How Does Pop Culture Affect Teens Today?

The Situation:
Pop culture is becoming increasingly a part of the life of the American teenager. With the internet,students have unlimited access to telivision shows, movies, music, and commercials that is undoubtedly influencing the way they view themselves and each other. But is this necessarily a bad thing?

Your Task:
Step 1: Record your initial thoughts in response to the question above.

Step 2: Read each of the attached articles about pop culture. Hint: Each author takes a different view on the topic. As you read, fill in the attached graphic organizer, deconstructing the author’s argument and recording the most persuasive ideas from each article.

Step 3: Consider which author you agree with more and why. Write your new ideas below:

Responding to the Situation:
After discussing the articles with your classmates, write a persuasive multi-paragraph essay explaining what should be done with the issue of immigration. In your essay, be sure to answer: In what way is pop culture affecting America’s teenagers?

Your composition should provide the following:

  • Briefly describe the situation that America faces and provide a clear claim in response to the question above.

  • Support your claim with specific evidence (quotations) from the articles to support your point. Be sure to thoroughly explain why each piece of evidence is so persuasive. Be sure to recognize the validity of both articles in order to frame your claim about the topic.

  • Describe the position of the people who don’t agree with you. Use at least one piece of evidence from the opposing article and explain why that perspective is not as valid.

  • Summarize your position and explain its advantages.

Fill in the following organizer as you read both articles:

“The Culture War Against Kids" by Mike Males

What is the author’s overall argument (Claim)?

What are the author’s main reasons for making this claim?

What evidence does the author use to support this reason?

What makes this evidence significant?
(For example: How is this evidence a crucial part of his main argument? How is this evidence particularly persuasive? How is this evidence potentially biased?)

To what extent do you agree with the author’s argument? Why?

To what extent were you persuaded to change your original ideas? (See your notes on page 1)

Senate Testimony of William J. Bennett
What is the author’s overall argument (Claim)?

What are the author’s main reasons for making this claim?

What evidence does the author use to support this reason?

What makes this evidence significant?
(For example: How is this evidence a crucial part of his main argument? How is this evidence particularly persuasive? How is this evidence potentially biased?)

To what extent do you agree with the author’s argument? Why?

To what extent were you persuaded to change your original ideas? (See your notes on page 1)

Between the 2 articles, which presents a stronger argument, in your opinion?

“The Culture War Against Kids”
From "The Culture War Against Kids," by Mike Males,, May 22, 2001. Copyright © 2001 by Independent Media Institute. Reprinted with permission.

As you read, consider the following questions:
1. What effect did Joe Camel have on teen smoking rates, as stated by Males?

2. According to James Garbarino, how have youths changed in the last twenty-five to thirty years?

3. In Males's view, what section of the youth population experienced increases in homicide and other violent crime rates?

