If we define youth culture as the combination of interests and activities that are characteristic of young people, it is amazing how youth all over the world can be identified by many of the same cultural features.
Youth culture as such is not a new phenomenon; since the 1950s young people have had their own cultural expression in music, film and literature. However, over the last couple of decades new ways and means of communication have given the concept of a global youth culture a new and different meaning. It comes as a result of international marketing and branding, media coverage, but most of all – the web. The Internet has provided a limitless meeting place for communication, commerce, and culture. The old saying that the world has become smaller is truer than ever. Travelling today is also something else than what it was fifty years ago. Now young people go as backpackers to places and countries their parents only could dream about. Globalization and the commercial interest in young people as a group with spending potential have resulted in a global fashion industry aimed at this particular group. Young people in Hong Kong, Stockholm and Toronto probably wear the same kind of jeans, hoodies, and trainers, and they may even have a similar hairstyle.
Street Art and Music
Wherever you go through the suburbs of nearly any city in the world you will see the same street art and graffiti. This juvenile code of identification used to be gang-related, defining an area, or “the hood”, as belonging to a certain group. Today graffiti has become a more or less accepted expression of young urban culture. The bold and colourful illustrations and images brighten up otherwise grey brick walls in dull and run-down suburban areas. There you will also find the same skaters wearing the same caps and saggy trousers, and kids performing street dance or hip-hop, and listening to the latest rap hit on their iPod. To a large extent young people around the world also enjoy the same music. Web-based sources like iTunes, Spotify and YouTube provide music and entertainment for millions of youngsters worldwide, and they also share their favourite music track or video clip with each other. In addition, international TV channels like MTV and VH1 have since the early 1980s had an immense influence and have perhaps more than anything else composed the soundtrack of the younger generation in most countries around the globe.
Communication and Identity
Social media have made it easy to make friends and connect with young people in countries all over the world. The brave new world of communication opens up by the click of a button, and the code is www, @, or #. The smartphone is always at hand - texting and phoning are cheap, and being online is vital. To most young people information shared on Facebook is more important than anything else. Online gaming is another international arena where the kids join and enter a world of their own and play and communicate with each other without parents or adults interfering. This bonding is a key element of young people’s need to identify and belong to a group of some kind. To most youngsters group identity is so important that they feel more kinship with peers than with their family. Though it may not be verbalised, they are joined by a common rebel stand against grown-ups in general and parents in particular, and they share the same distrust in adult norms and values. It does not mean that they are bad or mischievous in any way; it is just a natural process of seeking identity and belonging.
The “children-of-the-web generation” has become a label identifying today’s young people and their culture all over the world, for better or for worse. One might claim that the result is a standardized cliché ruining any individual or national identity. However, the perspective could also be that this young and unifying international culture could mean something for future communication and better understanding between people of different nationalities – and that can’t be a bad thing.
Tasks and Activities
Comprehension and Discussion
- How would you define "Globalization"?
- What is a "backpacker"?
- Would you agree that young people are targeted by commercial interests and aggressive marketing? Can you give any axamples?
- Where would you draw the line between tagging and graffiti?
- What mechanism lies behind the fact that you will find the same kind of fashion brands on so many young people?
- Why are social media and music streaming sites full of advertising? Is this OK or can it be problematic in some way?
- Do you agree with the conclusion in the article?
- Do some research on fashion gear in your class or at your school. What are the popular brands of, e.g. shoes, jeans, mobile phones, accessories etc?
- Check out some commercials aimed at young people. (Where do you find them?) Do they have a common use of effects?
- Find out why more and more experts warn young people against Facebook addiction. This article may give you some hints: Face the Addiction.
British and American English differ slightly both in pronunciation, spelling and vocabulary. The following words are British English, what would they be like in American English?
Dialog, traveling, favorite, pants (jeans), center, vacation, catalog, verbalized, store, candy
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