July 3, 2010

Welcome to the Teenagerie

The notion of a separate teenage culture is a concept that is relatively young. Prior to the 1930s, nothing but the thin line of employment separated those who were kids from those who were adults. With the onset of mass unemployment during the Great Depression, however, young people suddenly found themselves idle-- redundant in the overcrowded workforce. As a remedy to this problem, Roosevelt's New Deal conceived of the National Youth Administration (NYA), an agency that aimed to keep young people out of the glutted workforce by encouraging them to finish high school.

The NYA ended up increasing graduation rates, but more importantly, it succeeded in centralizing America's young people into secondary schools. As young people flocked to high schools, an environment was created that allowed for the inception of a unique teen culture, one with its own music genres, fashion tastes, and outlooks on life. For the first time in history, society began to regard the public life of the young adult as something separate from the life of the family. Thus, the teenager was born.

Somewhere along the line, though, between today and the birth of teen culture, society's conception of what it means to be a teenager has changed. What was once dictated by a hand-jiving and heavy-petting set of young people has now largely been appropriated by businesses and the media as a means of exploitation. Teen culture today is something that is packaged, marketed, and sold back to teens for their own consumption, and usually not with the most encouraging message. Through the eyes of the media, teenagers are shown as narcissistic, lazy, and unintelligent. We are condemned for being tech-obsessed, shallow, and impulsive. The irony in this situation is that this perception stems not from teens, but from a preconceived set of norms that we as a society have allowed to dictate our expectations for how young people should behave. Instead of liberating us, teen culture restricts us by setting boundaries for who we as teens are allowed to become as we come of age.

With my previous project, The Seventeen Magazine Project, I spent a month living according to the gospel of Seventeen magazine, exploring expectations that modern media sets surrounding beauty and girlhood. I drew the above conclusions during my work on the project, and but had difficulty finding information that broke down the social construction of what it means to be teenaged. Through this struggle, the idea of Teenagerie was born. Taking inspiration from one of my favorite blogs, Sociological Images, as well as from the vast amount of other sources on the internet devoted to breaking down societal norms, I created this blog with the hopes of promoting discussion around and challenging the idea of what it means to be teenaged, and what it means to come of age in our changing times.

This blog, which will update on weekdays, will offer analysis of advertisements, film, and other media--past and present--along with essays on important topics surrounding "the teenage condition," which often has far more in common with the human condition than we are led to believe. My hopes for this blog are that it will be productive in promoting discussions surrounding the important questions about adolescence, which range from What are today's teens really like? to How accurate is the media in portraying these representations? Through promoting critical analysis, I hope this blog can serve as a place for celebrating teens and humanity in general, as well as for breaking down the generational barriers that keep us apart.

55 comments:

  1. Like a lot of things, being a teenager started as an upper class, or at least business class, thing. If you read the Betsey-Tacey books, set in the late 19th century, or old Archie Comics, set in the 1920s, you'll see the modern teenager, in high school, not ready for the workplace, and as consumers. The 1930s crystalized this and extended teenagers to the working classes.

    I'm glad to see you thinking about this though, especially now that our current recession is likely to extended teenager-ness into early-20s-ness with the lousy job market. The new health care law has set 27 as the first year of adult-hood with regards to having to buy your own medical policy. We'll see if that age sticks.

    P.S. In your search for teen media, have you googled (or binged) around for any appreciations of the old Sassy? It was free on the New York - Boston shuttle, and quite unlike the other 1980s teen magazines.

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  2. Jamie..someone to look into is Christine Northrup, she is a physician who has done a lot of work with women and womens images and how the media has impacted on that, in particular eating disorders and sexuality.
    Once again your writing and your inquisitiveness is impressive and pleasing..keep it up

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  3. You may want to take a look at how things change from magazines geared at young teens (Teen, Seventeen, YM) to those geared toward older teens/young adults (Cosmo, Glamour). How do the former magazines prepare young teense to become young adults?

    Just a thought, and you are probably better able to do this than I am!!!

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  4. Really like the new project idea, I will be following!

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  5. Jamie,
    Here are some resources, of which you may be well aware, as well as a potential source of funding for any research you might endeavor in the future (providing the bill passes!):

    http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report.aspx?item=4

    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h111-4925

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  6. Hey Jamie
    While the social-economical raison d'être of the teenager is quite interesting, remember that the idea of teenager wasn't solely born in the US. Teenagers don't only exist in the US nor were the US the creators of it. You are clearly going to be presenting issues in your own society, which is fine, but please remember your readership is likely to be varied and from all over the world :D

    I'm looking forward to it.

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  7. So excited for this! Will guest posts be featured?

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  8. I would love to have some guest posts! Email me with your ideas! jamie@teenagerie.com

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  9. Jamie, you should check out the books Pink Think and College Girls by Lynn Peril. I think you would enjoy them--they're both about the creation of the feminine ideal and the shifting popular image of young females.

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  10. I look forward to reading more from your blog. (And maybe meeting you in real life! I've deferred a year, so I'll be UChic class of 2015.) SocImages is one of my favorite blogs. ;)

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