In 1988, R.J. Reynolds introduced its Joe Camel cartoon icon designed to market Camel cigarettes. Everyone from Ralph Nader and anti-tobacco groups to the Centers for Disease Control to conservative tobacco-state lawmakers insisted cigarette ads, especially Joe Camel, lure teens to smoke. Yet, none mentioned the startling fact that in the four years after Joe's advent, every survey showed teenage smoking declined—down 19 percent among high schoolers from 1988 to 1992, twice as fast as the drop among adults.
Further, the biggest decline came among the youngest group (12-13). It wasn't until 1993, when cigarette ad spending fell and market analysts agreed Joe Camel was old hat, that teenage smoking went up.
Surprisingly, over the last 25 years, teen smoking and smoking initiation rates are negatively associated with cigarette advertising and promotion spending—that is, the more companies spend, the less teens smoke, and vice-versa. That fact doesn't fit the needs of the "culture war." Researchers and officials expend strenuous effort (including one dubious study that branded nearly all teens as smokers and denied family and peers have any influence) but have never produced evidence that ads make kids smoke.
Correlation Equals Causation?
Or take the Center for Science in the Public Interests' claim that the marketing of sweet-alcohol beverages, like Budweiser's famous bullfrogs, stimulate teenage drinking. So what? Since these alcohol promos appeared in the early 1990s, high schoolers' drunken driving crashes, binge drinking, and alcohol overdoses plummeted. Under today's simplistic "correlation equals causation" assumption (that is, cultural expression A must be the cause of proximate behavior B), Joe Camel and alcohol ads should be praised for reducing teen smoking and drinking.
But reality doesn't matter to America's raging "culture war," where wild exaggeration and just making things up overwhelm sound social-problem analysis. Leftist warriors sound like their rightist counterparts.
"Teenage women today are engaging in far riskier health behavior than any prior generation," teenage binge drinking "is at record levels," and smoking is "soaring," as ads foment a rebellious "national peer pressure" to defy parents' values, declares progressive media critic Jean Kilbourne (just like right-wing virtuist William Bennett).
"The profound transformation over the last thirty years in the way children look and act ... seem connected to some of our most troubling and prominent social problems," echoed the conservative Manhattan Institutes Kay Hymowitz, blaming "anticultural forces."
Suburban chronicler Patricia Hersch brands the entire younger generation "an insidious ... tribe apart." The media's newest youth-violence expert, psychologist James Garbarino, warns the "epidemic ... of lethal youth violence ... has spread throughout American society.... We have twice as many kids who are seriously troubled as we did 25, 30 years ago and those kids have access to a wide range of dark images, on the Internet, through the videos, video games." Clinicians William Pollack and Mary Bray Pipher label today's youth "lonely, troubled, depressed, confused."
Anecdote and Assertion
What's the evidence for these frightening claims? Little more than anecdote and assertion. In rising panic, culture warriors left to right indict explicit video games, television, gangsta rap music, R-rated movies, Internet images, and "toxic culture" for causing teenage violent crime, drug abuse, sex, and unhealthy behavior. From 1990 to 2000, rap sales soared 70 percent, four million teen and pre-teen boys took up violent video games (as 1992's Nintendo Mortal Kombat evolved to 1994's bloody Sega version and sequels), and youth patronage of movie videos and Net sites exploded.
As "toxic culture" dysfluences spread, did Lord of the Flies ensue? To the contrary. Perhaps no period in history has witnessed such rapid improvements in adolescent conduct. From 1990 through 1999, teenage violence and other malaise plunged: homicide rates (down 62 percent), rape (down 27 percent), violent crime (down 22 percent), school violence (down 20 percent), property offenses (down 33 percent), births (down 17 percent), abortions (down 15 percent), sexually transmitted diseases (down 50 percent), violent deaths (down 20 percent), suicide (down 16 percent), and drunken driving fatalities (down 35 percent).
Unhealthy youth indexes have fallen to three-decade lows while good ones—school graduation, college enrollment, community volunteerism—are up. Pointedly, the only teenage misbehaviors to increase since 1992, smoking (monthly rates up 13 percent) and drug abuse (overdose deaths up 11 percent, but still low), are the two most subjected to the "culture war's" zero-tolerance interventions. Overall, 80 percent to 90 percent of today's supposedly "depressed, lonely, alienated, confused" younger generation consistently tell surveyors they're happy, self-confident, and like their parents.
