It’s not been a good few days for youth.
On Saturday, I awoke to the curious discovery that Norway was trending on Twitter. The subsequent realisation – that this was because a lone terrorist had detonated a bomb in Oslo and massacred a number of people on a political youth camp at nearby Utoya island – chilled me to the point of a numb fury.
Then, on Sunday, an early-morning check of my Twitter feed informed me that Amy Winehouse (a woman just a few short months older than myself) had been found dead in her apartment, following a career of game-changing music and an adulthood plagued by substance abuse.
I’ve been following the media coverage associated with these two events, and it’s been fascinating to watch how the spin has unfolded. Commentary on the Norway attacks has skewed to become an evaluation of our prejudices, particularly after numerous news providers leapt to the assumption that Muslim extremists were responsible (including a particularly disgusting effort from one Andrew Bolt, whose hate-mongering and shameless lack of apology sickened me to the core).
Winehouse, meanwhile, has been inducted to the infamous 27 Club, hailed by many, and suddenly topping the charts again. There’s been no shortage of voices prepared to comment on the insidious nature of the media coverage that haunted her throughout her short career.
What I keep thinking about, though, is the tragedy and wastefulness of seeing promising youth so totally snuffed out.
In the case of the Norway attacks, the message of Anders Behring Breivik in choosing his victims is terrifying. In executing his terrorist attack, Breivik first detonated a bomb in downtown Oslo, in proximity to the Prime Ministerial offices and government buildings. While undeniably tragic, his choice of target is not what one might call surprising. Politically motivated, he sent a political message.
His next step, however, was rank with viciousness. Disguised as a police officer, he went to the island of Utoya, where the Norwegian Labour Party’s annual youth summer camp was taking place. He killed 68 people. Most of them were aged about sixteen.
It’s this act that cuts to the very heart of a nation – indeed, to the very heart of the world. Breivik’s choice of victims reveals the depth of his hatred for Norway’s political leadership. It wasn’t enough for him to terrorise the people who currently hold the power; he took special care to attack those who idealise them. He sought to destroy a particular line of political thinking from its point of genesis: the minds of the young.
Breivik invested more time, more energy, and more deadliness in extinguishing the lives of Norway’s bright, politically aware youngsters than the actual politicians. For the seat of power, he left an indiscriminate and less effective car bomb. For a group of teenagers, he personally ensured their mass execution.
The implications of what Breivik did are so utterly horrifying, it’s little wonder that people are preferring to focus on what part their prejudices have played in the subsequent reportage. We’ll not be able to deny the impact for much longer, though, and will need to look carefully at what could motivate a man to snuff out the brightest lights of a nation’s young.
Understandably, we are petrified of the notion that we are not protecting our children. The idea that the actions and ideology of powerful adults contributed to the death of teenagers is terrifying – after all, couldn’t we be doing or saying something that will one day inspire similar anger within a madman? What if our own children find themselves in his path?
Similarly, we can’t resign Amy Winehouse to the stuff of myth fast enough. We don’t want to hear that a tacit tolerance of her behaviour, in exchange for occasional displays of her talent, contributed to her premature demise. “It was her choice to drink!” people cry out. “She decided to take those drugs!” The fact that, as an artist, she has been allowed (even encouraged) to live outside the boundaries of legality and morality, for our own entertainment, is brushed away.
In both instances, young people who sought to distinguish themselves, to push boundaries, to explore new concepts and ideas died in the space of one tragic weekend. In both instances, they shouldn’t have.