Essay Sample on Youth Culture and Its Development

Posted on March 9, 2010

For this assignment, I shall explore some factors that influence the development of culture, and sub-culture, reflecting on consumer products, and how they help to develop identity. In particular, my study will focus on music, media, and fashion, in relation to young people. As Williams, Hall, and Jefferson (1977) suggest, in this context culture refers to “distinct patterns of life, and the ways in which social groups give expression to their social and material life experiences”. (Cited in Wyn, J. White, R. 1997:pg72) Subculture highlights diversity, such as individual group cultures, “sub-cultures give young people the chance to express their difference from the rest of society, yet coexist within it”. (Brake,1980 cited in Roche,J.Tucker,S.1997:pg149)

Consumer products alone do not make identity, but do attribute to the formation of it, with today’s teen consumer market is the most lucrative it has ever been. Marketers historically have recognised this, and therefore, use certain elements of youth culture to promote products. The media influence on the development of youth cultures and sub-cultures is also instrumental, with young people facing a barrage of messages explaining what it means to be young. How we consume determines who we become, our value base, and how we interact with people in the broader context of the world.

Youth culture has changed over the generations, for parents of teens, the gap seems to be ever widening. Young people have faced similar challenges to each other, but each generation is unique, and experience situations that shape their attitudes and behaviours. However, when entering into any particular culture, although influences exist, it is still usually a conscious choice. A useful way to examine influences, on young people over time, is that of Strauss and Howe in their book the fourth turning. Each generation are labelled, to offer the reader an understanding.

According to Strauss and Howe, the silent “generation grew up with the harsh realities of war and a depressed economy”. ( This group of young people where at a crossroads, too young to be hero’s of the war, and yet too old to be young free adolescents, they paved the way towards civil rights, and the rock and roll era.

The next generation were to be known as the baby boomers, growing up with idyllic views of life, accepting the notion of “father knows best” (

They engaged in a culture of free loving, urban riots and unrest, and as this generation were to mature, idealism allowed the introduction of materialism; hence the word “yuppie” ( arrived.

Generation X was born into an era of high divorce rates, and an increasing rise in the number of single parent families. These young people entered the labour market, when jobs were scarce, and youth crime and disorder soared, the aids epidemic was rampant. “Their outside status helped spawn the angst-filled grunge movement and they also fuelled the hip-hop explosion”. (

The next generation Y/Millennials, were born into both good and bad influences at the same time. At the top of the national agenda is child welfare, although negative school violence and drugs is at the forefront. Computerisation and technology is ever increasing, and equipment is predominately digital.

The Y generation, is a representation of today’s teens where surfing the internet is the norm, and emailing is as common as using the telephone. This era is much more multicultural than it was when their parents were growing up, and images containing sex and violence are common themes that surround them on a daily basis. To an extent “the Vietnam war and the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm x, Medgar Evers, and Dr. Martin Luthur king, Jr, are ancient history”. (

The speed at which cultural objects and ideas are transmitted globally today, are significant factors in the number of youth subculture groups that are identified. A major change with regards to counter cultural groups today, is the large number of them around. For example, in the sixties it was common to be classed as a mod or a rocker, you tended to be on or the other. Today youth can align with many other groups, because there is such diversity. The mass media has a large role to play in encouraging the formation of sub-cultural groups, by helping young people to see and identify which role models represent what groups.

Perhaps more fundamentally, youth culture has become more accepting and accommodating of various different groupings within the community. There are groups on the fringe of society who may be counter cultural in orientation, like punks, goths etc.. by large there now seems to be a strong sense of tolerance for difference, and a felling that diversity may even be positive.

Media targeting of young people is all too common, with the hunt for consumer money on. Advertisers view teens in particular, as uniquely profitable, they buy themselves, influence parents to buy, and indeed will be future adult consumers. Consumer advertising through the media is highly influential on young people, especially when they use popularity by association: Product advertised by famous people. Although, adolescents I work with are sometimes quite cynical to this approach, seeing it as someone who gets paid for a job, without actually believing in the product.

Media advertising uses signifiers to appeal to different groups, “visual and verbal elements are combined to produce particular meanings and effects”. If we look at an advertisement for the chocolate bar bounty, the light blue packaging denotes the product as food. Related visual images of a sunny desert island, gives connotations of youth, freedom, and happiness. The music can be powerful in giving the feeling of energy, and pleasure. This example is to illustrate how powerful semiotics and the use of signs in the media can be.

Media uses semiotics in portraying fashion and beauty items, and has done over time. Clothes are an important indication of social interaction, and media images even in the sixties helped to determine what groups young people engaged in,”clothing fashion both sprang from and had influence on the various youth culture groups of the time which diverged and evolved as the decade progressed”. ( The “teddy boys” dressed in Edwardian style clothing, Hell’s angels wore leather, which was symbolic of their brotherliness and motorcycling ventures. This code of dress although sub-cultural, was mainly to facilitate their mode of transport as opposed to a fashion statement. This dress sense may have been influenced by films of the time such as the wild ones.

