Here’s #10-1 of our countdown of the personalities, trends, memes, and moments that shaped teenage culture and family life this year.
Thank you again for reading the Culture Translator, and we wish you a happy new year!
The CTP's Top 20 Trends of 2021
#10: Elon Musk
Elon Musk, richest man on earth and Time’s person of the year, has something of a cult following amongst Millennials and Gen Z. The man has a billionaire’s affinity for tone-deaf gaffes and a middle-schooler’s love for memes, a combination some young people seem to find endearing. When Musk tweets, the market responds, whether he’s making a statement about his own company or recommending a crypto investment. Musk even guest-hosted Saturday Night Live back in May. Whether teens see Musk as a rich fool or a savvy businessman depends on the day of the week, but young people seem to be paying close attention to what he says, either way.
#9: The great resignation / #antiwork
When COVID-19 restrictions ended, many reasoned, the US job market would come back in full force without skipping a beat. What happened instead has been an interesting study in social science as people are leaving their jobs en masse for positions they feel are more fulfilling, or just dropping out of the labor force entirely. This affects Gen Z in two ways: in the short term, young people are more in demand than ever for lower-paying jobs in retail, food service, and hospitality. In the long-term, though, the meaning of work is taking on an entirely new definition for younger people. They’re aiming to retire early, which is part of what drives them to invest. They’re also unwilling to compromise their personal lives for the sake of the needs or whims of a boss, a movement known as #antiwork.
Manifesting is basically a powerful form of wishing, in which you write down or imagine what you want to happen until you appear to have willed your chosen reality into existence. This practice is nothing new, and reached a special prominence in the early 2000s. A new generation has discovered the practice, and now #manifesting has over 12 billion views on TikTok. Manifesting’s cousin, shifting, is a practice during which you envision yourself in a different reality entirely—a sort of consciously controlled, lucid dreaming. The desire to inhabit other worlds and dimensions, or to simply make something good happen out of sheer willpower, is appealing to young people who feel they have very little agency over the circumstances of their lives.
#7: Climate change anxiety
This was the year that many teens started to believe the idea that climate change was going to impact their future hopes and dreams. Memes that refer to a destroyed future or to a planet on fire made the rounds as some gave up hope on global leadership making any moves that could minimize the impact of fossil fuels on the environment. Some teens turned to activism, and engaged with or shared climate change information on social media regularly. As our young adults come of age and grapple with the state of the world that will be theirs, ethical concerns about bringing children into a polluted world also come close to the surface of cultural consciousness.
#6: Squid Game
Squid Game quickly became Netflix’s most-streamed show of all time when it debuted in September. The South Korean import made a splash with its high-stakes take on playground games. The show seems to tap into questions about authoritarianism, capitalism, and the surveillance state, which seemed all too prescient in 2021. While the series was criticized by some for its graphic depictions of violence, renewing Squid Game for next year was a no-brainer for Netflix. Squid Game also lived off of Netflix in the form of Halloween costumes, Roblox game spinoffs, and slickly-produced YouTube reenactments, so it really did become inescapable.
#5: Vaccine mandates
Many people held on through the height of coronavirus restrictions with the hope that a vaccine was going to come and remediate all of the biological and social ills the virus wrought. That’s, well, not exactly what happened. As mandates took hold, especially in private businesses and urban areas, the conversation shifted away from who should get the vaccine to a debate over whether people should be forced to have it. New strains of coronavirus, such as delta and omicron, brought with them new waves of anxiety. Gen Z got vaccinated, or didn’t, and for the most part seem to simply long for a way to make up for lost time after the pandemic stole months of their adolescence.
What is a #deviouslick? If you’re attending school in person, it can be anything you want it to be… as long as it is destructive and mischievous. The TikTok trend left toilets broken, sinks vandalized, and much more destruction of school property, even as TikTok scrambled to take down videos posted with the hashtag. #Deviouslicks and several other other prominent TikTok trends of 2021 seemed reckless and even a bit vengeful, as teens tried to rack up online clout by breaking things.
#3: Critical race theory
Critical race theory, also known as CRT, became a lightning rod for controversy this year. Parents pushed to have it removed from school curriculum. Lawmakers proposed (and sometimes passed) legislation to have it banned from schools. Teachers offered different accounts of when and how the theory is actually taught. People got animated with each other as they argued about what the theory actually was. Some pastors even weighed in about how God would feel about critical race theory. Gen Z, by and large, were bystanders to this debate, with no choice but to live with the conclusion of whatever the adults decided.
#2: Mental health crisis
The CDC, the American Academy of Pediatricians, and the Children’s Hospital Association all agree that the kids are not alright. In December, the CDC issued a rare advisory saying that depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation had reached a disturbing high amongst the younger set. There are many contributing factors, and truthfully, this crisis has been in process for some time, but the pandemic restrictions appear to have pushed many young people over the edge. As we head into 2022, anyone who has a teen in their life needs to be praying for their encouragement and resilience in a very confusing cultural landscape.
#1: The metaverse
If the planet is getting too hot to handle, and we’re running out of time for Elon Musk to colonize Mars, there’s always the metaverse: a place where the points don’t matter and the rules are made up. The idea of a metaverse where we live, play, and breathe screentime all the time is gaining steam. Some are calling it Web3; a 3D, natural-next-step, virtual reality sphere of the internet we already use so much. Several “metaverses” already exist, and they are now competing to be the metaverse supreme, selling virtual real estate and virtual yachts as NFTs at eye-watering prices. Facebook bought in so hard that the company changed its name to Meta. What role God and spirituality play in the metaverse is hard to wrap our heads around, but the fact that nobody seems to be asking the question is telling, in and of itself.
And with that, we conclude our top 20 countdown. Thanks so much for reading, and again, from all of us at Axis, we wish you a very happy new year!
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