Neknominate: the latest student craze has probably already arrived on a news feed near you. It’s variously “sick and vile” or “dull and stupid” depending on which leader from the Telegraph you happen to read on that day. All around the world, local politicians, media busybodies and the police are gathering around to condemn this particularly stupid example of student and youth culture.
Except it’s not just the professionally boring who are stepping in to warn students to get their act together. In recent days a far more insidious form of reaction has been gaining ground in news feeds around the country: self-censorship.
Respektnomination is a movement that’s sprung out of a conservative backlash to neknomination. For whatever reasons people choose, rather than record their youthful stupidity to camera, students instead record themselves doing something nice for the world. Maybe they’re anonymously giving someone sweets in the library, maybe they’re giving a homeless person a hot meal, maybe they’re hanging a banner from the library bridge that proclaims that they are, indeed, holier than thou, and what’s more they’ve got video evidence to prove it.
“But, aw, isn’t that so nice?” is the inevitable response to these acts of kindness, to which my response would be an eyeroll of incommunicable proportions.
Youth culture is supposed to scary, and incomprehensible and confusing to the adult population. We had the bohemians, the hippies, the punks, the rave generation and now, there’s us. Our crazes are microscopic, but when they are successful they receive outpourings of condemnation from the national press who fear what they cannot understand. Take Milking – no-one can impose a narrative onto it, it is just wonderfully pointless, and in its lack of meaning it is a more fitting celebration of what it means to be young today than any other cultural movement could manage.
In my eyes, NekNominate is a glorious monument to the recklessness and creativity of being young. The videos that are celebrated and talked about aren’t the ones that involve drinking lethal amounts of alcohol, but are the clips that cleverly subvert the initial concept, which probably survived in its original form for all of a day or two. It’s a chance to create something intelligent and funny, it’s a space to be social and it’s a testament to a moment in time that we are meant to be at our most hedonistic and gloriously stupid.
Meanwhile, RespektNominate is just the latest in a sad series of the student population’s recent tendency to self-censor. Students are too often celebrating their maturity and adulthood in their decisions: we go on walks, bake cakes, have dinner parties, eat cheeseboards and watch Countdown. We tell people to ‘grow up’ and worry for people who aren’t conforming to the sensible routines we ourselves have devised. We decry genuine expressions of anger at our political lot and hope the rigid system will be persuaded by petitions or peaceful protest. We ignore the fact that we have the rest of our lives in which to look down on students and their behaviour, and imagine that by participating in it we are more sensible than they, and what’s worse, is that we think that that’s a good thing.
It’s indicative of a generation that’s under constant scrutiny, whether that’s by our peers and families on Facebook, or by a media whose obsession with students behaving like students has led us to be constantly vigilant lest our moment of recklessness ends up on page 23 of The Sun one day. And in fact, with most of us terrified about the job market in the future, streamlining our social media presence so that only our most employable self appears when someone googles our name is really just the most sensible thing to do.
But there’s that word again. Sensible. Being young isn’t about being sensible and it shouldn’t be about terrified preparation for being an adult when we will just continue to behave sensibly for the rest of our dull, meandering, tax-grumbling, Newsnight-watching lives. We have literally the entire rest of our lives to look down upon the stupidity of students, there’s no need to do it now. NekNominate isn’t punk, it isn’t the anti-war movement, it isn’t worthy, it won’t look good on your CV: it is just one way to radically assert your youth and freedom in a society that seems to hate your right to both.*
(*Or it’s just a funny story to tell in the future; I’m a student, not a cultural theorist. Leave the moral judgements and condescension to the respektnominators, I’m just here for the ride.)