We used to joke about emos. If they’re so keen to express their individuality, we’d ask, why do the black-eyed bastards look nigh-on identical? One of my claims to fame, indeed, is a mention in NME after sending an irritable missive provoked by an interview with an insufferable beat combo who’d suggested that they were the voice of the outsiders. These “outsiders” can’t be too isolated, I griped. Those sods were inescapable.

As laughable and downright unpalatable as youthful attempts at self-expression can be, though, the freedom to explore ideas and outlooks is extraordinarily precious. In Iraq, it’s said, official condemnation of the growing non-conformism of teenagers has led to violent and deadly assaults against, yes, emos. I’d thought this story might have been a hoax when only Al Akhbar was carrying reports but now Reuters have followed up and it seems worrying plausible…

The killings have taken place since Iraq’s interior ministry drew attention to the “emo” subculture last month, labeling it “Satanism” and ordering a community police force to stamp it out.

At least 14 bodies of youths have been brought to three hospitals in eastern Baghdad bearing signs of having been beaten to death with rocks or bricks, security and hospital sources told Reuters under condition they not be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Last year, in Indonesia, there was a campaign against punks…

Dozens of young men and women have been detained for being “punk” and disturbing the peace in Aceh, Indonesia’s most devoutly Muslim province. They are being held in a remedial school, where they are undergoing “re-education”.

“They will undergo a re-education so their morals will match those of other Acehnese people,” says Mr Leo.

Happily, of course, that episode was less murderous but the notion that young people are obliged to and can and should be forced to conform to every standard of their elders and compliant peers is the same. It’s monstrous totalitarianism: stupefyingly arrogant in design and tragically stultifying in practice. While lamenting the excess and blandness that often typifies consumer culture it’s worth remembering how much darker the alternatives can be. Better junk food for the soul than total deprivation.

Maybe there are people who sincerely believe that if you let teenagers off the leash they’re bound to live in drugged-up, sex-mad anarchy. Experience tells us that this is paranoid. Cautious non-conformism has been described as a harbinger of Satan’s arrival from the teds to the mods to the hippies, punks and ravers. While it needn’t be an inevitable process for subcultures, most of those guys, for better or for worse, became straight-laced husbands, fathers and employees. Heck, all of my schoolmates who showed “emo” tendencies are settling down now. Their eyelids are only black as the poor souls have jobs they’ve been getting up for. And even children who’ve kept them awake.

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