Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Pay attention to effects of pop culture


Illustration by Lya Hernandez.

All have witnessed, experienced or at least heard of the “Frozen” craze that swept through American youth in 2013. Like many Disney movies, “Frozen” leapt into children’s hearts and didn’t seem to leave for, well, an absurdly long time.

The movie’s effect on children and preteens represents just one blown-up instance of pop culture’s imprint on youth in the contemporary world. Children constantly assess who they are and naturally choose role models from the media to which they are exposed. While this enculturation is theoretically beneficial, the shallowness of character and intelligence, in effect the “dumbing down,” of pop culture in recent years has compromised the behavior and emotional growth of children. But you can stop it.

“The part of the brain that makes us aware of how other people see us grows significantly just as we are entering adolescence,” explains Ben Allen, a clinical psychologist based in Northbrook, Ill. Older children and early teens do not have a sense of who they are, but they suddenly become aware of how they are viewed by others. This is why, at this particular stage in development, kids desperately feel the need to become accepted and “cool.” It also explains why everyone hated middle school.

Girls especially tend to maintain even lower senses self-confidence during this developmental stage. As Brooke Wiseman, the executive director of Girl Scouts of Chicago, points out, “It’s that gap between their emotional development, which is right where it should be, and their physical and cognitive development, which has been accelerated, that makes girls so vulnerable to popular culture.” Both girls and boys, in this way, replace lack of confidence with pop cultural knowledge and choose role models to guide their sense of self.

But saying that children are “vulnerable” to pop culture, as Wiseman does, makes it sound like an inherently toxic convention. Pop culture itself does not heighten the self-esteem, sex, violence or any other behavioral issues among teens. Instead, it is the quality of the media that children are exposed to –– the essence of what pop culture does portray as “cool.”

In the early 20th Century, pop culture as we define it now began with innovative symphonies like “The Rite of Spring,” the creation of national sports leagues and the establishment of literary magazines like TIME. It could be argued that these cultural developments positively educated and widened the perspective of the human mind.

Today the same cannot be said. Shows like “Beavis and Butthead” broadcast to all ages, ditsy celebrities like Kim Kardashian form the epicenter of entertainment news and rap songs about “hoes” and “tricks” blast from radios around the country. Even “Frozen,” a supposedly progressive Disney movie about sisterly love and heroism, is ridden with standards of beauty and gender roles that often do not deviate from classic fairytales created decades ago.

According to a study performed by The New York Times in 1995, “Half of those surveyed said they believed portrayals of sex and violence on television, in movies and in music lyrics contribute ‘a lot’ to whether teenagers become sexually active or violent.” This was 20 years ago. Why do we still buy into the shallow, stupid entertainment that the media shoves into our face?

You are aware that pop culture has gotten dumber, that it has negatively affected you or your child’s self-esteem and sense of self. So why don’t you stop? Do little things: cut yourself off from social media; don’t flip through the “People” magazines in the checkout line at Safeway; insult celebrities whose actions you wouldn’t imitate yourself. Then, maybe, with the “coolness” extracted from modern pop culture, the minds of children can watch it become exactly what everyone else sees it as: just dumb.

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