Art historians have described the iconic figure that stands in the middle of the infamous Liberty Leading the People as young, no older than fifteen. For centuries even before the French Revolution, youth culture and it’s rebelliousness is what has constantly evolved society for the better. In an age where the world has become virtual, fluid and omnipresent, this remains true.
Dominating the internet space, youths are now subsequently interacting with themselves, society, role models and the media in newly intimate ways. As an easily accessible encyclopaedia and globalising entity, the internet has fostered a hyper-aware youth culture – socially, culturally, politically and interpersonally.
Widely used platforms such as Instagram and Twitter have, for the first time, removed the communicative divide between the general public and large companies, celebrities and politicians. Now, these societal giants are vulnerable to millions of revolutionary critiques via comments, replies, DMs, mentions, the works. This, coupled with the fact that youths crave authenticity in the people and brands they support (Dazed found that 70 percent of youth believe that having a point of view is the key to making a brand influential today) means that youths inherently hold joint power over the “gods” they follow. Never before has it been so easy to expel public opinion to either cancel or glorify a celebrity or company, either by the use of hashtags or viral memes.
Take into account the Kendall Jenner Pepsi meme, which went viral in April 2017. These memes lampooned Jenner’s problematic advertisement, where she was shown stopping a protest by giving police officers a Pepsi as a kind of peace offering. These memes have recently resurfaced amid the Black Lives Matter protests, and continue to tarnish both Jenner and Pepsi’s reputations.
Large brands, celebrities and institutions are now commonly demonised unless they prove themselves otherwise. Starbucks, for example, has long been recognised as a particularly inauthentic company, but when it was reported by Buzzfeed that Starbucks employees were banned from wearing any clothes or accessories that mentioned Black Lives Matter in fear that it could “incite violence,” the internet went wild. The online backlash that Starbucks received was astronomical, and after releasing a statement, the company even made their own BLM T-shirts for their employees to wear to work. Wether this was performative alley-ship or not, this shows the extent to which public opinion, in the digital age, can so easily sway giants such as Starbucks.
Perhaps most bizarrely is the fact that politicians are also not free from this kind of virtual slander. Donald Trump’s latest Rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma was deemed a failure when an estimated 6,000 people showed up despite the fact that even Trump himself claimed that he was anticipating for “almost one million people” to attend the Rally via Twitter. It was found that Gen Z Kpop fans and TikTok users banded together to orchestrate the event, mass reserving seats for the Rally.
Under the influence of the internet, the emerging Gen Z and Gen X are not only powerful in their masses but also as individuals. In the current youth culture, there is a sense of simultaneous individuality and community. Dazed defines this phenomena as “monomass” – that even under the busy guise of mass trends and opinions, there is a focus on individual identity. Consider the average social media app as an example of this: on Twitter, each user can customise their profile to their liking and yet remain as part of a whole. There is “stan” Twitter, “local” Twitter, “nsfw” Twitter – there is a labelled community for each and every user, and this remains true for not only every social media app out there, but also the broader internet.
The future of youth culture will see the repercussions of the internet’s birthing of fluid, digital, all- knowing versions of ourselves. Online, the youth are bombarded with millions of opinions, perspectives and transformative pieces of knowledge, meaning that young people will consistently grow more passionate about the acceptance of other people regardless of gender, race and sexuality. Dazed has in fact found that over 60 percent of Gen Z are most concerned about environmental issues, race equality, women’s rights, and lgbtq+ persons. For proof of this, look no further than the countless world-wide university-led protests for climate change or the recent Black Lives Matter protests, which saw a clear divide between the youth and institution. Twitter was largely used as a place for protesters to share vital knowledge including footage, information that tracked the police’s movements, and tips on how to protest safely.
There are also unfortunate downsides to the heightened awareness that permeates youth culture. The Harvard Business Review has found that millennials and Gen Z have reportedly higher cases of anxiety and depression than previous generations. There are telltales signs of this even in the the interesting niche tastes that are almost exclusive to youth culture, which focus on 90’s and early 2000’s nostalgia and fashion. Brands such as Champion and Fila have recently been popularised and there has been an Instagram-wide obsession with vintage designer handbags from the 2000’s.
Is it the aesthetic that the youth love? Or is it a longing for a time before the technological boom?
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