It is that season again when we all take a look back over another year gone by and consider how life has changed. One of my favorite things to do in January is to take a look at some of the sometimes subtle but significant changes that have happened in pop culture in the last year. This sort of mini-year-in-review gives us a chance to make important notes on how life has changed and will continue to change for the youth we work with every week.
This year I picked five significant transitions (in no particular order) that happened over this past year. While each could be a blog of their own, I hope they are a helpful way to prepare for 2012. I also invite you to leave a comment below to share transitions you see or want to discuss in 2012.
1. Good-bye, Harry Potter…Hello, Hunger Games
After over a decade of Harry Potter book and movie releases, the franchise was finally brought to a close with the release of the final Harry Potter movie. While Harry Potter will still remain with us in books, movies, and now a theme park, the final movie marks the last time that we will see any new material from the Harry Potter franchise. The void will not be empty for long. Some might point to the Twilight series as the next craze, but this series only has one remaining movie release as well. While it has a powerful fan base, many are less than pleased with how the books translated to movies. Instead, coming up quickly in the pop culture ranks is the release of the first Hunger Games movie. This book trilogy has been popular with teens for a few years now and the movies are set to be blockbusters as the many fans are already pouring over poster releases and pictures from the set. Look forward to the Hunger Games and its cast to be the next big teen craze in Hollywood.
2. Good-bye, Scripted TV…Hello, Reality Shows
I know, I wrote about this transition in 2009 when Dancing with the Stars and American Idol took top spots for the year’s most watched television. However, in 2011 there was a distinct up-shift in both the number of reality shows and in how much reality television teenagers are watching. I am finding less and less scripted television out there for pre-teens and teens. The focus is more and more on shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians, Jersey Shore, 16 and Pregnant, even The Amazing Race. Reality shows can run the gamut from positive and uplifting to those that glorify bad behavior and focus on the worst in people. Now, more than ever, we have to be asking what teens are watching and opening up dialogue to keep them watching television through the lens of their faith.
3. Good-bye, Celebrity for Hard Work…Hello, Celebrity for Hire
It used to be that Hollywood actors and actresses gained fame, prestige and money by working hard to create the best movies, television and stage shows. A-list actors were paid handsomely because they were award winning actors who had honed a craft. In 2011, many actors, actresses and reality show stars transitioned their primary source of income from the movies and television they make to appearance fees. Depending on their level of celebrity, they could make between 10,000 and 1 million dollars for a single appearance at a club, bar or private party. With this kind of quick money just ready for the taking, it is becoming far more common to make the majority of your income not from hard work, but for just showing up. As cultural celebrity becomes more and more flimsy, it becomes even more important for us to raise up godly people of faith for our youth to look up to.
4. Good-bye, Laptops…Hello, Tablets and Cell Phones
The release of the iPad and the rise of Android phones in 2010 has drastically changed the technology that our teens are using. Long gone are the days of a desktop computer, and quickly disappearing is the bulky laptop. Now our devices are as small as a pad of paper and quicker than ever before. Many schools are already considering transferring all their textbooks to e-book formats, and aside from long form writing, like for papers, most of the time our students are interacting with the Internet on phones, iPods and tablet devices. With technology in every single device we have now, we have to walk the fine line of meeting students where they are technologically and helping them to find the time to be still with God and separate from those devices that dominate their lives.
5. Good-bye, Mainstream Clothing/Music/Movies…Hello, Hipsters
It is always fascinating to me when counter-cultural movements become so popular that they inadvertently become the cultural movement. Such is the hard to define Hipster movement of primarily older teens to young adults who idealize fringe music, watch independent movies, and are searching to create the most unique melting pot of style. For years the Hipster movement has been about denying the mainstream clothing, music and movies in favor of the newest, different, hip thing. Yet, as this trend becomes more popular and spreads outside of big cities and a small demographic, we see Hipsters being, well, mainstream. We make fun of them on sitcoms and we see their clothing hitting popular store shelves. Perhaps the movement was over years ago in bigger cities, but Hipsters are hitting their height in broad popular culture now.
Each year brings with it new and different pieces of culture for us as youth workers to consider. Yet I am reminded of Solomon’s reminder in Ecclesiastes 1, “Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” The truth is that there is nothing new under the sun to God. As our lives move and change, our God is unchangeable and all-knowing. It is a comfort to know His Gospel never changes and never ceases to have important things to say to where we are right now in time. May our ever present God continue to love and guide you this year and the next.