The Age We Live In home > backlash

Or, perhaps, the age in which we live

I had to laugh today. I was in WH Smith, the newsagent/stationery/book store, and I heard a conversation between a young lad, perhaps 14 years old, and a member of the shop staff. It was clear that the lad, who spoke slowly and deliberately, as though he were completely thick, was completely thick. It also became clear that the staff member was either fairly ungifted in the brain department or completely ambivalent when it came to helping young lads out.

Lad: My sister is going to a nightclub tonight. She needs photo ID card to get in. I've been told you can get them in magazines, which ones?
Staff member: Er... I've no idea.

Okay. It was a short exchange, but communication is probably about 20% based on the words and 80% based on the sounds, gestures and so on. So, trust me when I say that there was some stupidity going on. I had a good chuckle about this. Especially about 5 seconds after the lad had walked off when I realised what must have led him to ask the question. It probably was the result of a discussion he had with his mate.

Lad: Any idea how I can get some Photo ID?
His Mate: Oh yeah, just find one of them magazines... there's usually something in there.

[Ed. note my use of poor English to indicate how the mate might speak - being a bit dodgy!]

So, having been told to look for a company that advertises bogus (or even genuine) ID cards, in young people's magazines, he wandered into a shop somehow expecting to find a photo ID card for his sister actually sitting inside the pages of the magazine. That would have been a long shot... with her actual picture on too? He must have thought he'd strike it lucky.

When I'd finished laughing at the obvious case of stupidity, and stopped feeling smug that I'd worked out what the kid was looking for, where a staff-member of a newsagent had completely failed to, it struck me that this whole exchange probably said something deeper about our society than at first glance. There are lots of lessons to be learnt from this afternoon's trip to WHS, and they have little to do with ID cards in magazines.

Look first at the young lad. Not born brainy, but that's not his fault. He was in that shop for one of two reasons. Either he was looking to get fake ID for himself, or he was trying to help his sister out - perhaps she's even old enough to get into nightclubs, but cannot do so without ID. So, we've got two possible scenarios here. Either a lad, out to make some mischief, is foiled by a combination of his own stupidity and docile newsagent staff - a sort of natural justice if you will - or there's a lad who is trying his hardest to do a good turn for his sister, despite his lack of mental acumen. It's a heart-warming tale whichever way you look at it.

Then, let's consider the misunderstanding about the ID. This lad genuinely believed that something inside the pages of a magazine would get him some method of proving his sister's age (or his own - the jury is still out). Not only that, but he believed he'd be able to get it by the evening. This illustrates the sort of instant-access commodity culture we now have. It seems that you could have your age proved in minutes by just buying something. It also shows the lack of respect we, as a society, have for truthfulness - essentially, the truth is something you can buy or fake quite easily.

Finally, let's look at the whole nightclub thing. Assuming the end-goal was to get into a nightclub, what are we coming to as a nation? If our kids' only social scene is either hanging around bored, or finding one's way into the hedonistic isolated culture of  the modern nightclub, then we're heading for spiritual poverty. I can picture a young lass, crying her heart out because, unable to follow her mates into the nightclub, she's nothing to do. Perhaps her brother has tried to help her by running to WHS, but she's going to cry herself to sleep tonight, at least.

Perhaps a desolate end to what seemed to be an easy laugh at a stupid kid. 

23 February 2002
Ashley Frieze