These aren't just recent trends; teens as a generation have been improving for several decades. Teenage girls, far from being messed up as Kilbourne and Pipher insist, are far safer today from most major risks (violent death, sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy, homicide arrest, suicide-related deaths, traffic deaths, fatal accidents, drug abuse, heavy drinking, smoking, school dropout, etc.) than girls of 20-30 years ago. Teenage binge drinking has dropped 25 percent since the 1970s, smoking declined 20 percent to 50 percent depending on the measure, and drunken driving deaths are down 40 percent—especially among girls. California, which keeps more precise statistics by race and type of death than other states, records phenomenal declines in teenage suicide, drug abuse, felony crime, and other serious problems over the last 25 years.
Youth Trends and Socioeconomic Disadvantage
The few bad youth trends were related to socioeconomic disadvantage, not culture. The temporary increase in homicide and other violent crime in the late 1980s was not a general youth trend; it was confined to the poorest young men involved in gang conflicts. In 2000, the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that law enforcement "policy changes" rather than a real violent crime increase might have sparked more arrests. Contrary to Garbarino and others, murder and other violence by youth is not spreading but becoming more concentrated. Today, America's poorest youths are 40 times more likely to die by homicide and gunfire than the wealthiest, and five-sixths of California's teenage gun deaths occur in just one-tenth of its populated zip codes. While the mega-threats clarioned by the culture war should have killed every American teenager five times over by now, teens today actually display the lowest violent death rate in 50 years!
None of culture warriors' dire claims of epidemics of depressed, alienated, self-destructive, murderous youth are even remotely verifiable—and younger, pre-teen kids are safer still. No matter. Culture critics aren't concerned with reality, but with sin: blood-spewing video games, bikini-team beer ads, and other repulsive cultural manifestations must be causing damage. Culture warriors' phoniness is revealed by their indifference when real-life killers cite unexpected media triggers: the stalker who shotgunned actress Rebecca Schaeffer worshipped the anthemic Irish band U2, Oklahoma's 15 year-old school shooter idolized the PG movie Patton, and numerous mass-killers quote the Bible.
The culture war is not just phony, but reactionary. It commodifies powerless groups to project a fearsome image of constantly escalating menace, suppresses discussion of real social inequalities, and promotes repressive government solutions. Youth are the most convenient population upon which to project damage, keeping the debate safely away from questioning adult values and pleasures that form the real influences on youths. In short, the culture war is not about changing genuine American social ills such as high rates of child poverty, domestic violence, and family disarray, but fomenting an endless series of moral panics that obstruct social change.
Political movements to strip youth rights and institutional youth-fixers have proliferated to profit from fear, generating more scary "studies" proclaiming ever "new," "alarming," and "rising" youth crises that are then recycled by culture warriors as if special-interest self-promotion equaled science. The Carnegie Corporation recasts the healthiest, safest generation of young teens age 10-14 ever as a mass of "grim statistics" and "tragic consequences." (In truth, violent fatality rates among today's younger teens are an astounding 48 percent lower than in the supposedly pastoral 1950s Carnegie extolled). Carnegie deplored the "freedom, autonomy and choice" among teens for unprecedented "threats to their well-being."
Denying Fundamental Responsibility
Healthier Western nations recognize it's normal for an adolescent to experience depression, anger, lust, body image confusion, anxiety, sexy music, cathartic games, evil media messages, corporate pitches, dangerous temptations, free time with peers, consumer interests, all those untoward growing-up influences about which Americas kiddie-savers spread apocalyptic terror. Even if some kids get into trouble, modern remedies like curfews, Prozac, zero-tolerance, and mass lockup only make things worse.
American youth do suffer real threats (as opposed to fictional booze marketing and R-rated movies). Fourteen million kids grow up in abject poverty, 2,000 die and half a million are treated in hospital emergency rooms from domestic violence every year, and 15 million have addicted parents. Americans' preference for indulging self-righteous moral crusades to avoid tough decision-making is a big reason the U.S. remains unable to confront vastly outsized levels of murder, violence, gunplay, unplanned pregnancy, addiction, drunkenness, preventable disease, and other social ills that other industrial nations better control.
Odious cultural influences can't be shown to warp kids, but the culture war itself clearly corrupts grownups to dodge and deny fundamental responsibility.

