Three Things This Week
1. It's Halftime Weeknd
What it is: On Sunday night, Tom Brady’s Buccaneers will face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in Tampa Bay, Florida. Gen Z pop favorite The Weeknd (pronounced “The Weekend”) will perform at the Super Bowl Halftime show.
Why it’s going to get weird: Over the past few years, Super Bowl ratings have been suffering amongst the younger demographic. Maybe that’s part of the reason the NFL chose The Weeknd as the halftime show headliner. YPulse reports that 55% of 16-34 year olds say they plan to watch the Big Game live on TV, with 66% saying they would be watching The Weeknd’s performance. It’s been heavily implied that The Weeknd may perform in costume as the heavily bandaged character he’s been portraying in his music videos over the past few months. The character is meant to highlight Hollywood’s absurd fixation on appearance, The Weeknd says. Expect this performance to be techno-heavy, 80s nostalgic, and avant-garde.
2. The Wolves of WallStreetBets
What it is: Politicians, economists, and magazine editors continue to opine about how and why a Reddit community called r/WallStreetBets executed a sophisticated short squeeze that had Wall Street in a panic and nearly bankrupted a major hedge fund.
Why it’s worth making an effort to understand: As the New York Times reports (language), the individuals involved in last week’s market chaos run the gamut from unemployed millennials investing their stimulus money to newly-minted 18-year olds who see the stock exchange like a high-stakes video game to play with their friends. Journalists and pundits may argue that apps like Robinhood pit the unwashed masses against the elite in an institutional shakeup that mirrors what we are seeing in other facets of American life. But perhaps what’s happening (or what’s possible to grasp about what’s happening) is simpler than that. Social media gives this generation of teens a level of concentrated power that’s hard to underestimate (though some older people seem determined to keep dismissing it), and what’s more, Gen Z knows it. Teens today see themselves as ready and able to participate in events that shape the world—and as we saw last week, they’re right.
3. Did Youth Suicide "Surge" in Locked-Down Las Vegas?
What it is: An alarming spike in adolescent mental health emergencies accelerated the nation’s fifth-largest school district’s plan to restart in-person learning. As of December, 18 teens in the district had died by suicide over the span of nine months.
Why it might take years to untangle: For teens and the people who love them, it’s obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic has been mentally exhausting for middle school and high school students. Feelings of isolation, panic, and worries over being “left behind” topped the list of anxieties teens felt when schools shifted to online learning models. Emergency calls related to mental health went up in 40 states during the pandemic, and experts say it makes “conceptual sense” that teens feel traumatized by months of lockdown restrictions and like they have nothing to look forward to. We can’t completely grasp how the pandemic has shaped the world our teens will inherit, but being aware of how it’s impacted the teens under our own roofs is critical. Not every teen who needs help will ask for it, and some may be experts at keeping up the facade of strength and normalcy. Keep looking for those opportunities for open conversation and opportunities to ask your teen if they really are doing okay.
Slang of the Week
tendies: finance forum slang for stock gains, typically celebrated with a meal of chicken tenders. (Ex: “Cashing out my tendies and going to Wendy's!”)
Fake It 'til You Make It
Fake Famous is a documentary on HBO Max about what it takes to become an influencer—and how much work (and deception) goes into curating the perfect life. After holding auditions for people who “just want to be famous,” director Nick Bilton and his team commit to purchasing followers and staging photoshoots for Dominique, Chris, and Wylie. With fake glamour, the team hopes to game real people and real companies into treating them like real influencers. It works.
“People fake private gym trainings so that later they can go get a free training at a private gym,” Bilton says. “These fake photos quickly become a currency that you can use to get free real experiences, products, and sponsorships.” So the team stages a photoshoot with a kiddie pool in someone's yard and tags the photos at Voda Spa; they book a fake private jet studio and time in someone else’s mansion; they frame a faraway beach image with a toilet seat to look like the window of a first class flight. And though Chris and Wylie become uncomfortable with the fakery, Dominique sticks it out, and starts receiving dozens of product gifts from companies who just want her to post about them. She even wins a free all-expense-paid vacation.
Unfortunately, the vacation was cancelled because of the coronavirus. And then, “seeing influencers post bikini pictures while there’s opera singers singing on balconies in Italy” convinces Dominique that the influencer economy is mostly vain and vapid. “Can’t you notice or acknowledge or call action to something that’s not yourself and your body on the beach?” She turns her support to celebrities who are using their fame to bring hope and encouragement, and the final message isn’t so much a critique of fame as a critique of self-centeredness.
Ask your teen whether they hope to become an influencer someday, and why. Then consider asking them some of these questions:
- How do you think your friends would react if you started buying likes and comments?
- Do you think it’s tempting for influencers to make their lives entirely about them?
- What would it take to use that kind of influence for good?
Keep the Faith!
The Axis Team
PS: This week in Culture Translator Premium, we also talked about Rihanna's feud with India, how to set better screen time rules, and a new web service that offers hormone replacement therapy without even a doctor's visit. Learn more with our Axis Membership.