Now 30 years old, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 can still make you laugh as the main character, Adrian, relays the adolescent struggles of his daily life. In addition to the book retaining its relevance more than a score since its first publication, Adrian Mole also functions as a time capsule, providing clues to the impact of the big events of the early 80s like Charles and Diana’s wedding and England’s involvement in the Falkland War.
In a BBC Radio 4 interview, the interviewer, Evan Davis, and, the author, Sue Townsend, ponder if history is repeating itself –
Davis: “You probably didn’t watch Prime Minister’s Questions but the theme was how everything’s returned to the 1980s – We’re going on about the Falkland Islands, unemployment rising, a Tory government, you know.”
Townsend: (laughing) Nothing changes.
Val Hennessey writing in the Mail Online would disagree:
Yet things have changed. Already, Townsend’s masterpiece evokes a vanished, more innocent time before mobile phones, Facebook, internet porn, teenage binge-drinking, fast-food takeaways and substance abuse. Adrian’s world is one of phone boxes, gramophones, GP home visits, youth clubs, ping-pong matches, neighbourliness and respect for the law.
And I would disagree with Val Hennessey (and also with Sue).
Val is right in that things do change. However, I disagree that the 80s were a more innocent time. There was porn, teenage binge-drinking, fast-food takeaways and substance abuse before mobile phones, Facebook, and the internet. The latter three just made it possible to bring the former three into brighter lights and broader audiences.
Sue is right in believing that despite the technology people at their core don’t really change. Adrian Mole has withstood the test of time because the adolescent issues he contends with are a constant amid the technological advances. Acne, first loves, first heartbreaks, personal identity, and the fallibility of your elders, these are all things children address as they progress from age 12 to age 13 3/4. I agree with Sue, if this is what she means by “Nothing changes.”
However, Sue is wrong, if social tolerances are included in the discussion. I think we have advanced and changed as a society too. While not as fast as our technological advances, as a people we have crossed some important thresholds in terms of equality and tolerance.
Adrian Mole was published at the start of the 80s, before the AIDS epidemic and Band AID (and LIVE AID), before the rise of cable TV and MTV (my introduction to New Wave music and style), before the introduction of the Apple Macintosh and the rise of the personal PC, before movies based on Tama Janowitz and Brett Easton Ellis novels, before Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, before Pac Man and Atari.
We Love This Book posts:
However Townsend doesn’t think Mole would have adapted well to teenage life in 2012. “He would be exactly the same but he wouldn’t be using Twitter to memorialise his life," she says. "He would keep a secret diary. Mole’s privacy is still intact. He would not use social networking."
I know he is her invention and I admit I have not read any of the other books in the Adrian Mole collection but I think she’s wrong. I think if Adrian were 13 3/4s in the 21st Century, he would be on Facebook and Twitter seeking out other intellectuals worldwide from the safety of his hometown.
Instead of a paper and pen diary, Adrian might have a password protected blog or a private YouTube channel where he records his daily observations and aspirations. The distractions offered by 20th Century comforts like video game consoles, VHS tape rentals, and cable TV would have certainly fed Adrian’s imagination and social development.
Is Evan Davis right? Is 2012 going to be a 1982 rerun? It’s too soon to tell. I like how Like Totally 80s presents it: “80s Fashions Return With 21st Century Corrections.” Just change “fashions” to “social politics” or any other topic.
Emma Cossey begins her post at For Book’s Sake:
Every generation has a literary hero. Whilst the teens of today idolise Harry Potter and Bella Swan, the thirty-somethings had a very different idol: Adrian Mole.
I don’t know that Adrian Mole would have been an idol of mine had I read him in the 80s. I was too into Jim Carroll and Holden Caufield. But I do know that reading Adrian Mole now brought back memories of similar situations and feelings I had had when I was 13 3/4s. And I think if I pick the book up again in 2032 (Adrian Mole’s 50th birthday), I would revisit the same memories and laugh at the same descriptions.
Happy Birthday Adrian Mole!