Source Citation:
Males, Mike. "Popular Culture Does Not Negatively Influence America's Youth." Opposing Viewpoints: America's Youth. Ed. Roman Espejo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2003. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. York Community High School. 28 May. 2009 <>.

Senate Testimony of William J. Bennett
Excerpted from William J. Bennett's statement delivered before the Senate Committee on Commerce, May 4, 1999.
As you read, consider the following questions:
1. According to Bennett, what violent acts take place in Scream?

2. How does Socrates describe music's influence on people?

3. How does the author counter the claim that firearms increase violence and crime?

Is Mass Murder Fun?
[I] want to commend an article in [the New Republic] by Greg Easterbrook.
Here are the first two paragraphs of the article, which talk about the 1996 slasher/so-called "ironic-comedy" movie, Scream. The movie was produced by Disney's Miramax division. Easterbrook writes:
Millions of teens have seen the 1996 movie Scream, a box-office and home-rental hit. Critics adored the film. The Washington Post declared that it ‘deftly mixes irony, self-reference, and social wry commentary.’ The Los Angeles Times hailed it as ‘a bravura, provocative send-up.’ Scream opens with a scene in which a teenage girl is forced to watch her jock boyfriend tortured and then disemboweled by two fellow students who, it will eventually be learned, want revenge on anyone from high school who crossed them. After jock boy's stomach is shown cut open and he dies screaming, the killers stab and torture the girl, then cut her throat and hang her body from a tree so that Mom can discover it when she drives up. A dozen students and teachers are graphically butchered in the film, while the characters make running jokes about murder. At one point, a boy tells a big-breasted friend she'd better be careful because the stacked girls always get it in horror films. In the next scene, she's grabbed, stabbed through the breasts, and murdered.... The movie builds to a finale in which one of the killers announces that he and his accomplice started off by murdering strangers but then realized it was a lot more fun to kill their friends.
Mr. Easterbrook goes on to write:
Now that two Colorado high schoolers have murdered twelve classmates and a teacher [on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School], often, it appears, first taunting their pleading victims, just like celebrity stars do in the movies! Some commentators have dismissed the role of violence in the images shown to the young.... But mass murders by the young, once phenomenally rare, are suddenly on the increase. Can it be coincidence that this increase is happening at the same time that Hollywood has begun to market the notion that mass murder is fun?
Mr. Easterbrook's question is a very good one. According to several accounts, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris enjoyed killing their classmates and teacher. They laughed and hollered, said one survivor, "like it was, like, exciting."
Devotees of Popular Culture
According to media reports, it turns out that Klebold and Harris were fans, even devotees, of a lot in our popular culture. Classmates have said that they listened to, among others, the shock rocker Marilyn Manson, who refers to himself as the "God of F*." Manson recently said that "the end of the world is all we have to look forward to. I'm just pushing the fast-forward button and letting you enjoy the ride." People like Manson do not simply rise by themselves out of America's basements; they are bankrolled by some of America's oldest and most respected corporations....
Consider these words from Marilyn Manson's song "Irresponsible Hate Anthem": "Hey, victim, should I black your eyes again?/Hey, victim,/You were the one who put the stick in my hand/I am the ism, my hate's a prism/Let's just kill everyone and let your God sort them out/F
* it, F* it, F* it, F*/Everybody's someone else's nigger .../I wasn't born with enough middle fingers." One of the photos on Manson's Antichrist Superstar album pictures Manson's genitals hooked up to a hose which drains into the mouths of two men, kneeling, zombie-like, on either side of him. Antichrist Superstar ... rose to Number 3 on the Billboard Album Survey....
This is one of the things [the Senate] should continue to debate: what effect does the popular culture have on the young. In Plato's Republic, Socrates said that "musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace." Rhythm and harmony are still fastening themselves on to children's souls; today, however, much of the music they listen to is imparting mournfulness, darkness, despair, a sense of death.
The events in Littleton were catastrophic for the Columbine students and their families. And it was a horrible moment for this country not just because what happened was so terrible but because it raises questions about key parts of American life. This is a moment that demands hard questions about schools, about parenting, about guns, and about the entertainment industry.
Although [this viewpoint] focuses on the latter, let me say a word about the gun issue and how it relates to what we are talking about. My view on this is that if somebody is a pro-gun ideologue and says "we can't talk about guns in this issue," they do not have much to contribute to this discussion. Similarly, if some shameless Hollywood ideologue says "we can't talk about the influence of movies or television on this," they do not have much to contribute either. In the matter of the protection of our children, nothing should be off-limits. The issue, obviously, involves a bundle of things. We should talk about all of them.
A Coarsening Effect
