Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Los Angeles in the '80s - A Portrait of West Coast America?

When we are introduced to the daily routines of the vast majority of the characters in Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero, it is astonishingly clear just how prolific and seemingly accustomed the reckless lifestyles of the youth has molded the ideologies of a generation caught in the balance between social ambiguity and personal destruction.

The fact that the tensionless bonds that glue the various chapters of the novel together are so absent of any lackluster that it gets to the point where the reader is more than likely to believe (and would not be blamed for doing so) the youth are practically dead on their feet in their degeneration and lack of appreciation for anything positive - having all of life's blessings already placed in the palm of their hands.

As I have stated, the rich and affluent culture of the suburban upperclass does little to challenge the young members of west coast America, to the point where everyday issues such as relationships and physical appearance become major problems in a community which only seems to focus on people's misfortunes and faux pas. I feel that it is not only this however, that causes them to act in otherwise antisocial misdemeanours; but also for a desperation to fill the invisible void of boredom and anticlimax that they have grown into.

Media, I think, also played a hugely influential role in shaping the midset of young people in the 80s, and the novel struck a sinister chord in presenting the coming of the "New Wave" age of not only audible - but also visual music, and this came presented in the form of MTV, which the author makes numerous references to - and exposes the characters to also. This is also where I bring in my chosen source for the posting; The so-called "Basing Youth" titled article was one I had found whilst searching for youth culture in LA during the period of the early to late 80s. The website hosting the article FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) presents itself as "the national media watch group," "offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship" which was started in 1986.

The structure of the article is based on reports posted in newspapers and various other magazines and related sources. Many of the quotes that are used in the reports feature topical and political accounts of young adult behaviour. The very first sentence quotes a 21-word lead from the Washington Post in December 1992:"Unplanned pregnancies. HIV infection and AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases. Cigarettes, alcohol and drug abuse. Eating disorders. Violence. Suicide. Car crashes."This supposedly sums up many of the "negative" exertions that young people were associated with up until at least the end of the 80s and into the 90s. Drugs, prostitution and violence are also featured vivdly throughout the article. Picking out a few which are particularly related to the text include:

  • In the early '80s, officials hyping the "war on drugs" orchestrated media hysteria about "skyrocketing" teenage drug abuse at a time when, in fact, teenage drug death rates were plummeting (down 70 percent from 1970 to 1982). In the late '80s, the same media outlets parroted official claims of a drug-war "success" when, in reality, youth drug death rates were skyrocketing (up 85 percent from 1983 to 1991 - In These Times, 5/20/92).
  • the L.A. Times featured a report (3/14-15/93), showing the bleak childhoods of pregnant, disadvantaged teens, the accompanying official rhetoric blaming MTV and "peer pressure" looked silly.
  • The article also quotes President Clinton from a report by AP questioning, and then answering "Who's causing violence? "Kids and guns," (AP, 11/14/93)

What sets the article apart from the Less Than Zero is its focus on the working class and how disadvantaged families were often the more likely victims of licentious behaviour and targeted as the scapegoats of social unrest (this is how the reports come across.) despite the fact that six out of seven murders during the time were committed by adults. It is mentioned that it was continuously proclaimed and reported that the majority of people dying from drugs, spreading AIDS, and committing suicide were teenagers, in spite of health reports stating that adults were just as much at risk.

Article website available at: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1224

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