That this is quite such a deeply tired cliche represents the fact that with the sweeping cultural changes of the 20th century, people in general have been becoming increasingly distanced from those younger than they are for quite some while now.
The current youth generation (which has been dubbed ‘Generation Next’ in America, or ‘nova generace’ in the Czech Republic) reflects the extent to which we are not comprehended by our elders and betters.
Even the thirty-somethings that call the shots in corporate ‘lifestyle’ media seem to be stumped. And while there seems to be no comfortable way of defining us as a whole beyond a name that states ‘I do not understand these people.’
The new generation seems to listen to everything, to wear everything, and to get into everything, remaining all the while inscrutable and shadowy. No one knows quite who we are, and what we are doing, beyond a vague suspicion that it probably involves computers. It does, but that doesn’t help.
This article is an attempt to explain what it is that we are doing. It is also an attempt to show why what it is that we are doing makes us possibly the most revolutionary and exciting generation ever, as well as, paradoxically, utterly irrelevant. My term for us is the DIY (Do It Yourself) generation, but I am as uneasy with this term as with any other.
The DIY generation has a cultural impact that extends beyond itself, and ultimately it is DIY culture that is important and interesting rather than the generation. Other generations have created complete cultural wells of their own, but always hitherto as media pawns in a game of ‘find the story,’ and the cultural wells have died as the story died.
DIY culture is not content with creating new music and new fashion, living it up for a bit and then assimilating back into the obscurity of mainstream society. Instead, it is creating a cultural well that is basically autonomous of media propagation and, unlike all previous ‘world youth culture’ phenomena is explicitly inclusive and un-ageist. In a nutshell, and to drastically oversimplify; DIY culture has been created by the combination of economic disaster, demographic disaster (for us) and the easy availability of useful technology.
The post-communist generation has all the jobs, and we have been left with both time on our hands and access to the technological means of production. And in an age of dwindling state sponsorship, if you want to do it, you’ve got to do it yourself. What is DIY culture about?
The artwork on a flyer for a club or party catches your eye, and you go along to the venue, admire the hand painted backdrops, listen to music, have a dance, have a drink at the bar, buy a copy of an underground magazine or a self-published graphic novel, log on to the internet, watch a film or piece of performance art, meet people from some campaigning organization, escape back to your friends and eventually go home.
An army of creative people including artists, musicians, DJs, film-makers, writers, performance artists, and political activists have provided an entire evening’s entertainment for you all facilitated by another army of party organizers, independent magazine publishers, independent record labels and recording studios, as well as other New Age micro businesspeople. Most of this energy and talent is coming from a group of people unwilling to break their backs in order to get a job that they ultimately don’t really want, and who prefer to put their time into their own projects rather than other peoples’.
However, there is no bravado in not having a job. DIY culture is not interested in what you aren’t doing. DIY culture is only interested in what you are doing. What is new about all this is not so much the things that are being done as the scale on which they are being done. Fads and fashions come and go within DIY culture, but the autonomous infrastructure remains. The ideology, if there is one, is that everyone should have a go at doing what it is they want to do, not as a one-off but as an on-going project.
The central aim is neither to shock nor (primarily) to become rich. The aim is to enjoy life, to have a good time and lead a fulfilling lifestyle, which explains why the bulk of DIY culture seems to be centered around what the outside world calls art on a good day and the entertainment industry on a bad one.
It also explains the lack of press. Previous world youth phenomena have courted publicity, with uniformly disastrous and embarrassing results. DIY culture refuses to come up with a simple icon or fashion statement to symbolize itself, and this is its insurance policy. Compared to the excesses of previous youth cultures, autonomous infrastructures aren’t nearly so sexy as stories, but they last much longer.
DIY culture has been politicized in many parts of the west, most notably in Britain, in so far as the recent Criminal Justice Act has politicized it. These laws were explicitly designed to ban raves and parties, which are still the central pillar of DIY culture despite the ban. However, it is hard to tell where this politicization will go.
DIY culture is highly decentralized and largely non-hierarchical. There is no pantheon of ideological gurus raising expectations beyond the bounds of practical possibility, and while anarchists everywhere have realized that DIY culture is what they have been dreaming about for centuries, they have yet to assert any kind of positive political impact on it.
Having a party is much more attractive an option, for most people, than having a fight with the police. What happens when the police close down the parties remains to be seen, but it seems more likely that legal large open-air parties along the lines of our annual Hostimice teknoval will become commonplace.
