Pop Culture Shaping Young Identities

When the word “Hollywood” comes in mind, one automatically thinks about movies, celebrities, fame, and music.  In fact, Hollywood involves much more than that, including respected and adored names like Disney and MTV.  No longer restricted to Los Angeles, California, the Hollywood sign has evolved into a culture of its own, more commonly understood as pop culture, spreading to every international corner.  Major cities around the world, such as Tokyo, Dubai, and London are living the American pop culture, with people following the latest fashion trends, career choices and even earning their philosophical discussion topics from hit movies, television series, talk shows, and the western music industry.  However, the all-American media, specifically pop culture, is affecting international perspectives negatively, harming the younger generations by destroying their moral, religious and humane values, thus negatively impacting families and entire communities.  Long gone are the days in which the American dream consisted of gaining the highest educational degree, owning a home, and settling down with the intention of educating and training the future generations; instead, there are only materialistic and shallow goals which only aim at enjoying and living in the moment, achieving happiness by nourishing the evil side of human nature. 

            First and foremost, the American pop culture conveys unrealistic and often violent messages to viewers, whether it takes the form of movies or music.  Traditionally, movies were intended to send out strong moral and ethical messages about realities in a society, fighting social injustices through an artistic form.  From costumes to story lines, directors ensured that audiences would receive the highest quality films and song-writers produced songs with vivid poetry and rhythms.  Today, there are films that are classified in many groups such as A-list and B-list, depending on their poor qualities and the music constantly drills negative and violent messages in listeners’ ears.  Focusing on cinema, the simple, redundant plots are overshadowed and enhanced by technological methods and special effects.  Furthermore, film makers and song writers rely on sex and violence to keep viewers entranced and addicted.  O’Toole points out the basic harm music carries out on the youth, “Music alters and intensifies their moods, furnishes much of their slang, dominates their conversations and provides the ambiance at their social gatherings. Music styles define the crowds and cliques they run in. Music personalities provide models for how they act and dress.”

            Recently, the political campaigns for the upcoming elections are largely focusing on moral issues and politicians are promising to revive American ethical value systems by focusing on the media exposure in pop culture.  The inconvenient truth is that pop culture encourages everything opposing these ethics, such as pre-marital sex and violence against the opposite gender and minority groups.  Even this country’s constitution and founding vision is challenged by popular culture because a biased and narrow world vision is provided which shows the white man in power, and a wealthy, Ivy-League graduate to be exact.  American politicians are affected along with the public and all other world views are considered to be terroristic or plain wrong.  Minorities living in the United States are targeted in pop culture such as Mexicans, Indians, Hindus and Muslims.  For example, most villains in cinema are dark-skinned; most cleaners are Mexican immigrants while all terrorists are Muslim.  What is more, facts and history is completely altered through cinematic presentations, and lead teenagers to engage in unhealthy habits in order to achieve those unrealistic goals; for instance, current rap music videos and lyrics are powerful enough to turn women into battering objects and rap listeners are more likely to use drugs such as marijuana and XTC along with becoming alcoholics at a younger age (Schrameijer).  

            Along with discriminating against other minorities, American pop culture is based on the belief that there is only one right way to do things (the American way) and all other life styles are inferior.  This is another reason why anywhere one travels in the world, people prefer to lead American lifestyles, believing them to be superior.  Most of these people have not interacted with an American and therefore, solely rely on the country’s media and pop culture, which encourages emotional and physical uniformity.  An example of such uniformity is advertised in messages through magazines, films and music.  The prominent fashion magazine, Vogue, constantly faces criticism because of its negative portrayal of women.  Brooke Rutheford states, “Fashion as an institution in American culture perpetuates gender injustice by devaluing and undermining women with images of beauty that are impossible, unattainable and questionable terms of health”.  In fact, the British edition of Vogue was celebrated because it featured an all-African-American issue in 2008 headed by Italian editor Franca Sozzani.  Critics stated that they were “disappointed that it took a European magazine, not an American one, to deal with the hesitancy the fashion industry has long held to hire black models, claiming ‘they don’t sell’” (Rutheford). 

