Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption

Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption

Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption

Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption

Synopsis

In Freaks, Geeks and Cool Kids , award-winning-sociologist Murray Milner draws upon two years of intensive fieldwork in one high school and 300 written interviews about high school life across the USA. What he discovers through their stories is that high schools are breeding grounds for status consciousness and 'keeping up with the Joneses' mentality. Milner argues that the importance of who sits at which lunch table, who goes to the prom with whom and who makes the cheerleading squad or football team, as well as what jeans, sneakers and t-shirts one wears, are essential for teenagers to distinguish themselves from one another. As teens use status objects to define themselves, they both become the trendsetters for the culture at large and are also compelled to buy into the trends to look cool. In other words, 'being cool' may come at a price, but it is one that teens are more than willing to pay.

Excerpt

Intellectually, I came of age during the late 1960s and early 1970s in New York City. It was a time when radical thought, especially various forms of Marxism, stressed the fundamental significance of material factors-property and force-for the organization of social life. I was not persuaded. While I had no doubt that control of these played a crucial role in shaping what went on in the world, these seemed to me to be derived from a more fundamental form of power. To effectively exercise force or to control property you need the moral support of significant numbers of people. That support may come from only a small minority, but it is crucial.

I saw this most vividly during the students' occupation of the buildings of Columbia University in the spring of 1968, and the resulting police action to remove them. Force or economic resources were of little importance in the students' ability to bring the university to a standstill for a week and to cause it to cancel one of its major construction projects. Nor did these play a role in gaining the attention of much of the world, or in eventually bringing about the removal of the university's president and provost. More striking was that once the police action to remove the students began, university, city, and police officials often had little control over what the lower-level officers did. The result was the indiscriminate beating of anyone who happened to be in reach, including conservative students who were protesting against the occupation of the university's buildings, press reporters, and people who just happened to be coming out of the 116th Street subway station. When superior officers were complicit, they were usually ignoring or violating the orders that were being given by their superiors. That is, at some level those who supposedly were in charge had no moral authority over their subordinates-and whatever force or economic sanctions they could exercise on their own were irrelevant.

This experience and other things caused me to focus much of my intellectual efforts on trying to understand the nature of the residue of power that was not directly due to force or material sanctions. I came to see that this form . . .

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