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Heinz Kluth, "The 'Hooligans' [Halbstarke] – Legend or Reality?" (1956)

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That which is embodied by the “hooligan” does indeed go profoundly against the big city’s ideas of order. Therefore, people do not even try to take seriously the “concerns” brought forth by the “hooligans,” in the sense that one seeks the legitimate chance of their realization. What remains is the effort to counter them with moral appeals, condemnation, police power, or preventive youth services. However, successes are unlikely by these routes, since the root of the problem, the excessive curtailment of spontaneous, “pointless” action, is not only not eliminated in this way, but also virtually reinforced. The frantic discussion about the “hooligans” will soon be over again; however, the problem, only the outer layers of which have become visible in the process, will remain unsolved as long as one fails to see that “pointless” action must be given its due, the more one wants and perhaps has to integrate young people into a close-knit web of “meaningful” and task-oriented ways of behaving. A norm that wishes to be respected must include within itself, virtually from the outset, the opportunity to break that norm. Here lies the problem: big city-industrial society has lost the security-conferring confidence in its own stability and elasticity that is necessary to judge a silly prank meant to be “serious” as a silly prank nonetheless, that is, to be able to simultaneously endure it and contain it within its boundaries.

No Supportive Environment

Usually, this spontaneous urge to act, directed against any integration, still does not lead to an open conflict with the social environment. If a “riot” does occur, a number of intensifying or triggering factors were involved. From what we have observed so far, two of those seem to carry particular weight: the craving for recognition and the lack of a supportive environment. The adolescent seeks the recognition of his “full validity,” an affirmation of his “equality” by the environment. We all too readily underestimate the importance of this issue, because we continue to cling to the belief that the adolescent lives in his own social world largely separated from that of the adults. That may be true for some of the young people, but by far the greater part takes its orientation from the yardsticks of the adult world. Being a young person does not mean creating a separate world, but becoming an adult, getting out of the role of “not being taken seriously.” A young person therefore reacts with extreme sensitivity if recognition is permanently denied to him.

Now, the anonymous and objectified structures of the large cities and the working world of large companies have always offered inherently fewer and fewer possibilities for finding an environment that can provide recognition. If anywhere at all, the thesis of the “loneliness” of youth today has its cause here. A “human encounter” that takes place in a socially irrelevant situation may temporarily gloss over the problem, but despite all Romantic transfiguration, it does not solve it. The encounter with someone does not break through the “loneliness,” if this person who takes the young person “seriously” does not appear to him as the representative of a socially relevant world. However, added to this is the fact that the adult world itself, toward which the young person tries to orient himself in his striving for equality, no longer has any forms of obligatory norms to offer. After all, the adults themselves have blundered into the deeply unsettling randomness of their social roles. Out of this insecurity, they are becoming increasingly incapable of dealing directly with the youth; “talking to” increasingly takes the place of “setting a living example.”

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