Raw Materials

Theory of The Young Girl

Let’s be clear: the concept of the Young-Girl is obviously not a gendered concept.  The nightclub-going jock conforms to it just as much as the second-generation North African girl painted up to look pornstar old.  The spirited telecom retiree that splits his leisure time between the Cote d’Azur and the Parisian offices where he’s kept a foot in the door, and the metropolitan single too caught up in her career in consulting to realize that she’s already lost fifteen years of her life to it – both obey the concept.  After all, how would it be so easy to see the secret connection linking the plugged-in, puffed-up, civil-unioned humanity from the hip neighborhood and the petty-bourgeois americanized girl in the suburbs with her plastic family, if it were a gendered concept?

In reality, the Young-Girl is only the model citizen such as commodity society has defined it since world war one, as an explicit response to revolutionary threats against it.  As such, she is a polar figure, guiding becoming more than predominating in it.

At the beginning of the 20s, in effect, Capitalism noticed that it couldn’t maintain itself as the exploitation of human labor without also colonizing everything found beyond strictly the sphere of production.  Faced with the socialists’ challenge to its dominance, it too needed to socialize itself.  It thus had to create its own culture, leisure, medicine, urbanism, sentimental education, and morals, and also create a disposition towards their perpetual renewal.  This would become the fordist compromise, the welfare state, family planning: social-democracy capitalism.  And now, submission by work, limited because the worker is still separate from his or her work, has been replaced by integration through subjective and existential conformity, meaning, at root, by consumption.

From being merely formal, Capital’s domination has become little by little real.  The commodity society now seeks to find its best supports in the marginalized elements of traditional society themselves – women and youths first, then homosexuals and immigrants.

Commodity society can now give an air of emancipation to those that in the past it treated as minorities, who were the most foreign and most spontaneously hostile to commodity society, not having been folded into its dominant norms of integration.  “The youth and their mothers,” acknowledges Stuart Ewen, “will supply the social principles of consumer ethics to the lifestyles offered by advertising.”  The youth, because adolescence is “a period of life defined by a relationship of pure consumption with civil society.” (Stuart Ewen, Captains of Consciousness ).  And women, because at the time it was the sphere of reproduction, over which women still held sway, that they needed to colonize.  Youth and Femininity, hypostatized, abstract, and recoded into youthitude and feminitude, are then elevated to the rank of ideal regulators of empire-citizen integration.  And the figure of the Young-Girl thus realizes an immediate, spontaneous, and perfectly desirable unity between those two variables.

The tomboy is indispensable as a kind of modernity, much more thrilling than all the stars and starlets so quickly invading the globalized imagination.  Albertine, found on the wall around a seaside resort, exhausts the whole collapsing world of [Proust’s] “in search of lost time” with her relaxed, pansexual vitality.  The high school girl makes her will the law in Ferdydurke.  And a new authority figure is born, one that out-classes them all.

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