Sweet beard of youth

Figuring out why Young People do things is notoriously difficult. It’s been a grand tradition of the ageing and concerned middle-class commentator to scream ‘what on earth are these kids doing?’, and ‘THE BEATLES!’ when faced with new things they don’t like or understand.

In her column for the Sydney Morning Herald, Elizabeth Farrelly announced that the ‘entitlement generation’ is at fault for the punches-formerly-known-as-King, as well as confused facial hair.

Assuming the role of anthropologist, Farrelly sniffs around the metropolis to psychoanalyse the behaviour of what she calls the ‘inner-urban hipster’ and the ‘monkey-brained blow in’ to explain the latest crisis of masculinity.

Beards and brawls. Hipsters and haymakers. They go together like pretend public intellectuals and social psychology.

‘The New Beard is a statement. Chest-length and distinctly animal, yet shaped, waxed and pomaded, it is brandished with the pride of a 19th century patriarch. It’s saying something. But what?’

The resurgence of facial hair is at once a statement of heterosexuality, nostalgia and a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too retro aesthetic for men around my age, according to Farrelly. It is rare to be both disturbed at the predictability of the analysis and also thoroughly confused, but there I sat, stroking my own hetero-normative face-crime and wishing Fairfax’s paywalls weren’t so embarrassingly penetrable.

Indeed, it wasn’t long before my Chrome ‘Incognito’ tab was the cause of another Farrelly prescribed social ill: porn. As a busty woman explored her nether regions on one tab, a Herald columnist pretended to explore the dark spots of today’s Youth Culture on the other.

As well as the beards and brawls, the problem is apparently porn and video games. Also drinking games. I’m not sure how the usual suspects, Marilyn Manson () and rap, managed to escape attention this time.

In any event, Farrelly’s next column should warn against the corrupting enabler that is Chrome ‘Incognito’ tab. On it, you can watch porn, play games and not pay for Fairfax news, all with a face full of hair. The irony. All I needed was to muster up enough coward to punch.

When it comes to Young People and their problems, old people are usually the worst ones to ask. A better analysis came from Alex McClintock, a member of Young People but possessing neither a monkey brain nor a beard. McClintock quietly pointed out that violence is neither on the rise nor are king-hits particularly common. They are horrific, to be sure, but they are sporadic.

Having lived in Sydney for most of my adult life, my own experience with violence is thankfully rare. The main concern amongst my friends and I when leaving the house for a night out is how and where the hip flask will be stashed in order to avoid paying $8 for a beer. Overpriced piss at the pub, not punch-ons, is the bane of our collective existence.

Though perhaps, as an inner-city resident and a member of the beard-brigade, I am the wrong demographic. I’m not sure.

Who can explain why beards have become so popular? To give Farrelly some credit, ‘the entitlement generation’ is at least an original suggestion, even if it is absurd.

Of course, ‘entitlement’ is to baby boomers as freedom of speech is to Andrew Bolt. That is, everyone else seems to have it in spades. It is something to be used and abused but never reflected upon. Something to grumpily wish everyone else had less of, without wanting to lose any of your own.

Generationalism is the cesspool in which analysis goes to die. Prescribing certain characteristics to certain generations shamelessly passes over more sophisticated tools of social relations, such as class.

No matter. In Farrelly’s imagination, the wild, whiskered men of my generation are a product of our entitlement. Such is our ‘entitlement’, we can to look forward to a future of an increasingly casualised workforce, divisive politics which makes public services less plentiful, enormous HECS debts, as well as the effects of new and terrifyingly existential challenges like climate change. ‘Any wonder they binge drink and refuse to play nicely with others’ asks Farrelly. Indeed. Except she came up with beards.

It is a sadly familiar refrain for commentators to look at young people and despair at what they see. Almost twenty years has passed since Mark Davis asked if there was a backlash against young people, the way they think, and the way they behave.

What prompts waves of young men to grow beards is about as puzzling as why people would bash each other in the street. If anyone tells you they have a silver-bullet answer, don’t listen to them.

My reason for maintaining a beard is unspectacular. I look about 15 years old without one. A couple of years ago, I arrived on the doorstep of an ex-girlfriend with a freshly shaven face. Her look of dismay was all I needed to put the razor away for good.

Is this a clue to why many young men grow a beard: in an effort to look older? If it allows us to escape the trappings of the so-called ‘entitlement generation’ and the lamentings of stale commentators, who can blame us?

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Joe Gorman is a sports writer who occasionally writes about politics and food. His work has featured in Guardian Australia, New Matilda, the SMH Good Food Under $30 Guide and The Roar. He tweets @JoeGorman_89.

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  1. Helen Garner swam around in that cesspool in The First Stone when she accused the young feminists of being punitive and puritanical… In fact, I think Mark Davis’s Gangland was partly in response to that degeneration narrative of the time.

  2. Okay, so you’re complaining about Farrelly making generalisations about your generation then making the same generalisations about hers? All Baby Boomers think the same do they?

  3. Given that the baby boomers were the generation after The Beatles, it’s difficult to comprehend how they could be afraid of The Beatles on the basis that they were “new”.

  4. Personally, I grew my beard so I could stroke it whilst deep in thought, pondering why older conservative people have so much trouble accepting new things.

    The beard usually says to me, “I wouldn’t worry about it. They’ll get used to it one day.”

  5. I’m old with a beard, though was clean shaven for years. I’m puzzled by the imputation that being bearded is a statement or even much of a choice. The stuff just grows relentlessly out of the adult male face. On the other hand shaving requires a daily act of will, implements, proceedure and purpose. Shaving is a ritual of intent. Maybe that’s why Farrelly sees the reluctant shaver as lacking discipline ensnared by easy entitlement, animal violence, and voyeurism – all natural instincts of the male which can be atenuated by the bracing daily application of razor.

  6. Thank you for this piece. I became aware of the Elizabeth Farrelly piece through a link in an article written by Dr Tad about the O’Farrell government’s legislation to ‘resolve’ the socalled moral panic about ‘alcohol-fueled violence’. When I read it, I couldn’t believe such drivel and rubbish was published in a major daily newspaper. Ms. Farrelly needs criticism for such a blatantly stupid piece of writing. The Dr Tad article I mentioned is worth reading too (unfortunately where I read it or the link to it escapes me at this moment).

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