Day #2 with Andrew Root last week explored how the identity of young people is formed in late modernity, based on his book The Promise of Despair. Andrew pointed out that in an earlier age, identity was largely shaped by work and by love, namely through family. Of course, that included the 'self' being defined by social responsibilities and relationships. In fact, there was no self as we know it today. To cut to the chase, work and love have been replaced by consumption and intimacy as the defining aspects of identity.
Andy drew on the work of Jean Baudrillard, French philosopher (who is well-known in media studies) it highlights the replacement of the signified by the sign, the real by the hyper-real.
To quote Andy's book:
"Meaning is hard to construct because when the sign and the signified are pulled apart by the hyperreal images of the screen, the line separating real from fake, subject from object, becomes blurred... It is not that there is no meaning; it is rather than in a world framed by screens there is too much free-floating meaning. There is so much possibility for meaning, but none of it seems bound to anything... Life becomes consuming signs; that becomes its goal and its end."
Add to that the loss of authority of traditional bearers of meaning.... give it a quick stir... Andy suggests that for young people the body is the locus of an identity formed from consumption and intimacy. Again, Baudrillard helps to make the connection between identity and celebrity.
This was a really worthwhile conversation and helpful for me in a couple of ways. I've written a journal article entitled "Young People, Technoculture and Embodied Spirituality" (awaiting publication... yawn...) looking at the connection between the intimate use of technology and spirituality. Baudrillard would suggest that the symbolic use of such technology is a key aspect of its meaning for young people, both in terms of intimacy and spirituality.
Secondly, it helped to make sense of a remarkable statistic in Peter Benson (Search Institute)'s book Sparks, which is about young people's aspirations and how to support them. In this national study of American teenager, the highest ranking aspirations of young people were in creative arts (54%) and athletics (25%). Apart from wondering how the country would run if they all achieved their dreams, more importantly it seems highly suggested of the power of mass media. Who are our celebrities? Actors, musicians and sports stars. (Leading at 2%, ranked below Animal Welfare 6%). It seems to me a great example of the symbolic becoming the 'real', the impossible being possible.
The rest of Andrew's book is about a God who is found in death, despair and doubt. fun stuff... He draws on Luther and Bonhoeffer to remind us that our identity is grounded in a God who is for us, and that what this means is that we can confront death and meaninglessness, rather than pretend that they don't exist.
Anyway, go read the book!
There's a website to accompany the book, featuring Andy's wife Kara, a Presbyterian minister. It's pretty new so there's not much there yet. Go check it out.