Most of us already know that too many of our movies, television shows, music songs, and video games are filled with trash: grisly murder scenes, dismemberment and disembowelment, nonstop profanity, rape and torture scenarios. The relevant questions are: Does it matter and, if it does, how much and what can we do about it?
Almost no one, except for a few blinded by financial stakes, thinks that the popular culture is not having a coarsening effect on our kids. The evidence, empirical and anecdotal, is overwhelming. It is clear, abundant, and it is commonsensical. You will hear some of it today.
Now for some kids a small percentage of movies, music, television, the Internet make no difference in their lives; they simply are not affected by the stuff. For most kids, however, the popular culture works as a coarsener, desensitizer, and dehumanizer. That is why most parents, although they are not alarmed or revolting in the streets, are deeply worried. They feel as if they are swimming upstream, fighting against faceless television, movie, and music executives who are fighting against them. This is a very serious problem. We should study it and find out more about it.
But another difficulty is in the very small percentage of kids who are, for all intents and purposes, taken over by the popular culture. Who see the violent movies as a game plan. Who hear the dark, pounding music as a hymn. Who are basically severed and metaphysically separated from their parents, families, and communities. Who begin, as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did, to live in a dark parallel universe.
Obviously, this is not simply the work of producers or advertisers. But it may be partly the product of their work. If they believe it is not, then [they] ... should explain why. As you well know ... this is something they have been unwilling to do. Recall when the tobacco executives were called to testify before Congress and then bombarded with questions about nicotine and other poisonous additives. That was more than a public hearing; it was a public shaming.
Violence as a "Hook"
The same thing, in my opinion, should happen with the big-shots from Hollywood and Madison Avenue. But here are a few questions [the Senate] might ask them if they do show up:
· Was the scene showing human brains splattered on the car seat a necessary part of your artistic statement? What was the point of including lyrics about child murder and molestation?
· Do you understand the difference between gratuitous violence that simply titillates and violence that serves a purpose in telling a larger story? Can you distinguish between Casino and MacBeth, between The Basketball Diaries and Braveheart?
· Who came up with the marketing term "tweens" referring to kids between age eight and 12 and what exactly are you aiming at them? How much money are you spending on targeting young adolescent males?
· Do you use violence as a "hook"? Have you conducted in-depth market research on whether blood and gore appeal to younger audiences? If so, do you need to do this? Can you make your money in a less destructive way? Or is this cultural pollution absolutely necessary? Is this predatory capitalism worthy of your corporation's name?
· Are you at least ashamed when you aim to corner the youth market with images of senseless violence and sex?
To Regulate and Act Responsibly
I will repeat what I have previously said several times before: I am a virtual absolutist on the First Amendment. All of us have a right to make, produce, and sell almost anything we want. But the more important question, at least morally and constitutionally, is not so different from the one asked of gun manufacturers. Should you develop, market, promote, and sell something regardless of how degrading or destructive it is?
If we ask the gun manufacturers to regulate themselves responsibly, which we do (and much more), then at least we should ask the entertainment industry to act responsibly (better than trying to regulate them from Washington). We should ask them what they are doing and why they are doing it. Again, I urge [the Senate] to take that action. There are some "gun nuts" in the country, of course; now is an appropriate time to uncover the country's "filth nuts." Some will go on to say that as a percentage of all movies, music, and television, the destructive trash is only a small part. I would respond to this claim by pointing out that the gun folks retort is that only a small percentage of guns are used illegally.
Finally, let me defuse in advance one of my critic's arguments—that we are focusing on the wrong problem when we talk about popular culture since other countries, like Japan, consume the same movies and music that we do but are among the most peaceful nations on earth. Professor Daniel Polsby wrote an article in the Atlantic Monthly in which he made the following point: If firearms increase violence and crime, then the rates of violence and crime in Switzerland, New Zealand, and Israel should be higher since their "number of firearms per civilian household is comparable to that in the United States."
The point—and fact—is that we are a complicated country. We are different in many ways from other countries. Our violence is one of those differences. While we are the greatest country in the world, we are also one of its most coarse and most violent. That is not something to celebrate. It is a shame, and needs to be treated that way. By parents, by Congress, and by the entertainment industry.

Source Citation: **
Bennett, William J. "Popular Culture Negatively Influences America's Youth." Opposing Viewpoints: America's Youth. Ed. Roman Espejo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2003. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. York Community High School. 28 May. 2009 <>.