Do We Follow Pop Culture Like Blind Sheep?

By Sarah Nguyen '19 and Tori Carr '20

February 2019 Issue 

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     Everyday, teenagers begin their morning routine by checking their phones. They scroll through their social media apps almost instinctively. Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook; social media has become a vital part of their lives, whether they are aware of this or not. From Ariana Grande’s latest music video to a new Netflix original series, people are always filled in on what seems to be every new trend, meme, or news story.  

According to Medium, “Pop culture is defined as modern popular culture transmitted via the mass media and aimed particularly at younger people.” This definition supports the stereotypical image of teenagers being the primary age group affected by pop culture. In recent years, the use of social media and access to technology have skyrocketed. According to the Washington Post, teens spend up to nine hours a day consuming some sort of media.

     This exposure to social media makes many teenagers feel like they constantly need to absorb more and more information and constantly keep up with each other. This feeling has been called Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). People often feel pressed to stay up to date on every recent TV show or movie that comes out, but that becomes harder and harder as new content is published everyday. The Mic explains this phenomenon as “pop cultural FOMO, exacerbated by digital technology and topped off with a dose of judgment.”

     Ms. Harrison, the Upper School Counselor, thinks that FOMO is “universal.” She says, “I think that often what you see is that everyone looks like they’re having the greatest life ever because they are posting their ‘highlight reel,’ while you may be sitting at home, feeling a little lonely...It can cause many people to feel like they have to post things and they have to get the likes and the followers and it can make them really anxious.”

     Aidan Beckwith ‘20 explained,


“We are jealous or insecure over one aspect of our life that we think can be changed if we were more like the celebrities that we idolize.”


     In recent years, there has been a major increase in marketing through social media. According to Common Sense Media, teenagers are the most targeted demographic because their access to their parents’ money and their influence on how their parents spend their money as well. Because of this, companies have begun to market more through apps, games, and websites. Brands target teenagers also because “of their particular vulnerabilities: the desire to fit in, to be perceived as attractive, and to not be a huge dork.” Additionally, they are “highly susceptible to messages around body image, and marketers use this to their advantage.”  According to data from Klear, a marketing company, Instagram ads have increased by 28% in the second half of 2017.

     Social media allows more online public figures to increase their popularity through Instagram or Snapchat. The trend of instagram models has taken the world by storm. People are often paid to model in front of amazing locations around the world and advertise companies that mainly market through Instagram like Sugar Bear Hair and Fashion Nova. To maximize marketing abilities, many social media platforms now feature an explore page. These introduce people to unlimited amounts of content and ads carefully chosen and calculated based on the user’s interests.

       Music is also being used as a form of marketing. “Thank u next” instantly gained massive attention due to Ariana Grande’s public breakup with her ex-fiancé, to whom her latest album was dedicated to. That, along with the theme of the music video which paid homage to the classic popular movies such as Mean Girls, Bring it On, and Legally Blonde, brought up a feeling of nostalgia for viewers. By using relatable references along with the timing of the song’s release after her breakup, Ariana Grande’s music video has struck big and as of January has gained nearly 270 million views.

       Another example of marketing through media is protest music. In 2018, Childish Gambino changed the face of protest music when he released “This is America.” The music video juggles themes of slavery, violence, and suffering and depicted how society still struggles with racism, specifically with police-violence towards African Americans. The music video leaves viewers with a chilling message, marking police violence as part of America and connecting this violence to segregation and slavery that plagued the nation decades ago.

       There are many other impacts of pop culture on our generation. Clothing and fashion are extremely affected by social media and Hollywood icons. Livestrong explains that “an important characteristic of every teenager’s maturation is their self-definition. Self-definition can be defined as they way you see yourself. For teens, that image is influenced to a large extent of these influences.”

       Ms. Harrison explains that teenagers already have a difficult time developing their identity. She believes that, “Essentially, everyone is afraid they’re not going to fit in and they’re always comparing themselves to others. Pop culture has a huge influence on young people because it helps them determine what they think is cool or not. Whatever memes, videos, music or TV shows are out there are going to have a huge influence, especially on people that are around your [teenage] age.”

       Instagram models influence teenagers today because teens believe this so-called perfect life is attainable if one dresses and acts like the models. Social media also offers opportunities for younger girls to show off more of their bodies. It can be empowering for women to be able to express themselves, however there are many circumstances when younger teenagers are exposed to these environments more than previous generation had to.

       Ms. Harrison explains that social media is sometimes harmful, “Pop culture and the media and advertising have been around for a long time except now these things are more likely to hit you frequently if you’re staring at a phone all the time. And if you’re looking at social media and ads pop up or you’re following the                 Kardashians on Instagram, or whatever, then you may constantly be bombarded with sexualized images. This can be dangerous, particularly for young people, because often they are idealizing a body type that isn’t necessarily realistic.”

      When asked, “Does Social Media in general affect your purchases (YouTube, Instagram)?” 31.7% of those surveyed said no, while 46.3% said maybe and 22% admitted yes.

       One of the most influential families in the US is the Kardashian family. This family is, according to Psychology Today, “famous merely for being famous.” They do not offer “the world new ideas, artistic works or musical performances, athletic achievements, literary contributions, scientific discoveries, philosophical concepts or philanthropic gifts.” However, their lives are constantly on blast and their hit TV show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, is finishing up its ninth season this year.

       The psychology rooted behind America’s love for the Kardashians is in their envy of their luxurious lifestyles. People love to watch them both succeed and fail, and “they seem to both covet and resent the melodramas that pervade celebrities’ lives, in contrast to their own mundane existences,” according to Psychology Today. Some people live vicariously through watching celebrities’ and models’ lives and often forget that they are normal people, too.

       The Kardashians influence fashion and makeup trends through their presence on social media, mainly Snapchat and Instagram. Kylie has her own makeup line, and she and her sister, Kendall, have opened up a clothing line together. Many high school students’ style choices are influenced by celebrities. Unknown to few, the Kardashians have started a revolution with their bodycon dresses and high waist leggings. Now, these trends can be found in nearly every trendy clothing store. According to our survey sent to the student body and faculty, we discovered that 15.9% of people said their style is influenced by a celebrity, while another 17.1% said maybe.

       However, when this question was altered to ask, “Does social media, in general, affect your purchases?” 22% of people said yes and 46.3% of people said sometimes.

       Teenagers’ purchases are also influenced by their peers as well. 57.3% of people said that they had bought a product solely because everyone around them was buying it.

       Abbie Henshaw, a Junior, explained that she felt the celebrities influence on pop culture “changed a lot with the introduction of “YouTube celebrities,” who seem a lot more approachable and human than normal A-listers. I feel they may actually know what my struggles are and what products can help with that.”

       Another student, Senior Roger White, believes that “we see a lot of ourselves in celebrities we follow and admire. Often times we try and replicate what they do because we want to be them, and that’s why they have so much influence on our lives.”