Who Creates Youth Popular Culture?

I wonder if you’ve ever thought about who creates Youth Popular Culture?

It’s one thing to study Youth, Popular Culture and Texts but quite another to examine who actually creates the texts, films and music marketed to Youth. I found it difficult to find material that delves into this aspect of youth culture. Most readings focus on youth culture itself, not on who or what creates it so even searching for this proved frustrating.

To what extent are adults responsible for creating popular youth culture? After all isn’t it adults who produce the vast majority of the films, music and books that youth then adopt as their own? Sure, the characters and often the actors and musicians are teenagers, but don’t adults usually write the novels, scripts and songs, choose the actors and create the image that sells a band and its music to teenagers?

I wonder how much youth create their own popular culture and how much they accept the popular culture which is dished out to them by the media, largely controlled by adults?

I found an interesting article by Susan Herring that examines this question. She argues that,

adults create and regulate the media technologies consumed by young people, and profit financially from them” (Herring, 2008, p. 71).

She further suggests that most Films and TV shows, popular music and video games are designed, produced and marketed to youth by adults but don’t necessarily reflect youth perspectives. Rather they are a reflection of adults’ ideas about youth. She cites Howe and Strauss’ assertion that Millennials are, in fact, “the first youth generation in living memory to be actually less violent, vulgar, and sexually charged than the pop-culture adults are producing for them.” (Herring, p.73)

Not only do adults create these aspects of the media, they also, to a large degree, profit from and financially control the access of youth to it. An example of this is the purchase of video and computer games “which are consumed primarily by children, adolescents, and young adults, (and) generated 7.3 billion dollars in revenue for the gaming industry in the United States in 2004 alone” (Herring, p. 73). Adults buy these games, often with and for their children, profit from the sales of these games and the merchandise that accompanies it, and have a great deal of influence over which games kids deem popular. Even those with adult ratings are often purchased by adults for children like the game Grand Theft Auto which is now up to its fifth edition.

Adults also aggressively target youth through new media, often advertising products that are more adult- than youth-orientated in the hope of developing in future consumers an awareness and thirst for their products. They paint a picture of teens and preteens as “independent minded, discriminating, racially tolerant, media savvy, and “cool” consumers, the underlying reality is that commercial interests seek to manipulate young people into requesting and buying certain products” (Herring, pp. 78-9).  Even though many youth believe the way they are represented in advertising has a basis in truth, they are critical of the often distorted or exaggerated images paraded by the media. Some see it as them being told what to think, what to like, what to buy rather than them dictating their own preferences and they don’t like it!

“Little wonder, then, that teens change their evaluations of what is “cool” as soon as today’s latest trends hit the wider market. In part, they are seeking to distance and differentiate themselves from adult constructions that they consider manipulative or that they simply recognize as exogenous, and therefore inauthentic by definition” (Herring, p. 79).

There are youth who either don’t care or happily accept the media’s view of youth and continue to be seduced by its promises. But there are also those who are frustrated by the confines that a largely adult-created youth culture offer and who are working to create their own popular culture. It will be interesting to follow these developments and witness their impact on youth culture as my own children grow up.

References:

Herring, Susan C. “Questioning the Generational Divide: Technological Exoticism and Adult Constructions of Online Youth Identity.” Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. Edited by David Buckingham. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 71–92. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262524834.071. Retrieved from http://www.distans.hkr.se/anders/exa_marcus/youth%20identity%20and%20digital%20media/kap4.pdf

Howe, N. & Strauss, W. 2000. Millennials Rising: The Next Generation. New York. Vintage Books.

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