Mersey sound in 1963, eminently the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and later the Who, led to a huge rise in the different cultural groups. One such group were the modernists (mods), who followed jazz music, cultural habits of this group revolved around dancing, fashion, and music.

Mods were to popularise the usage of drugs, this was how they preserved energy to attend the all night ..”dance-till-you-drop lifestyle”. ( They began to take drynamil, which although originally prescribed for those with anxiety, had an amphetamine like effect, commonly know as purple hearts. Other drugs began to circulate like French blues, dexedrine, and strong black bombers.

Following mods came a brief culture of regency, their look included buttons, bows, frills, and velvet, typical of some major pop groups like the Kinks, and the photographer Patrick Litchfield. Surviving only a short time, this trend was taken over by the huge hippie flower power culture, hippies epitomised individualism, and made their own preferences very much apparent.

Hippies motto make love not war, gave them a key to their own specific culture, pro-drugs and doing their own thing was what they were about. They dressed in kaftans, afghan style coats, had body painting, flowers in their hair, and would often be seen wearing lots of beads. Their indulgence in the LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) scene is possibly where the feeling of freedom and youthfulness derived from.

СIn many different parts of the world popular music is a primary, if not the primary, leisure resource for young people”. (Bennett,A.2000:pg34) Pop art was a movement attempting to withdraw popular and high culture boundaries, it was “a reaction to the seriousness given to abstract impressionalism”. ( Pop art was a simplistic style, with a focus on exaggerated colour. An example of this is ЕТWarholТs silk-screen paintings that made use of monotony and repetition such as the images of Marilyn Monroe and ElvisТ. ( Certainly some of the more famous pictures of this time included daily objects like coca-cola bottles. Pop music is still seen in today’s society, as a significant piece of youth culture, which can be “traced back to the advent of rock СnТ roll in the early 1950’s”. (Bennett,A.2000:pg34)

Dance music to an extent has become known, as a separate culture in it’s own right: club culture, signifiers are hairstyles, clothing and attitudes. Subcultures can be defined as being subordinate to the dominant culture, and club culture fits this category. Dance music embraces a variety of different cultures, class, and lifestyles. Fundamentally its venue is a club where people socially interact, and dance to electronically engineered music.

The people who attend any particular session, will vary depending on where it is held, how it is publicised and the price it will be. For example, In London a rave commonly known as the jungle scene is predominantly black-led, attracting a diversity of young people, mainly from urban settings. Conversely the venue cream in Liverpool uses the local radio station to publicise the event.

Tickets are sold at a price of approximately £25.00, and attendance is usually by middle class, white sections of society. One young person commented on how Сnowadays there arenТt many free parties about “cos things get busted up more “cos of the criminal justice act”. (Garratt,D.Roche,J.Stanley,T.1997:pg9)

Cultural theorist, such as Hall and Hebdige are concerned with dance music as a sub culture, and how they believe it can lead to young people being corrupt and turning against what society view as Е. “established order”. ( They believe this happens as a result of alternative dress code and rituals. To an extent I disagree with their theory with regards to dance music in particular, as I don’t believe dance music has an identifiable code of dress at present, and people who participate in my experience, do not consciously set themselves apart from the wider culture.

My conclusion is that “There are no barriers within dance”, (Rietveld,H. Cited in the music does not discriminate against people on the ground of ethnicity, class or sexuality. Dance music encompasses both underground and mainstream facets of society; in it’s multicultural approach. Starting in the United States of America in the late seventies as a underground subculture, it has developed to the mainstream of the mid 1990’s, beginning to create it’s own unique culture in the twenty first century.

Drugs were a cultural part of different sub-cultural movements, as far back as the sixties, and even today the way we behave in different groups, and associate as individuals is very time, place and culturally specific. Media gained great exposure in the topic of drugs, and still does. Young people and adults alike were associating songs with drug experiences, such as Yellow Submarine by the Beatles, Strawberry Fields, and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Today songs still celebrate the psychedelic experience of drug use, for example, I want to be a Hippie and I want to get Stoned. Young people, as a form of individualistic identity, could interpret this as it was in the hippie era. It is an example of the younger generation wanting to express their own views, rather than succumbing to the values and rules left behind from the older generation.

Through the different youth cultures and sub-cultures, we can see how influential attitudes and behaviours can be. For example, Madonna was in the charts singing with her bra in full view, as a result impressionable teenagers were to begin wearing undergarments outside their clothes.

Fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, used youth culture as a publicity stunt for his own personal gain. He gave free clothes to influential youth trendsetters, like the rappers of the early nineties, enabling him to further market his brand. Hilfiger already having the attention of many young people learnt about the computer games world and so decided to sponsor Nintendo. Putting computer systems in his many stores, his jeans were soon to be rated number one by young people in America.

Fashion is a huge influencer of youth culture, especially in relation to young women, where all around are representations of ..”what it means to be young and female”. (Mc Robbie,A.2000:pg198) The daily tabloids, such as the mirror constantly use imagery of petit young females, often using famous people modelling the items. Young people are influenced by these trends, and either purchase the clothing themselves, or rely on their parents goodwill.

As young people experience their adolescent years, they may be faced by peer pressure, both positive and negative. At this age, involvement with peers increases, and can offer a sense of physical, emotional, and social comfort. Being part of a peer group can be a source of acceptance, affection, and a place for experimentation. Young people begin to understand their identity and learn about their autonomy, with some peer groups encouraging drug use and anti-social behaviour. Others discourage deviant behaviour, by favouring school activities such as sport, and extra curriculum activities.

Peer pressure can by a huge influence, in the development of culture amongst young people, as often they have their own set of rules and norms. For example, to be part of some peer cultures means conforming to certain unwritten rules such as dress code, my own experience was to have Nike trainers was to be accepted. Being accepted into a group, through the necessity to consume a certain product, can have a direct effect on your parents. For those who could not afford to buy into the culture, catalogues and getting into debt was the answer. Of course you could argue that parents choose to buy or not to buy, and most bought from fear of their child being bullied, and so “If the negative effect of peer pressure is to be minimised, youth, parent, school and community leaders must come together to establish workable and effective strategies to guide teenage behaviour and to support their transition from children to mature, responsible adults”. (www.ianrun.unl)

In our everyday life, we here adults and parents complain of how young people and themselves lack the same experiences, complaining about the generation gap between them. Through the media and from a political point, young people are viewed as irresponsible, materialistic and so on. Adults tend to speak of young people in a way that represents them, as being venerable, and easily mislead, often not intellectually developed. These assumptions form the basis for exclusion of young people in policies, such as the age of drinking, driving a car, watching certain movies and reading certain books.

Some adults see young people as immature, and say everything has been handed to them on a plate. The common theme is that young people today did not experience hardships their parents had to, or the reality of the labour market. The new generation, are seen as ungrateful to their elders who worked hard to reach this level of wealth.

These kind of comments were said about youth in the 50’s, right through to the present day, and will continue to be said about the following generation. Government policies will affect youth culture, to the extent that young people choices will be limited. For example the banning of various song lyrics like the rapper Eminem, takes away the right to choose which materials to buy.

For young people to be regarded as citizens in their own right, it is indispensable that they are involved in the making of policies affecting them. Citizenship teaching in schools is a relatively new initiative, enabling young people to engage with issues affecting them. Learning how to become active citizens, through the development of skills, enabling them to challenge government officials, will be instrumental in the process of young people be listened to and heard.

For citizenship to be productive and promote equality, it needs to be focused on not only the production of the ideal citizen, where people conform to government requests. It will undoubtedly affect youth culture, by educating people to think along the same lines. To an extent removing the element of choice, by stopping the natural developmental process.

Citizenship in many ways, is based on the very subject of consumerism, young people to an extent can consume, for example fashion. Although fundamentally, not being economically stable is a barrier to their being a fully-fledged citizen, of the consumer society surrounding them.

Theorists such as Thornton (1997), (Miles,S.2000:pg3) have emphasised how in studying young people, sociologists have tended to focus on culture and subculture negatively. Using young people as a key element of their study, they have ..”labelled and therefore framed, shaped and delineated social formations”. (Miles,S.2000:pg3) This has resulted in difficulties when distinguishing between the dominant and less dominant cultures. Wyn and White (1997), explain how when using age to distinguish between culture, it can lead to the portrayal of a “masculine, white (and rebellious) middle-class experience of the norm”. (Wyn,J.White,R.1997 cited in Miles,S.2000:pg4) The danger here is the eradication of important influences in young peoples lives such as institutions, political and economical circumstances.

To an extent, sociologists have misused the concept of youth and their sub cultures, focusing too much on theory. Used appropriately, the study of youth sub-cultures can help us all learn a great deal into the experiences that shape young peoples lives.

In conclusion, I believe that consumer capitalism through its marketing products, promotes the idea that young people can develop their own identity. Fundamentally important, is the need to recognise that young people of the twenty-first century are more likely to create their own lifestyles. This will undoubtedly be to a greater extent than their parents ever would, and consumption is a useful element in this process.

People are both producers and consumers of goods, and I argue that young people through their consumer habits choose goods, which reflect and express their identity and individualism. To consume certain marketing items such as a mobile phone, the latest fashion accessories or the most updated computer, is fast becoming the key to acceptance into certain cultural groups.

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