2018: A Year in Review
Pop culture may not imitate life, but it certainly reveals it. If you want to know what our society thinks about sex, race, gender, politics, violence, or relationships, look at pop culture. The movies, songs, advertisements, movements, social media apps, and video games function like a mirror into our collective souls, revealing us to ourselves. And while pop culture is made by human beings, it in a very special way makes us into its own image. If true, 2018 reminds us that as a society, we’re a strange mix of hope and anxiety, tolerance and bigotry, empowerment and slavery. Here’s our list of the top 10 cultural moments from the past year. As you read through them, ask yourself and your teen what each one says about the health or toxicity of our culture. How should we as Christ-followers engage, join, transform, or redeem these cultural artifacts as we seek to live out our faith in a consumer society?
1. This is America: Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, released a disturbing music video in May that became an overnight cultural phenomenon. The song and the video especially are a social commentary on racism, violence, and entertainment as a form of escapism. In the video, Gambino embodies his understanding of America, personifying a violent culture that uses entertainment as an opiate for the masses. Beyond the hidden meanings and symbolism, the song expresses a mellennial mindset that demands social responsibility.” Art forces us to talk about taboo subjects we’d often just rather ignore, and although the video is shocking and violent, it does represent a version of normalcy that many people experience daily in our country. What was Glover trying to communicate? What was convicting about the video? What does the video say about the state of race relations and violence in America? Is it accurate?
2. 13 Reasons Why 2: Also in May, Netflix released season two of the controversial hit teen show about bullying, sexual assault, and suicide. Several studies found that teens and adults alike felt the show helped them understand and talk about suicide in helpful ways while many teens believed the graphic nature of the show was necessary to depict just how painful suicide is. Do you agree? Did you allow your teen to watch it? If so, what critical conversations did you have this year because of the show that you may not have had if it wasn’t produced?
3. Fortnite: Far and away the biggest game of the year, Fortnite became a social sensation in February topping 3.4 million concurrent players. The game really took off when Drake jumped on a Twitch stream to face off against Ninja. Fortnite made its iPhone debut in April and the game became a new social media platform in the process. By July the game had made over $1 billion through its 125 million users. As we mentioned last week, Fortnite became Gen Z’s “third space”, their main place to hang out between work and school.
4. A Royal Sermon: Back in May, Bishop Michael Curry took the royal family to church by delivering a powerful sermon at Meghan Markle and Prince Henry’s wedding that over one sixth of the world’s population heard. Instead of a sappy soliloquy about romantic love, Curry dug deep into Scripture and his African American heritage to re-introduce the secular world to the radical, world-changing love of Jesus. A love that isn’t merely private or personal, but rather very public and sacrificial. If you missed the sermon, watch it with your family and imagine working for the world Curry envisions. A world where love is the way. A world turned upside down, or rather right side up by the love of Christ.
5. Just Do It: Colin Kaepernick became the face of Nike’s 30th anniversary marketing campaign by encouraging the next generation to “believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” For brand conscious and socially aware Gen Z, the ad had an incredible, money-making appeal. Nike tapped into the social cachet of resistance efforts to make a profit and continue the cultural conversation about racial issues. What did your teen make of the campaign? Ask them if they agreed or disagreed with Kaepernick’s and Nike’s decision to profit from his social resistance movement.
6. #MeToo: Motivated by the ongoing Harvey Weinstein case, a social media campaign erupted into a global movement whereby women throughout the world shared their own stories of sexual harassment or assault. In the following months, politicians, actors, media moguls, and sports stars were confronted by women who finally gave voice to years of repression and pain. We also realized just how endemic female objectification is in teen culture as well. From catcalls in the hallways, “locker-room” talk, and campus rape culture, sexual harassment is all to common in young people’s lives. Research reveals that upwards of four out of five children and teens have been sexually harassed at school. The #MeToo movement brought a dark topic into the light, but social media outrage isn’t enough. Keep talking about sexual harassment and female objectification with your kids, even if it is uncomfortable.
7. Black Panther: Less than a month after it’s release, Marvel’s latest hit topped the $1 billion mark at the box office. But what made the movie impactful wasn’t the revenue it generated, but the story it told. In a major plot twist, the movie’s main characters were powerful Africans who represent “the most intelligent and powerful country in the world.” For the first time in their lives, many young minority children saw a representation of themselves on screen. And whether that public representation is a fictional character or the President, when you see someone who looks like you achieving incredible things, it fosters the belief that you can achieve great things too! The movie started a wonderful cultural conversation about the impact Africans and African-Americans have had on the continual development of culture, the arts, and civilization.
8. Suicide: Mark Salling, Avicii, Anthony Bourdain, and Kate Spade highlighted a growing list of celebrity suicides in 2018. As heartbreaking as it is, use these stories to start a conversation with your kids about depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and suicide. Our Conversation Kit on suicide is an incredible resource to help you navigate this awkward conversation.
9. Parkland Shooting: In February a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killing 17 students and staff members. The school shooting was just another in a long line of public shootings that led to the March For Our Lives protest and mass student protests that led to thousands of teens walking out of class to challenge gun violence.
10. The Fall of Facebook: The one-time invencible, social media giant now has 4 billion less monthly visitors than it had back in 2016 due to a growing distrust in Facebook’s privacy policies, growing political discord on the platform, and the flight of Gen Z to other, more boutique style social apps. Ask your teen if they are still on Facebook or if they too have abandoned the declining social media empire.
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