Well, I am relieved to say that the form of the essay is still relevant - at least to me it is, because, once again an essay helped address a gnawing unease. Mark Greif's essay "Children of the revolution" in the November 2006 issue of Harper's Magazine doesn't actually spell out the reasons why the kids are doing what they are doing but instead concentrates on what happened to sexual liberation. And he comes to his conclusions by way of first speaking of the disturbing subject of "sex children".
Mark's uses the phrase sex children to refer to those who are 'persons barely eligible to vote' and
furnish our gossip -- with their tumultuously flings, bootleg sex videos, and accidental breast exposures on the red carpet. They are broadcast, examined, emulated, desired. These 'sex children' are repositories of fresh sexuality, not, say, of intellect or even beauty. As their age goes up to seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen, the culture quickly awards them its highest sexual adulation. Yet as their age goes down from some indefinate point, to sixteen, fifteen, fourteen, and so on, the sexual appeal of childhood quickly reaches out culture's zone of absolute evil.[An aside: On the Media did a segment called 'Minor threat' which deals with this minefield of a subject is a manner both subtle and direct.]
From this launching point, Mark then examines the notion of sexual liberation,
Liberation implies becoming free to do what you have already been doing to have meant to do. But what passes as liberalization has often been mere liberalization. Liberalization makes for a free traffic in goods formally regulated, creating markets in what you already have for free... This [sexual] liberation went astray because another force turned out to have a use for the idea that sex is the bearer of the richest experiences -- commerce. Sex was initially difficult to liberate against the rival norms that had structured it for centuries: priority of the family, religious prohibitions, restraint of biology. But once liberation reached a point of adequate success, commerce discovered it had a new means of entry into private life and threw its weight behind its new values... Opposition to this supposed to be not only old-fashioned but also joyless and puritanical -- in fact, ugly.
But Mark's key insight is that it is not essentially sexuality that is being sold to us, but youth (I am restraining myself from reprinting the entire article in this post. I'm sure you can furnish your own examples of our youth-obsessed culture) Youth is ever valuable because it something that we are always losing. And this is where the notion of 'sex children' becomes so important. "One fears our cultural preoccupation with pedophilia is not really about valuing childhood but about overvaluing child sex. It is as if the culture understands it must be ruthless in preventing adults from tampering with real children, just because it is working so hard to promote the extreme commercial valuation of youth."
Mark then prescribes what would be a truly liberated, as opposed to liberalized system. Its worth tracking down the article to finding out what that is. By the way, Greif's essay in Harper's is from a piece called "Afternoon of the Sex Children published last spring in n+1 if you are lucky enough to be in a place that carries that journal.