As part of our We Watch Youth Culture event at the Barbican we asked our panelists to write up what they saw and what the experience of spending a week being culture critics meant to them. Here Shay, Almeida Young Critic and panelists takes you through his week, the culture he saw and how he spent his wildcard money.
What does youth culture mean to me? The image that immediately springs to mind is that of the clichéd American high school canteen. Everyone is split up into his or her respective peer groups, pretending that they are separate and don’t care to associate with anyone else. But, in actual fact, we are all part of one big community that share much more in common than we like to think we do. It still surprises me that the concept of a “teenager” hasn’t always existed. Before the 1920s, you were either a child or an adult there was no in-between. Now, the concept of a youth has expanded to encompass anyone from 15-24. Though, I like to think there is a little bit of youth in everyone. It isn’t merely dictated by your age, it is the way you embrace change and innovation, the courage to stand up for your individual beliefs, and so much more that I am unable to put into words.
The first thing I watched as part of this project was ‘Misty’ at Trafalgar Studios. It was about, without giving any spoilers, a young black man who, taking inspiration from real-life events his friend experienced, writes a play while dealing with his family problems at home and the criticism from both his friends and his producers. The play asks if it is necessary for all black art to be about a struggle; can’t black people be happy and carefree in entertainment? I think there’s a delicate balance between the two. It is necessary to continue to tell people about the prejudice, the lasting effects of colonialism and many other microagressions that, so often, go unnoticed. But a part of addressing that problem is to make entertainment where these issues are not the driving forces of the narrative. Instead, it would be nice to see more black people, and people of colour in general, in narratives where they live their best lives and are happy, where they deal with the same problems everyone else does, rather than problems specifically related to their race or ethnicity.
After getting past the initial awkwardness, it really turned into a conversation between all of us youth in the room, rather than a one-sided talk.
‘Elephant in the Room’ at the Camden Peoples’ Theatre is a one-man play about mental health. Using physical theatre, it details one young man’s struggle with mental health while trying to maintain a calm façade to everyone else in his life. With a growing epidemic of bad mental health in young people, it is important to destigmatise mental health, and specifically, talking about it. Issues such as depression and anxiety do not align with what is expected of people in society. Coming from a male viewpoint in the play also serves to show people that traditional gender roles do not need to be adhered to, especially when they are detrimental to your health.
The two art exhibits ‘Gush’ by Hannah Perry and ‘Strange Days: Memories of the Future’ provided intense social commentary about the lives of young people today. This was the first time I had ever gone to an art exhibit, and so, I found it hard at times to interpret the visuals I was seeing. However, a part of youth culture is experiencing new things, especially in London, where there are so many opportunities to be taken advantage of. Besides, both exhibits were free, and I was able to see some amazing visuals, so I’m glad I got the opportunity to see both exhibits. ‘Gush’ focused on the state of mental health in a busy, structured city like London. ‘Strange Days’ warped our view of society in a sort of dystopian way, pointing out the ridiculousness of some of the things we find normal, such as reality television.
To bring the project to a head, the panel, held at the Barbican Centre, was a chance for us to say some of our thoughts and opinions to some people who were, surprisingly, interested in what a few teenagers had to say. It was kind of like when you see any type of show with a friend and stop outside the venue afterwards just to unpack what you saw. Saying your thoughts out loud forces you to make them into clear, concise ideas; easier to understand than the usual muddle that exists in my mind after watching a theatre show, or something of the sort. It was also interesting to hear about what all of us panellists had chosen to spend our wildcard money on. Even though they were all slightly different, it was clear that we all had an interest in sociology, perhaps not from an educational viewpoint, but more in that we just want to better understand the world we live and why it is the way that it is. This need for understanding was also picked up in the participation of the audience. After getting past the initial awkwardness, it really turned into a conversation between all of us youth in the room, rather than a one-sided talk. I really felt what the aim of the ‘We Watch Youth Culture’ project is in that moment. I look forward to the expansion of the project into a large-scale forum, in which young people from many different places have the opportunity to share their ideas with other youth, like-minded or not. It is important to listen to a range of thoughts and opinions because it allows you to consolidate your own opinions and form new ones when you support or rebut others’.
We Watch Youth Culture was a Boundless programmed event as part of Real Quick the Barbican’s new platform for rapid responses to the state of the world.