Comparison of Margaret Mead’s “Coming in Age” to Russian Youth In an attempt to challenge societal values, youth cultures, in the form of rebellion, act and dress radically and form groups in protest. These dissident actions against the structure of existing society promotes the beginning of new small groups which reflect their own rules, structures, class, gender and ethnic ideologies. So, the youth culture, in challenging societal values, at the same time is reflecting them. In comparing Margaret Mead’s young adults in Coming of Age in Samoa to Russian youth it is evident where the differences arise. The Samoans strong cultural values leave little need for individual expression.
Expectations of the children change as they get older. They know what is expected of them and want to follow the rules. In contrast, the youth in the Soviet Union, live in a culture of confusion. They feel constricted by the laws of the society, see families collapsing around them, and believe things should change. They want to be individuals and they want to live by their own values and ideas. Many come from broken homes and poor communities with little respect for authority.
They rebel against what they feel is an unjust society and look for a culture or group that they can identify with. Often society depicts these groups as dangerous, deviant and delinquent. These groups, however, just show many of the valued structures of society, but in a more radical way. They have a standard code of dress, values, ethics and rebel in order to force their ideas onto the public and to feel part of a recognizable group. Margaret Mead noticed little individual differences among the Samoans. “We have seen that the Samoans have a low level of appreciation of personality differences” (Mead, 1973, 161).
The Samoan’s strong cultural and family traditional values do not allow for individualism. In comparison, Soviet youth express their individualism through youth cultures such as punk, ‘metallist’ hard-rock groups and “golden youth”. Although they feel they are expressing individuality through these groups, they are actually fitting into different structures, values and in fact, a totally different societal group. Soviet society is concerned about what these youth cultures stand for, in particular the ‘metallist’ hard-rock groups. “They hate and despise our whole system, all our values.
That’s why they’re dangerous, and why I’m pessimistic about the future” (Wilson, 1988, 22). In their defence, Alexei Kozlov, a member of a band, “extolled the virtues of heavy-metal rock.” He said it was “an emotional outlet for underprivileged and unemployed young people..to work out their resentment..if we forbid this music, they will display their aggressiveness in other forms” (Traver, 1989, 1991). In combining their musical talents with their rebellion against an unjust society, these groups find an outlet for their anger and combine with others having the same interests. They work together with a goal similar to normal society groups. Over the centuries the importance of the extended family, in Russia, has decreased considerably.
At one time the family included grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and it was more important than the society in which it lived. The children were protected and controlled from outer forces by this large family with strong religious, cultural and family ties. Similarly, the Samoan children share this strong value system. The longer the child is kept in controlled state, the more of the general cultural attitude it will absorb and the less of a disturbing element it will become (Mead, 1973, 163). In recent years, with Russian urbanization, family has become limited to parents and their children. They have more material goods but lose out socially and emotionally (Wilson, 1988, 28). From a young child nursery schools or kindergarten have taken over previous parental obligations.
The schools help them do morning exercises. It feeds them, takes them out for walks, puts them to bed, teaches them to keep things tidy, paint, model, read, write, sing and dance. It also teaches them to be kind, considerate and honest, organizes parties for them, and takes them for health check-ups (Vishneva, 1984, 161). While the biological parents work, the state educational system becomes a new “parent” to the child. The close relationship between child and parent no longer exists, however, “the state sees the family as respon-sible for the children’s welfare and for instilling in them behaviour acceptable to the existing social norms.
The broken family is seen as a factor in juvenile delinquency. Good citizens are obligated to “monitor the political conscience of family members, especially that of children” (Shlapentokh, 1988, 34). Another negative aspect of the decline in family life is the rising incidence of divorce which is said to be caused by sexual incompatibility, inadequate housing, infidelity and a high rate of alcoholism (Traver, 1989, 64/65). These all leave the child confused, feeling alone and angry at society. He then looks for ways to express himself and usually finds it in a youth group culture with similar concerns. The Samoan villages have a very strong system of discipline, respect and authority.
Villages contain thirty to forty households each presided over by a head man with chiefly titles. They are the official orators, spokesmen and ambassadors and are responsible for all the members of their household. Everyone else in the household has authority according to their age, even the adolescent (Mead, 1973, 42/43). From the age of four or five years old, Samoan children perform definite tasks according to their strength and intelligence and which have a meaning in the structure of the whole society (Mead, 1973, 164). This gives a feeling of self-worth and shows that everyone is a valued member of the community. In contrast, Russian youth have no control over others and little control over their own lives. Soviet society stresses more importance on society and the current political regime.
They see social interests as much more important than individual ones. Personal interests must always be sacrificed if in conflict with societal interests (Shlapentokh, 1988, 19). Youth coming from broken homes and living in a society which gives them little freedom, look for ways to show their discontent with authority. “Mocking the police has become the Moscow rockers’ favourite game. Another kick was to taunt the Militia..have drunken parties, group sex” and hire young prostitutes (Wilson, 1988, 138).
Many informal groups were organized in Russia in the late 1980’s, especially in the working class districts. Young people who were not always welcome in official clubs found it necessary to form their own clubs to combat loneliness and reveal their reactions against a world of over-organization. They want to make contact with one another as human beings and do something “real” (Wilson, 1988, 139). The influence that Western culture has had on the youth of the Soviet Union has been a source of worry for the political leaders. Western culture is seen as “shallow and harmful to Soviet youth” It lures the “young away from rich communist ideals”.
Seen as “untidy” and “vulgar”, “Soviet rockers were given an ultimatum: clean up or break up”. Some groups went underground, others conformed to official approval and found themselves confined and suffocated, “their lyrics purified and their costumes polite”. Official rock music was then easier to control and supervise. One of the sanctioned groups played in a youth club of a working-class suburb of Moscow. Some of the fans wore clothes with foreign labels and were known as “golden youth”. They were children of the elite who had travelled and brought home Western goods.
Some punks wore black leather jackets and had splotches of pink and orange hair. They and many others in the audience knew the “taboo” words, to the Beatles’ songs, which the band were not allowed to sing as total artistic freedom was not allowed (Traver, 1989, 190/91). The Soviet educational system’s …