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"Z" You at the Polls

Posted by Axis on November 06, 2020

Click here to listen to this week's issue of The Culture Translator on Spotify! 

Three Things This Week

1. Tuesday Night Fever

What it is: As adults tuned in to (or, in record numbers, turned off) election coverage on Tuesday night, teens were congregating on TikTok to hope, wish, and pray for the ballots.
Why it’s a sweet thing in a sour season: TikTok creators banded together to create a welcoming and communal atmosphere that was equal parts celebratory and cynical as the polls closed. While the Biden coalition had a strong showing on the app, conservative and libertarian “hype houses” (groups of content creators) made sure there was a space for teens of every political stripe. One core value of Gen Z is being politically informed, but many of them are not old enough to vote yet. Having a place to vent, worry, and of course, post memes about their preferred election outcome gave them a sense of agency, and it was a meaningful distraction on a difficult night for our nation.

2. United States of Self-Care

What it is: In addition to gathering on TikTok, teens and young adults made election week “self-care” plans to make the week feel less stressful.
Why it could be a cue for conversation: The catch-all term “self-care” has come to encompass everything from scheduling a call with your counselor to splurging on bath bombs at the beauty supply store. Rest and relaxation are necessary (and commanded of us by God), but can sometimes become conflated with indulgence and irresponsibility—especially for a generation of young people who feel perpetually stressed out. What’s more, this call to self-care demonstrates how personally invested many young people feel about the results of this election, to the point where it’s causing side effects like anxiety, compulsive decision-making, depression, and difficulty concentrating. Remind your teen to blow out that scented candle when they’re done in the bathtub—and that you’re here as a listening ear to help situate all this anxiety in the bigger picture.

3. The Dispensary Is Open

What it is: Four states (New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, and Arizona) voted to legalize recreational marijuana, and the state of Oregon decriminalized possession of small amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine.
Why it reflects a new approach to drug policy: These ballot initiatives were voted on by citizens, not decided by state or federal legislature. As less aggressive criminal penalties for drug possession sweep the nation, it indicates that voters are hoping for a new approach to drug policy. If people with addictions can be treated with more empathy and given resources instead of harsh sentences, it’s a win towards a more compassionate society. However, as these laws change, it’s important to stay aware that there are fewer and fewer legal deterrents for teens who are curious about using drugs. More than ever, addiction prevention needs to start at home.

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On Friday October 30, Gen Z fav Ariana Grande released Positions, an album about love, sex, fear, commitment, and infatuation. There are also detours through parts of Grande’s new age worldview, including references to reincarnation and “manifesting,” which is the idea that positive thinking can change what happens to us.

On “just like magic,” (language) she sings, “I get everything I want ‘cause I attract it.” It’s an odd assertion given how much of the album is about wrestling with fears, grief, and feelings she doesn’t want. In fact, one of the album’s first lines is, “All them demons helped me see s*** differently,” and what she means by it is that she’s been through a lot (language) over the last couple of years—things that, if the manifesting worked, probably wouldn’t have happened. 

The song “nasty” turns the line “Take what’s on your mind, make it real life” into a sexual prelude. Although several songs are sprinkled with innuendo, “nasty” and “34+35” are borderline pornographic. Meanwhile, other songs like “off the table” are genuinely beautiful, and the musical and vocal performances are really high value, which is a big reason Gen Z will enjoy this album. Still, other songs like “west side” and “positions” contain advice on love that needs to be dissected; lyrics like “There’s more love if you follow emotions” reinforce the idea that love is primarily a feeling, which is never how scripture defines love. What she calls love is merely infatuation.

Not that the Christian answer is only to demonize infatuation; in fact, as a friend of ours put it, “What if the purpose of infatuation is to give us a glimpse at how God sees us as perfect through what Jesus accomplished?” The album’s final song brushes the edge of this promise: “For all of my pretty and all of my ugly too / I’d love to see me from your point of view.” But rather than putting all their stock in a romantic relationship, help your teens see that it is only God’s view of us in Christ that has the power to truly transform our self-image.

As for the album as a whole, it’s definitely a mixed bag, which means it’s a great opportunity to practice and model discernment with any young Ariana Grande fans you know.



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