Stylist’s Lucy Mangan explains why we should celebrate teenage idealism.
The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, 14 of whom were killed along with three members of staff by a fellow pupil armed with a semi- automatic rifle on 14 February, surely broke all of our hearts. What they have done since, however, has started putting them back together.
They are extraordinary. Not only as proof, in their effortless eloquence, poise and confidence, of my long-held belief that all Americans are born camera-ready, but as a force to be reckoned with. And not just politically, although MY GOD, what they have done so far on that front – by almost instantly forming a gun control advocacy group (Never Again MSD), putting the NRA on the back foot, keeping the story at the forefront of the news and publicly roasting Republicans at every turn – has been amazing.
But what they have perhaps most ineffably and effectively done – what they do every time they stand up and open their mouths to deliver another impassioned, fearless speech to an audience around the world – is bring back memories of two things most of us, if we are any age at all, have unwittingly forgotten.
Firstly, that most under- appreciated of phenomena: namely, all that is great about the teenage years. We remember the bad stuff, obviously – the anxiety, the bitchery, the emotional manipulation – because it was real, vicious and often damagingly consequential. But we forget about all the things that the survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas are currently embodying under the most extreme circumstances. Such as the passion. As when 18-year-old co-founder of Never Again MSD Emma González pledged that, “We will be the last mass shooting”, or when 15-year-old Michelle Lapidot asked a senator at the CNN town hall meeting whether the blood of her classmates was worth his blood money from the NRA. The valiance – “We will outlive you” – was Never Again MSD co-founder David Hogg’s simple promise. The acute sense of right and wrong tightly cleaved to, the utter contempt for hypocrisy and the resulting willingness to speak truth to power.
A special shout-out must also go to the indestructible teenage instinct for the withering comeback. “I’ve never been so unimpressed with a person in my life,” said 18-year-old Samantha Fuentes, shot twice at the school, after President Trump called her in her hospital bed. And when Cameron Kasky faced accusations on live TV of being a fraudulent ‘crisis actor’, he replied, “If you had seen me in our school’s production of Fiddler On The Roof, you would know that nobody would pay me to act”. Holla, as I believe the young people do not still say, back.
It has all thrown into sharp relief the extent to which my post- teenage life has become a vale of compromises, large and small. Life chips away at your idealism while your attention is elsewhere. Leave it too long and it is readily replaced by defeatism. It becomes easier and easier to shrug at more and more unacceptable things.
But I can feel the force of the Parkland pupils’ idealism working on me – indeed, even more strongly than I have felt the groundswell of positivity from the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. And I can feel the one reinforcing the other and changing attitudes into something even greater than the sum of its parts. “We have a voice” is one of the Parkland teens’ rallying cries, and it is – brilliantly – true. What’s even more brilliant is that we all do, whatever age we are. And just like them, we can make it heard.
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