The New Global Youth Culture

October 2nd, 2009

I suppose I’m in a unique life situation in that ultimate, sovereign-God kind of way.

I worked for the Methodist Church in Ireland for five years as their national youth evangelist. I was part of a team that brought Catholic and Protestant young people together to celebrate the man behind the millennium in the millennial year. I then traveled to Australia to work and travel. One new friend from Oz was impressed and amused to find “a wee Irishman come on a working holiday to Australia and preach his way around it for work.”

The people, places, and faith stories I encountered did much to stretch me as an individual and as a Christian. I initially traveled to the other side of the world to speak at a conference for young people, I suppose I expected something of the Australia we see on our television screens in Ireland: perhaps tall, tanned, Fosters-drinking men named Bruce throwing “another shrimp on the Barbie.” I definitely expected to see koalas and kangaroos (and, on that point, I wasn’t disappointed), and I probably expected a large amount of abuse and banter, “why is the rest of the world so thirsty? Because Australia has all the cups!” (Australia, after all, is the nation that came to Ireland, played the Irish at their own national sport, and beat them in front of the home crowd.)

What I didn’t expect was young people who were essentially the same as those I spent the last six years working with in Ireland. I stood on the steps of the Brisbane entertainment center on day one of the conference thinking to myself, “This is wrong; it can’t be; I’m on the other side of the world.” I saw young people dressed the same as those I had left behind (and wearing the same clothes as the young people I’ve seen in America). I heard young people listening to many of the same bands as those in Ireland. I heard a different accent but many of the same words (Thank Friends for “How youdoin’?”).

As I sat in the conference arena, I heard a buzz not unlike a British or American Christian youth event and even many of the same chants screamed out as the excitement grew. When the band started, they sang a lot of songs I knew because I sing them at home. And as the night’s first talk began, I heard the familiar sounds of cell phones beeping amongst the annoyed crowd. Obviously some poor teenager had either left his girlfriend for the week, and she was telling him how much she missed him; or else he had forgotten his underwear, and his mother was letting him know how stupid he was.

Over the next weeks and months, the phenomenon continued. I discovered there’s no escape from the likes of Survivor, Friends, and, thank the Lord, Ally McBeal. And all the Dawson’s Creek exposure must have been my penance for some horrible past deed, although I watch it purely for research purposes. I shopped in the same chain stores I shop in at home; I ate in restaurants I eat in at home; I saw the same movies that my friends on the other side of the world were watching. And just when those “shark—do not swim” warnings were about to change my perceptions, the world got small again. I started receiving SMS text messages from home, reading and writing my e-mails, and, with my instant messenger, having various conversations online with literally dozens of people I had left at home.

I never could feel far away.

Global youth culture is increasingly becoming a reality. Youth sub groups no longer significantly vary country to country. In Australia, I saw the cool kids, the under-achievers, the jocks, the computer whizzes, the church kids, the skateboarders, the Goths. I see them home, around Europe, in America, and I’m sure they’re hiding in many other countries. How will we learn to minister to young people who are ignoring national boundaries? Will the Internet enable young people to form international youth groups because they have more in common with a 17-year old in Australia than with their own classmates? Who is my neighbor anyway? Over the last six months, I’ve learned that my neighbor is a lot closer than I thought.

I think my best recent purchase, the one out of which I’m getting the most value, is the Shea Seger CD I bought in Sydney. Shea is 20-years old, originally from Texas, and living and recording in London. Among the many fresh and genuinely original vocals on her first album, tucked away near the end, is a beautiful song that profoundly speaks to the simple cry of this global youth culture. Its chorus has lived in my head for weeks: “I just want to be loved, and to love, always.”

By the way, I actually did meet a lot of Australians named Bruce, not many “shrimp on the barbie,” though. And now, I’m writing this from South Africa. The real fun is that the journey of discovery continues.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.