DIY culture is much more interested in having the party than in making a political statement out of it. Why go to war about over not having parties, when you can make peace and still have them? The fact that DIY culture has been so minimally politicized is nothing more than eloquent testament to the extent of dissatisfaction among young people with the political system as a whole.
We are not prepared to play that game at all. Between innumerable catastrophic actions of the Klaus government and the deafening silence of the CSSD party deep in the later stages of losing what touch with ‘the people’ it still had, an entire generation has been alienated, perhaps irrevocably, from mainstream politics.
The inclination to vote at all is increasingly lacking in many if not most young people, and it is increasingly hard to blame them when all the parties are competing to be seen as the one which will best protect the interests of the upper middle class, with the exception of the US party, which refuses to cooperate at all with anyone, and therefore edits itself out of the political picture.
The problem here is information flow. Since neither the media nor anyone else has been able to provide a handle on what the DIY generation are actually about, the politicians and spin-doctors simply don’t know. Since the demographics of this post-Velvet revolution generation put us effectively in the minority, the mainstream tends not to care especially, either.
Feeder systems in politics maintain the hegemony of the upper middle class elite over all major parties without exception. Trust h
as gone. Interest is lacking, and party political broadcasts continue to be made by people who do not have the fundamental intuitive understanding of television and other media that the DIY generation possesses, which alienates us still further.
We are the first generation in the Czech republic to grow up with color television and the Internet, and we are also the first generation that is more likely to switch channels to avoid the news than it is to do so in order to find it. The news is not aimed at the DIY generation, and very little in it seems to have direct relevance to lives that have never seen a real change of government, and may never so do, no matter which party wins the next election.
The global youth culture ‘story’ that began in the 1950’s is dead. As the story progressed, it became an easy, facile way of characterizing each decade – from the rockers and beatniks of the 50’s through the mods and rockers of the early and mid 60’s through to the hippies and dissidents of the late 60’s and early 70’s, and the punks of the 70’s, the last true media-led youth culture.
After spending the entirety of the 80’s making up things like the New Wave (of what?) and the New Romantics, the media have struck a dead end with the 90’s’ very own and much wondered about DIY generation. For forty years, youth culture has been founded on the particular something that is happening at a given time being picked up on by the media publicity machine and being repeated, copied, developed and eventually abandoned for the next new wave.
Each sub-culture has been labeled with a name and a set of cultural values (e.g. rock: speed, alcohol and motorbikes or the Hippies’ marijuana, flowers, eastern philosophy and long hair), and has thus been simplified sufficiently for media assimilation and dissemination.
However, that the term ‘youth culture’ is itself a creation of the mass media should not be taken to mean that it was the mass media that created youth culture. Youth culture is, was and will always be created by youths. When a youth culture arrives that is simply too complex and revolutionary to be described with a simple label, it is toyed with and picked at in a half-hearted fashion, but essentially left to develop according to its own devices.
This is precisely what DIY culture wants, and we have plenty of our own devices. This is the revolution that constitutes DIY culture – it is the first youth ‘attitude’ to have a future. Rock and roll taught us that youth culture was physically possible, but provided precious little else.
The hippies taught us to see being basically good as a way of rebelling against older generations, but they got lost in doomed political over-exuberance and too many drugs. Punk taught us that the idea ‘anyone can do this’ was out there, but got lost in the media onslaught and the intent to shock. DIY culture constitutes its own media, and doesn’t want anyone to do anything they don’t really want to do, except to be happy and enjoy life. We’ve finally got it right.
DIY culture prioritizes art and parties over shocking people. DIY culture is not limiting itself to saying ‘anyone can be in a band’ in the way that punk did. DIY culture says that anyone can do anything they want to, whether that be being in a band, being a DJ, making a film, putting on a night at a club, or setting up an independent record label or underground magazine or whatever else they want to have a go at. In this way it makes itself attractive to everybody, not just would-be pop-stars, and in this way it is revolutionary.
It is true that not everybody has immediate access to whatever technology they want in order to be creative, but it is also true that significantly more people than ever before do have such access, barring some kind of millennial catastrophe.
The extent and nature of that access can only grow, and with it, DIY culture. Rock and roll will die in our lifetimes. DIY culture won’t. We come to build, not to tear down. We would ask you to get out of the way, but you’re not in the way. Join us. If you want.
Foto: Leonardo Cassali