Leave the young people alone

These young people today “don’t respect their elders, they do what they want, they are too materialistic and their clothes are strange and overly provocative. All they do is eat, sleep, socialize with their friends and go to nightclubs and indulge in drugs and alcohol in between”.

These young people today “don’t respect their elders, they do what they want, they are too materialistic and their clothes are strange and overly provocative. All they do is eat, sleep, socialize with their friends and go to nightclubs and indulge in drugs and alcohol in between”.

“They have totally lost their culture”!

You would think that I’m expressing the very thoughts that every ‘sane’ elder in Rwanda has where the young people of this nation are concerned. Not at all; I’m actually expressing the sentiments that parents over ninety years probably expressed! I’m talking about young people of the roaring twenties and the confusion their parents must have felt when they witnessed what these kids were up to. Let me give a description of the roaring twenties and then make a comparison between then and now.  

The ‘Roaring Twenties’ is a phrase used to describe the 1920s, principally in North America, that emphasizes the period’s social, artistic, and cultural dynamism. Jazz Music blossomed, the flapper redefined  modern  womanhood and Art Deco peaked. The era was distinguished by several inventions and discoveries of far-reaching import, unprecedented industrial growth and accelerated consumer demand and aspirations, and significant changes in lifestyle.

Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology. New technologies, especially automobiles, movies and radio proliferated ‘modernity’ to a large part of the population. At the same time, amusement, fun and lightness were cultivated in jazz and dancing. The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was marked by a general feeling of discontinuity associated with modernity, a break with tradition.

This break with tradition was pushed to its limit, by young women especially. Before the start of World War I, the Gibson Girl was the rage. Inspired by Charles Dana Gibson’s drawings, the Gibson Girl wore her long hair loosely on top of her head and wore a long straight skirt and a shirt with a high collar. She was feminine but also broke through several gender barriers.

After the war however, a new type of woman replaced the Gibson Girl. In the age of the Gibson Girl, young women did not date; they waited until a proper young man formally paid her interest with suitable intentions i.e. marriage. Young women decided that they were not willing to waste away their young lives waiting idly; they were going to enjoy life.

It’s amazing how similar the aspirations of the youth were back in the 1920s in comparison with the youth of today. As a youth myself (I’m a full two decades and seven years old) I’ve suffered from the belief that I’m “misguided, petty and just a thrill-seeker” I was, however, pleasantly surprised to find out that my age group wasn’t as lost a generation as I’d thought before.

I was reading a piece in The New Times titled “Safeguarding Rwandan values from foreign invasion”, written jointly by Paulus Kayiggwa and Paul Karangwa ( Friday, March 7) and many of their statements caused me ire. According to the writers, young people were materialistic and dressed indecently. It was all nag, nag, and nag.

So what if they dress in so-called ‘indecent’ clothes? So what if they want to have the best of everything? It sounds as if some older people want to turn back the hands of time and transport us back to pre-colonial Rwanda. Oh, and before I forget, I suggest to those who think short skirts and boob tubes are indecent, to visit the National Museum in Butare and see what the young people in pre-colonial Rwanda dressed like. You might be surprised.

I believe that this whole “young people these days…” gripe is a case of wishing that the ‘good old’ familiar days returned. News flash; the days of the Afro and platform shoes are done. The days of the ‘umushanana’ (the traditional dress for Rwandan matrons) is past. Don’t live in the past because the past is just that; the past. Probably, when the young people today get older and have children, they’ll also have the same gripes.  

The “Younger Generation” in the 1920s was breaking away from the old set of values and today’s younger generation continues to do so. I shall quote two women, giants of that era, Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald and performer Josephine Baker. These quotes were the battle cry of that period in time and are still as relevant today as they were back then.

 Mrs. Fitzgerald stated that, “I don’t want to be famous;  all I want is to be very young always and very irresponsible and to feel that my life is my own - to live and be happy and die in my own way to please myself”.

Josephine Baker said that “I’m not immoral, I’m only natural”.
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