Does the Media Create Our Identities?

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After watching the documentary The Merchants of Cool, it took me back to the time of when I was in middle school and high school when I was trying to find myself through the music I listened to, the TV I watched, and the clothes I wore. Like most teenagers, I wanted something that was my own and original. But what generates this need for originality?

The media through TV ads, magazines, billboards and MTV have reflected what is “cool,” but once it is broadcasted to the world and becomes popular it then is deemed “uncool” by today’s youth. The marketing minds of big businesses have created a certain lifestyle for today’s youth but sometimes these impressionable minds are not aware that they are just the $150 billion market that every company wants a piece of. At what point are teens trying to find their own identity and trying to escape grasp of mainstream media?

Finding an identity is part of growing up. In high school I was the teen who for some reason was full of angst and liked going to underground rock shows and listening to bands no one else did. Finding the right outfit to go along with the lifestyle was also a need for me. Stores like Hot Topic became a staple for the band t-shirts I wore and where I would find the next CD I would blare constantly in my car. But was it really me seeking out to reflect this “rock chick” image or was it the media influencing what this look I was trying to portray should look like? Even though I enjoyed the clothes I was wearing and the music I was listening to, the television my peers and I were watching had a major influence on what we thought was cool without us even realizing it.

Case in point: MTV, which is the longest running, self-promoting commercial since the introduction of the Disney Channel in the 1950’s. It is obvious now that MTV should no longer be called “Music Television” as there are no longer any music videos shown on the station. MTV uses its airtime to promote themselves and it is also used for others to promote themselves to the $150 billion market who watches MTV’s programming. The commercials shown are also a promotion for MTV’s shows like The Hills and other commercials are for the products teens would most likely be buying like iPods or Xbox 360. Through this influence of sitting there, watching, and retaining, teens then suddenly want to reflect some look they see or want the products being shown.

It’s hard to put all the blame on MTV when teens are hit with media everywhere they go. In classrooms there are computers where the media world can be accessed, on the walk to school there are billboard and ads for products, on the radio there are promotions for bands and products, and it continues. But teens now seem to be numb to fact that they are constantly being hit with media trying to mold their minds. Almost every teen now has in their backpack a cell phone, an iPod, and a digital camera. With the cell phone they have the power to access all their friends and (with the popularity of the iPhone) the Internet. With the iPod they have access to movies, music, and TV. And with their digital cameras they have the power to document themselves and upload it to the Internet and the cycle starts all over again.

Now that I have left my angst teen phase and avoid MTV like the plague, I like to think I have found my identity but I will never truly know whether it was on my own choice or because of the media I have chosen to access.

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