Thursday, August 15, 2013

Teen Choice Awards Show 2013 . . . What It Tells Us About Youth Culture. . .

It's painful. I'll admit it. Once again I watched the annual Teen Choice Awards show. . . and it is in many ways excruciating. It's a lot of things that make it hurt. . . the shrill screaming, the pulsating monotony of the background music loop, the shallowness of the entire thing. . . too much to mention here. But perhaps the most painful part of the entire thing is what this marketing bonanza masquerading as television programming tells us about our culture, along with what our culture is telling our kids.

After giving it a look earlier this week (I was out-of-town when it aired on Sunday night so I had to take a rain check until a couple of days later), I scribbled some impressions. They aren't exhaustive and they aren't in any special kind of order. Here goes. . .

"Teen" means anything from birth on. This really isn't a show about teenagers. If the live audience was any indicator of who had voted (over 152 million voters!) and who was watching at home, "age-aspiration" and "age-compression" are alive and well. The former is a term describing how kids always want to be perceived as older than they are. That's why you saw an audience loaded with lots of early-teens and pre-teens. The latter term describes what the show did, that is, pump stuff that used to be reserved for those who are older and more mature into the minds, hearts, and worldviews of those who are younger. In other words, a more appropriate title for the show could have been The Pre-Teen Choice Awards.

"Teen" culture is market-driven. Segmenting children and teens into their own market-segments and creating needs, products, and experiences just for them is really a post-World War II phenomenon. It started as a small and seemingly insignificant snowball almost seventy years ago and it's been picking up mass, volume, and speed ever since. Marketing is now the most powerful force in teenager's lives. If you don't get hyped up by commercial words from sponsors, this isn't a show for you to watch. The commercials were legion! And everything between the commercials. . . well, that was commercial time as well as stars marketed themselves along with their music, movies, shows, and brands. Kids are the means to the end of their coveted disposable incomes.

Loud and perky is the way to reach kids. Watch the show a second time. . . if you dare. Pay special attention to the flow, the visuals, and the sounds in the program and the commercials. Everything moves fast. You have to keep their attention. Sensory overload is a virtue. The backgrounds moved and popped. The music pulsated. And the voices were full of eagerness and enthusiasm. No downtime, as downtime is a recipe for disaster in a world where kids expect and seek non-stop stimuli.

Heroes are made and marketed. The day of the self-made celebrity who has had to use their talent to claw their way to the top through blood, sweat, and tears. . . well. . . the sun is quickly setting on that day. This is the day of the "Franken-star." The business and marketing conglomerates that shape pop culture are constantly creating and releasing new teen-idols in their labs. If you've got the right look at the right time at the right place. . . that's how you make it these days.

Miley Cyrus. . . exhibit A. If you don't believe that heroes are made and marketed, just check out Miley Cyrus. And if you don't believe that those heroes have influence, keep looking. You might want to take some time to read this little piece I wrote on "How To Make A Pop Star" a few years ago.

Kids love movies. There were loads of ads for upcoming films. There were several awards passed out for actors, actresses, and films. Kids love movies. Movie-makers are the movers, shakers, teachers, and philosophers of the day. To watch a film is to learn a little bit about those who are watching that film. We need to watch what our kids are watching. We need to process with our kids the films they are watching. And maybe, we need to filter, monitor, and say "no" to some of what they are watching.

Sex Sells. We've been swimming in the reality of this marketing ploy for so long that we usually don't even notice it anymore. But it's still utilized and it still works. If it didn't work, we might be actually be noticing it more. Think about the way many of the celebrities dressed for the event. These are the image-makers. These are the people our kids see when they are deciding what they should look like, what they should buy, and how they should dress. If you don't believe me, just watch the Candies ads from this year's Teen Choice Awards broadcast. You might want to buy stock in lace.

Style trumps substance. No explanation needed. Just watch.

Social causes are important. . . sort of.  I still don't buy the line that this generation of kids is more socially conscious and aware than prior generations. The evidence just isn't there. And where they are socially concerned, their involvement is many times admittedly more about building an impressive resume than it is about serving others. The social cause du juor at this year's Teen Choice Awards was the "It Can Wait" don't-text-while-driving campaign. As a bicycle rider, I appreciate the campaign and the emphasis. But is that it? With all the deep injustices in the world, is that the best we can during a two-hour block of time with millions of impressionable young viewers? Of course, Ashton Kutcher was lauded with a quick passing mention of his anti-trafficking efforts.

Speaking of Ashton Kutcher, he is now the old guy. The fact that Kutcher's acceptance speech for his "Ultimate Choice Award" (see video clip below) provided the most truth and substance of the evening is a bit alarming. To his credit, Kutcher did pass on some worthwhile advice to kids. But if Kutcher is the most substantive adult presence offering wisdom and sage advice to young people, we're in trouble. . . big trouble. Once again, we're reminded of just how dangerous abandoning our kids to the nurturing presence of people other than dad, mom, the church, and other responsible adults can be.

Twerking is normal fare. The show ended with a lame attempt (watch the disengaged audience) to set the world record for most people "twerking" at one time. Sex not only sells. . . . it has successfully sold.

Finally, Nelly is still dealing with that nasty itch. You'd think he'd either outgrow that nasty habit or seek medical attention. When is someone going to tell him about Gold Bond Medicated Powder?!?!

Why do I watch The Teen Choice Awards show? It's a window into the not-so-deep depths of today's youth culture. And all of us who are called to minister to and parent kids need to see ourselves as cross-cultural missionaries. . . which means that we take some time to listen to kids by listening to their world. Then, we can speak the truths of God's Word to the realities that exist.

The Teen Choice Awards Show is not only about the choices children and teens make. Rather, it's about dictating the choices marketers think they should make about who they are, what they believe, and how they will live in the world.


Roger Brown said...

Chris "Ashton" Kutcher had some very good comments and advice to teens but he struggled to be heard with all the interrupting crowd noise. I was glad he got through what he wanted to say and by the time he finished the audience was starting to listen. Be smart, be thoughtful, be generous is a good message we all need to hear and put into practice.

Anonymous said...

The reason teens are more involved in social causes is because of their experiences of the worst economic crisis in 85 years and their desire to help out their neighbors who had fallen on hard times, this charity boom in teens and especially 12 and 13 year olds at the time started in 2010 and has become one of many social expectations among teenagers in American high schools (ie: everyone's doing it) and even graduation requirements in California, Texas, Arkansas and Missouri. What people don't realize is that alot of teenage trends and fads in America today were results of the great recession when we were 11-14 from 2008-2011 and the desire to try and repress memories from that time period, we are on our phones alot because were trying to shut out the real world from a society that is falling apart before our eyes, schools are trying to keep up with countries like china and Germany, while their intentions are good, our education system is creating a generation of emotionally stripped "robots" that is why liquid drugs like acid and alcohol are wildly popular, and prescription pills are popular too, that is why the current class of high school juinors are drinking more coffee than any other generation of juinors combined, and I predict that the majority of 1st time voters in 2016 will vote libertarian because the libertarian party matches up with the current vibe in American teens at the current moment, so if you wanna blame your high schooler for being on his phone too much, blame the recession