The Joys of Youth

1 September 2022

The Joys of Youth

It’s serious.

By Neil Tidmarsh

The Shaw Sheet regularly stands up for today’s youngsters, lamenting the inequalities, injustices and burdens which trouble them – student debt, an inaccessible property market, toxic social media, etc – in contrast to the golden opportunities enjoyed by us ancients in the dim and distant past.

That is, some of Shaw Sheet’s writers do (see Robert Kilconner’s Student Debt elsewhere in this week’s issue, for instance). This columnist, however, scratches his thinning grey hair and grinds his few remaining teeth and mutters “Bah, humbug, what have these kids got to complain about? The free and easy joys of youth – sex and booze and rock ‘n roll – they’re still there for them, aren’t they? (Ok, booze isn’t exactly free, but what else are they going to spend their money on if they don’t have mortgages?). Whereas for us oldies, those joys are more or less a distant memory. We fall asleep after just one glass of wine and wake up with a hangover like the cruciatus curse. Our hearing’s so bad that we can’t hear Led Zeppelin, crackling away on our prehistoric and well-worn vinyl, even with the volume turned right up. And as for sex, the less said the better (and where was tinder when we needed it a hundred years ago?).  I reckon that just about makes us quits.”

But what’s this news, just in from Japan?  The younger generation is giving up booze?  Surely not!

But yes. Alcohol consumption in Japan has plummeted in recent years, particularly among the young (sales halved from 2019 to 2020). According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, a third of middle-aged people drink regularly but this falls to only 7.8% for people in their 20’s. And the decline is set to continue.

The government is very worried about the lads and lasses of Japan turning their backs on booze, believe it or not. Why? Because the tax revenue from the sale of alcohol has traditionally been a significant source of public finance. In 1980 it was 5% of overall tax revenue, for instance. This had declined to 3% by 2011, however, and last year it was a mere 1.7%.

The cash-strapped government is so worried about this loss of revenue that it’s now urging youngsters to drink more booze. Youth of Japan, it’s your patriotic duty to go out and get legless! The National Tax Agency is launching a campaign called ‘Sake Viva!’ to “appeal to the younger generation” and “revitalise the industry”. It opens with a competition to find new ways to “stimulate demand among young people”, inviting entries suggesting novel products, retail opportunities, promotions, sales and marketing ideas, etc, etc (closing date September 9).

The whole initiative has an air of desperation about it, however, and there’s been such a backlash against it from today’s sensible youngsters that it’s unlikely to deflect them from the straight and narrow path of sobriety which they appear to have chosen.

So no booze, but still, never mind, there’s always sex, isn’t there?

Well no, apparently there isn’t.  For some years now it’s been evident that Japanese youngsters are becoming increasingly celibate, having less and less sex and more and more solitary engagement with the virtual world of on-line gaming and social media. The birth rate has plummeted. Elon Musk reckons that Japan will eventually “cease to exist” if this ‘celibacy syndrome’ continues.

And it appears that young people in China aren’t far behind their Japanese peers. Researchers at the Peking and Fudan universities published a report in the Chinese Journal of Sociology this week which suggests that Chinese youngsters are going off sex. “Those born after 1995… were even less active in sex life than those born in the Eighties and Seventies” said the report’s lead author. The researchers fear that “Chinese youth today will follow in the footsteps of youth in Japan, many of whom have chosen to have no romantic relationships, to not get married, and to live a sexless life”.

Ok, so, no booze, no sex… But there’s still rock ‘n roll. Isn’t there?

But today’s global pop-stars are so well behaved. (Members of K-pop bands are contractually obliged to live blameless and healthy lives: they can’t have boyfriends or girlfriends in case their fans get jealous and drop them; they can’t have visible tattoos or TV companies won’t give them air space; their diet and their exercise routines are strictly controlled; etc, etc.) And the music is equally well-behaved and healthy and blameless. We had Led Zeppelin and the Who and David Bowie, and then the Sex Pistols and the Stranglers and the Clash, dangerous artistic rebels who probably wouldn’t get recording contracts or air time today, badly-behaved goliaths who probably wouldn’t survive the sling-stones of social media’s self-righteous and over-protective mobs.

No sex. No booze. No rock ‘n roll. Celibacy, sobriety and sensible music. Crikey, this is serious. The youth of today is in real trouble. It seems that I’ll have to agree with my Shaw Sheet colleagues after all. It’s so much worse than even they realised.

Cover page image: / Creative Commons

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