            Traveling past Europe to the other hemisphere, American pop culture influence is gaining momentum in Asian countries as well, specifically China.  Through the internet, downloading movies and music videos is effortless and American sounds are heard in every Chinese home, transforming the Chinese culture into a blend of American and Chinese pop movement.  From fast food franchises such as McDonalds and KFC to the latest fashion trends, Chinese youth are diligently trying to live the American dream thousands of miles away.  Even seemingly simple changes, such as incorporating English slang words into daily conversations, are practiced with attempts to gain superiority through pop culture.  Moreover, the Hollywood effect is so significant, that Chinese youth prefer Western films and music over local arrays.  Defining popular culture, it is stated, “Popular culture can be understood as a text that is received by people and acted on, or as a lived experience that is created by people” (Dolby).  Dwelling into this definition, the Chinese youth know information about the American culture which they try to utilize for altering their lives to what they believe is the American reality, whereas the American youth experiences and designs the popular culture, which makes it difficult to detect the boundary between reality and imaginative media portrayals (Foster). 

            In addition, statistics and research shows that popular culture is looked down upon by older generations and even small percentages of the youth.  In contrast, the more acceptable or high culture is the opposite of whatever the pop culture is at any time or place.  For example, book reading, considered part of the high culture spectrum, has been replaced by video games and going to the movies which are popular, yet frowned down on. Dolby defined culture as “the best that has been thought and said in the world,” yet she made a distinction between popular culture and best culture.  Parents often complain about their teenagers rapidly changing lifestyles and adopting pop culture behaviors; however, research proves that even though parents might believe their children are rebelling, they are in fact following a culture which is prioritized in their social circles and bombarded by media outlets around them.  Along with worried parents, analysts and popular culture critics complain that current pop culture devalues traditional learning and way of life, abandoning it altogether for something negative.  Chavez states that the pop culture movement “says that we don’t have to measure the new against anything; that anything is good.” 

            Despite all the negativity pop culture is bombarding today’s youth with, there is still hope in various preventive measures.  Statistics point out that on average Western adult views more than four hours of television in a day with the intention of relaxing (Chaudhuri 29).  However, this is merely a dependency and teaches the younger generations exactly what adults are worried about; that pop culture should be worshipped.  The best solutions given by professional psychologists and case study teams is that parents first need to amend their own pop culture dependency habits and provide options for children.  Letting the television or computer babysit a child is not only harmful to the child’s health, but damages the emotional bond between parent and child.  Parents are suggested to practice stricter parental controls and carry out their duties as the authority, not letting the children take advantage of extreme flexibility.  McKenna suggests educating the youth as the best preventive measure against pop culture brain washing:

This research demonstrates the importance of teaching critical media literacy, not

only to mass communications students, but to everyone…young audience members need to learn how to decode mediated messages critically for the ways that competing interests among various groups and agendas—economic, political, social, religious, among others—vie for individuals’ acceptance, even if such messages are not always logical or in the best interest of the consumer (59).

Replacing parents and traditional learning, pop culture is increasingly becoming the top voted teacher among American youth.  IPads and Lady Gaga have stepped in the shoes of teachers and knowledgeable resources such as Shakespeare books.  The main cause of this growing dilemma is that pop culture is readily available and comes in bulk, continuously pumping large dosages of negative information in young minds at every street corner, online browsing windows, through peer discussions, billboards, magazines, school forums and television.  Pop culture icons provide youngsters with specific living standards, covering all aspects of life such as which friends to make, how to treat parents, what to eat, which fashion trends are acceptable and which should be avoided, which rules in society to reject, how to engage in violence, things to expect from the opposite sex and which friends to choose.  Ultimately, popular culture takes conventional learning and reprioritizes its aspects according to unethical criteria, with the aim of unifying the world under one identity, the pop culture identity. 

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