, (1974): 20-21.
W., J.P. “A Young Exonian,” The 1916 Pean, (1916): 20.
Quinlan, Steve. “Smugly Detached,” The Aegis, (2002): 18