Tuesday Trends is a weekly post that covers, in brief, emerging movements, innovations, or strategies that you can integrate, tweak, or ponder as you organize your program.
There are two cultural shifts that are colliding recently that cause unique opportunities for youth advocates. The first shift is the reality that students have wide access to entertainment genres that were not available to them in the past. The second shift is the scarcity of economic hope. Students are growing up in a world where relational stability in the home and economic hardship are on the rise. Adolescents are growing up faster and their awareness of adult issues and temptations come to them in higher frequency and intensity than their parents experienced.
Media understands this shift and has come to the realization that stories of destitute, broken, and desperate people are striking a chord with Millennials and Digital Natives. Some of the most popular shows today are building momentum on plot lines where likable, smart, and innocent people are finding themselves making conscientious decisions to overcome hardship with organized crime, murder, drugs, and social anarchy.
Breaking Bad is an AMC hit television series whose main character Walter White embraces Methamphetamine production to pay for his cancer treatment and provide for his family. The show is brilliantly directed and moves the characters into an absolute train wreck where their decisions have escalated to the point of self-justification and reckless meth-empire building-abandon. Those who watch the show move from moments of admiration for the characters resolve to disbelief as they fall deeper and deeper into inescapable self-destruction.
Sons of Anarchy is an FX series centered around a biker gang that has stored up years of gang savvy street smarts to “protect” the town of Charming and their livelihood of running illegal guns and drugs to provide for their own. When the main character, Jax, comes to the realization that he needs to move the gang toward more legitimate sources of income the situations and course of events begin to blow up in his face as he ascends in the ranks of the Sons.
The Walking Dead is a completely different scenario that none of us will ever find ourselves in with a zombie apocalypse but all of the hardcore decisions and situations that the characters find themselves in run a course where well intended people become monsters themselves fighting to stay alive and preserve their life.
There are about a half a dozen more shows like this that are writing their storyline around the bad guy.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH YOUTH?
The energy of these shows are centered on the desperate characters fighting for survival. They are not afraid to break societal moral and social boundaries to provide for their own, protect their own, and move themselves toward the proximity of independence and success.
Chances are very high that you have students in your group who have watch their parents figure out how they were going to pay the light bill, forego new school clothes shopping, draw names for Christmas, go another year without a family vacation, go without medical coverage, hold down multiple jobs, lose their job, split over money, etc. Even though these sound like first world problems the fact of the matter is that they are real problems. When you add the pressure that society places on kids to be all things to all people and succeed it creates a volatile mixture of anxiety and desperation. Teens and tweens are not seeing a world where things will get better and the idea that bending the rules and full out breaking them to overcome hardship are becoming even more viable.
KIDS ARE ROOTING FOR THE BAD GUY
On some level there is the spirit of living vicariously through their exploits. In an unstable world there are two things that are constantly being acquired; power and security. Of those before mentioned things, students are experiencing less of them by honest means on the standard definitions of them.
SOME TEACHING POINTS
“So, you watch the show?” “Yes, “youth leader” I love it. Do you watch it too?” What do you think?”
As you lead students who live in our culture make it a point to understand and not bash culture. Extract the truth out of the threads and help students see the silver linings. Here are a few.
Truth 1 – All of the characters painfully regret their circumstances, decisions, and actions. They mull over how things got to where they are and how they can recover to the way things were.
Truth 2 – No matter how crafty and cunning the bad guy is, everything unravels and his circumstances overcome him.
Truth 3 – They somehow, no matter how sincere their intentions were from the start, become twisted and affected by their life absorbing everything bad from around them and becoming everything they wish they would never be.
Truth 4 – Hurting people and placing yourself in situations where you will bring hurt upon yourself is never going to pan out the way you hope it would.
Truth 5 – No matter how bad it gets it can get worse and usually it happens when we are outside of accountability and act without concern for those around us.
Final Thoughts – Do I think that students who watch these shows will want to live a life of organized crime? Do I think these shows are wanting them to? No way. What is really happening here? Like the characters in the show our students are facing hard times and are forming new rules for escape and empowerment. I applaud the shows for writing scripts where the intensity of pain is unshielded from the viewer. My prayer is that students don’t find themselves creating solutions out their circumstances that would bring them that pain. As students are served ideas that the Bad Guy is not all that bad be sure that they understand the depth at which that life will take them.