Determining patterns of a decade before it has become the past is risky; however, with regard to teen culture, three patterns seem clear. All three, which began in the Eighties, are gathering speed and intensity in the Nineties. First is the number of statistics for teens. As a group they are the most polled, questioned, evaluated, scrutinized, and speculated about in the nation. There is even a special research agency devoted to asking them about themselves: Teen Research Unlimited, of Northbrook, Illinois. Part of this attention comes from the determination of corporations to market their goods to apparently voracious teen spenders; part of it is the national mystification--and deep fear--adults experience in regard to today's teenagers. Unfortunately, the statistics produce few answers to the real questions.
The second pattern is the blending of all aspects of teen fashion and media culture. It has become almost impossible to separate movies, television, books, music, and the World Wide Web from each other or from an array of consumer goods--clothes, shoes, snacks, gadgets, soft drinks, candy, fast foods, video games, cosmetics, and drugs. More than at any other time in this century, popular culture is unified and teens are unified by their popular culture.
The third pattern, on the other hand, is the fragmentation of American life generally and teen life in particular. Shifting family patterns, short-term living arrangements, multiple part-time jobs, increasingly clear ethnic boundaries and identities, the isolation that results from gangs and drug use--all of these have changed the way in which teens perceive the world and themselves. Their media and their consumer goods may seem joined,