“Last night I was on a podium, waving my shirt around my head and a sudden thought came to me”; youth underemployment today
1.02 million 16-24 year olds are unemployed and not in full-time education in Britain currently. 17.35 million are unemployed in the US, slightly over a quarter of the potentially employed in that age group. And it’s getting worse, not better.
And all this time, the message you’re told as young person, much too young to make choices like ‘what piece-of-shit thing do you want to do for the rest of your life?’ you have to make the decision as to what you want to specialise in. You might do it age 14, you might do it age 16, you might (if you’re super lucky) get through to 18 or even 21 before you really narrow your options.
If at any of those points you give employment a try and it doesn’t work, you’re told that the answer is another qualification- whether it’s sneering at your lack of whatever high school completion certificate(s) or the view that if you just converted your degree to law, that’ll work this time.
You’ll never fulfil your potential (whatever some varied but predetermined social expectations and maybe, hopefully, your own particular talents and interests make that) unless you get back to school and really hone your specialism, this particular ability you’ve bargained your future on and which everyone either told you wouldn’t amount to a real thing or was hopelessly second-hand ambitious for you to become a world leader in.
Or you stop that. You stop that and you try and work out what you’re actually doing because you can’t take on any more mortgage-sized debts against unsecured futures and you need a minute to work out what’s going on here. Except then you have to pay the rent.
So you, if you’ve played your cards right and got a bit of luck in your teenage draw, use the bit of your Masters in Bee Conservation (because if the bees die, we all die- you always knew it was important and now all this shit you did to stop extinction… you can’t even think about it) that involved making some Powerpoint presentations to maybe, maybe get yourself an admin job somewhere. And by admin I mean the data entry no one else wants to do and the weird phonecalls no one else wants to take. And it’s probably temp and so you’re being paid half what everyone else is.
And you maybe have this moment at some point where you wonder exactly who the fuck this ‘everyone else’ is and how come they managed to sort this out so they got the proper job. And how come none of them have this lingering anxiety every time something buzzes outside the window that there was something that they’d truly convinced themselves they ought to be doing, that wasn’t this and which they’re not sure they weren’t right about.
It’s all part of a particularly doldrums-and-scratchy-unhappiness filled stage of “growing up.” The sort of thing people say everyone went through (they lie! young people have never been expected to be more young and less people) and so it must be somehow good for you. Like being told your £30,000 debt and nights spent angstily poring over chemical formulas mean you’re a reasonably strong contender for a job in Subway is somehow comparable to getting your first period or some pencil-case-graffiti teen heartbreak.
It’s not that you don’t want the job in Subway- of course you fucking do because otherwise you might starve and die or have to live on your parents’ settee again -an unbearable indignity of kindness by these people who well-meaningly had such high hopes for you.
It’s not the job- if the last five years have taught you anything it’s that you bloody love sandwiches but you wish they hadn’t lied. It’s embarassing, adults. Not even angry, just massively disappointed. Ok and a bit angry.
And some of your friends don’t seem to have the difficulty you have in reconciling that- best days of their lives! Reunions, everyone! School photos on Facebook. Remember how we were? But you can’t turn off the perception of causality between then and the now and you feel better about the now, even if it’s ostensibly shittier.
Of course, sometimes you never do anything with that niche again. Your special powers have been turned off by the ‘reality’ that’s pushed on not-quite-everyone by a small percentage of super-powerful and fairly fucked up people. Ah, mutants; I don’t know if you’ve heard but they’re kind of a metaphor.
This issue was, as with the previous ones, terrific. Kate Brown took on art duties, to give Jamie McKelvie time for July’s bumper crop and her emotive, witty style fitted in perfectly- every panel full of rich detail and expressive gestures.
To do a superhero comic about two young men who are, at best, conflicted about the whole superhero thing in the first place (the Young Avengers’ bad boy, Tommy, has never been entirely comfortable with the do-good aspect and well, turns out he and David both spent awhile hanging out with Magneto) and then place them in a context where they’re using their powers for neither good nor evil but mundaneity is the sort of pleasingly subversive trope that an indie comic might sometimes congratulate itself for. And it would feel quite twee. I might like it but it would be whimsy, in the end.
But if you do it from inside the powerhouse, then it’s just the natural detail of the universe where people have these earth-shattering abilities. Because saying superheroes have to poop and eat noodles and drink coffee is only important if you’re in a world where they’re also seen doing all the other things.
It’s about using your powers for a different sort of survival. It’s about being in a situation where you need them but you’ve become not-them or maybe they’ve become not-you and you used to find them defining and comforting. And you can’t go back to the way it was, not even if you amputate and forget things but they’re redundant, vestigial or completely phantom limbs much of the time, except when you sometimes put them to work on the sort of thing no one ever really intended.
What’s anything ‘intended’ for, though? Intention isn’t naturally occurring, so even a return-to-wildness fantasy doesn’t quite cut it. And it’s better to inhabit the present and its petty annoyances than feel miserable about it. Except you had this niche and you know all these things and sometimes you just look at other people and wonder how they can think so slowly? Everybody does it sometimes, it’s an inevitable product of being bored enough to have really thought about your own thoughts. And the thoughts of all these other people you’ve had to think about the thoughts of, whether it’s books or films or some innate or trained ability.
And Prodigy, of course, is full of not just the mundane details of his own life but “how all the major X-Men like to wipe themselves.” Tommy and David are perfectly balanced as underemployed outsiders here, not exactly ungrateful for it but not able to pretend it’s stimulating and rewarding, for all that. The first chance they get, they both leap (David more cautiously but nonetheless, he doesn’t exactly fight it) at other things- new friends, new opportunities to beat up things in the dark, noodles.
There’s an important actual-superhero-business plot here, of course; another parasite manifesting as someone you trust, someone (sort of, in a righteous way) responsible. That friend with all the ambitions who wouldn’t have ended up here, too angry to have that happen. Who’s trying to force you and your friend to be …beholden to something. When you were really all about that not being a thing anymore. Legacy! Everybody hates it. And no one should have this many, this young.