Today's popular culture is accessible to modern youth in an almost bewildering array of formats, from social media platforms to good old fashioned print magazines. Between iPhones, iPods, computers, televisions, and other "delivery systems," adolescents today in most nations are able to access, consume, and otherwise participate in popular culture offerings ranging from hip-hop music to punk rock attire. It would seem that today's youth are luckier than ever before in their ability to take part in the popular culture of their time.
But is this truly lucky? Is it lucky that young girls can be told in an even greater number of ways that their bodies don't measure up, or that they need to take drugs or drink alcohol in order to fit in? Is it lucky that young males have an even greater number of ways to learn how to hide their sensitivities so that they can grow up to be "real men?" Is it lucky that young people of all kinds are exposed to what amounts to capitalist consumerism on steroids and thus goaded to purchase as much as possible? These and other influences are definitely not positive.
While it is certainly the case that pop culture can be a valid and healthy expression of youth, it is unfortunately the case that today's pop culture has a negative effect upon adolescents. This paper will explore some of the ways in which this assertion can be seen, and some ways it can be mediated.
Explanation of the Problem
One problem caused by the influence of popular culture on youth can be seen in academic endeavors. Specifically, students do not always know how to evaluate what they learn in the course of their consumption of pop-culture texts, and so when they bring these ideas and "facts" into the classroom, they often do so in a misguided fashion (Hall 300). Instead of turning to academic sources for help in understanding the classroom materials, students are increasingly turning to such sources as "cartoons and video games" as authoritative sources which, they believe, can speak to the academic issues they are seeking to understand (Hall 300). Moreover, students are tending to use popular culture to silence dissent among their own ranks, so to speak (Hall 299) - meaning, in other words, that they are eschewing a true dialogue about ideas in favor of consumerist pop-culture groupthink.
Another, related, negative influence of popular culture on youth is that such texts "position young people to assume subjectivities that are heavily informed by the ideologies and discourses of popular/corporate culture" (Savage 51). Furthermore, youth are not just influenced by these popular culture texts, but are made popular (or not) by how strongly they affiliate with the corporate ideologies embodied in the texts (Savage 51). In other words, popular culture pressures adolescents to conform to particular capitalist/consumerist ideologies and, when they do not, they lose status.
Finally, Brooks (11) notes that popular culture can seduce young people into valuing a world that is based upon both superficial things (e.g. fashion) and potentially dangerous activities (e.g. drug use). She points out that in the absence of a substantive dialogue which engages and critiques popular culture, as well as the ubiquity of expressions that popular culture can take in today's technological society, adolescents are lured into seemingly "enviable lifestyles" that focus upon substance use/abuse and material things. In other words, adolescents today can become far more enmeshed in youth-oriented popular culture than ever before.
Solutions to the Problem
Brooks (15) suggests that parents, teachers, and other adult caregivers can help mediate the negative effects of popular culture by helping young people engage with it, from a very early age, so as to better distinguish between "garbage" and valuable materials. Along those lines, Savage (65) stresses the importance of not allowing "adult," classic, and other counter texts to fall by the wayside. Educators and parents need to balance popular culture offerings with consistently substantial, high-quality materials, whether or not young people are especially interested in them at first. By helping youth tie these texts in with their current popular culture interests, adults can help minimize the negative impact of popular culture.
Finally, as Hall (304) notes, adults can engage in popular culture offerings together with young people. In other words, young people would not just be taught to interrogate popular culture on their own, but they would be joined in the task by educated adults.
Brooks (9-10) points out that of all identity groups, youth are the ones most systematically denied political agency. One could then argue, by extension, that adults should leave popular culture alone - let young people have their own world in which they are empowered. Savage (52) looks to his own youth to see that grown-ups ridiculed him and his popular culture, to the point that he felt there was no "talking with" them, but rather, they talked and he did not listen. This might lead to the conclusion that "allowing" young people their popular culture is a way to make them feel valued and safe. These and other arguments focus upon the use of popular culture as a space in which adolescents can "be who they are" and, as such, should be left alone.
Why, though, should adolescents be left alone to navigate one of the most turbulent periods of their lives? Should they have no protection - whether internal or external - against the very real negative influences of popular culture? After all, these negative effects are potentially far more damaging than, say, a bad haircut or two. Moreover, as seen in the solutions which were proposed earlier, one need not forbid adolescents from consuming popular culture in order to mediate the negative effects of same. The conclusion is clear: while popular culture can have negative effects on adolescents, those who are concerned with them can take very real steps to help temper these effects, thus creating a win-win situation for all.
Brooks, Karen. "Comfortably Numb." Youth Studies Australia. 25.2: 9-16.
Cheating Students. Custom Written. Online. https://customwritten.com/cheating-students/
Hall, Leigh. "How Popular Culture Texts Inform and Shape Students' Discussions of Social.
Studies Texts." Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. 55.4: 296-305.
Savage, Glenn. "Silencing the Everyday Experiences of Youth? Deconstructing Issues of Subjectivity and Popular/Corporate Culture in the English Classroom." Discourse:
Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 29.1: 51-68.