Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Purchasing the Canadian Teenage Identity: ICTs, American Media, and Brand-Name Consumption

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Purchasing the Canadian Teenage Identity: ICTs, American Media, and Brand-Name Consumption

Article excerpt


In 1973, anthropologist Clifford Geertz stated:

   We live ... in an 'information gap.' Between what our body tells
   us and what we have to know in order to function, there is a
   vacuum we must fill ourselves, and we fill it with information
   (or misinformation) provided by our culture. (1)

Less than a decade later sociologist Raymond Williams wrote that the information provided by our culture (to borrow a term from Geertz) was "Advertising: The Magic System." For Williams, advertising is not simply a means of selling but also "a true part of the culture of a confused society." (2) Today, information and communication technologies (ICTs) along with the merger between the culture industries and big business have produced individuals with fragmented identities who are oversaturated with images, relationships, and information: in short, saturated selves. (3) This dislocates the individual from conventional forms of identifying "who they are" As such, the saturated self is a displaced individual who is also part of a larger Technological Diaspora, that is, those who search to redefine themselves in light of new ICTs and return to their homeland, their consumption-constructed nation, or the imagined community of youth.

The idea of an imagined community was first conceived in 1983, when Benedict Anderson, a former Professor of International Studies at Cornell University, published Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. In his work, Anderson chronicles how language formed nationalism and how nations were mere artificial constructs that bound people together--even when geographically disparate--through the idea of sharing similar cultural patterns (namely, language). (4) The reconstruction of Anderson's "imagined community" in the new millennium is produced by the culture industries of the media through the privileging of youth culture, which allows people from all geographic areas, age brackets, racial backgrounds, and economic conditions to share similar cultural patterns of consumption (or, at minimum, the desire for consumption) of products that make a person feel young. Whether listening to a popular radio station, skimming the pages of a fashion magazine, watching a television sitcom, or simply walking down a city street, the culture industries' message is simple: (1) to be young is to be happy; (2) youth is "hip"; and, (3) the way to be young is to buy products that give you that youthful feeling.

As youth search for acceptance during adolescence and continually look for a sense of identity and community, they rely (either consciously or unconsciously) on the culture industries for guidance. Young people find their identity in the mythical media creation of the imagined community of youth. (5) The desire to be a citizen in the imagined community of youth, however, is not restricted to young people since the line between adulthood and adolescence has been blurred by the culture industries. As a consequence, the processes that have been attributed by psychologists to the stage of development in the individual's life referred to as adolescence are now life-long processes which leave that individual in a state of perpetual adolescence. (6)

This article examines the emergence of perpetual adolescence as a growing concern in North American society. It looks at the ways in which American popular music, popular culture, and advertising influence and disturb the identity formation of teenagers by linking the rise of American big business and advertising over the last 150 years with developments in ICTs to illustrate how and why a distinctly youth focus arose in the media. While much has been written about young people and their relationship to the media, and, more recently, the phenomenon of childhood disappearing, no one has yet noted that what is really happening is that the media is extending adolescence forever. …

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