The media has failed the current generation of teenagers.
Rather than trying to draw in teens and tweens with engaging and compelling stories, big media outlets (such as comics, television, and movies) often choose to pander to the teenage demographic with memes and pop culture references instead.
Although it’s a sentiment that not everyone will agree with, I wholeheartedly believe that teenagers deserve better from their media.
I often mention during my Archie reviews that Archie Comics tries to pander to the younger demographic, not only through the comics themselves, but through social media. Pandering, is, in simple terms, when a media company attempts to target and draw in a specific demographic (usually teenagers) in hopes that they will utilize or purchase their product.
I usually only call out the pandering I see with Archie because I see it happening all the time on their social media (especially on Tumblr and Facebook), but obviously this is a problem with companies and properties across the spectrum.
The reason why the practice of pandering frustrates me so much? Because companies can reach their target demographic without the pandering nonsense. In fact, if the pandering is too excessive, companies may even scare their target demographic away.
A perfect example of pandering gone wrong is the truth.org commercials, which use outdated Internet memes to scare teenagers away from smoking. The sad truth is that these kinds of PSAs will do very little to lower smoking rates among teenagers and young adults. The real way to get kids and teens to stop smoking? Be honest about the facts and don’t try to become friends with the audience.
The buddy-buddy tactic makes companies kind of look like this:
To use Archie comics as a further example, the only current incarnations of the comics that I haven’t seen pandering in is Jughead.
Jughead’s dream sequences are normally the only time the comic uses pop culture references, which I really like because it seems realistic. After all, who wouldn’t want to dream about a high tech future or a Game of Thrones like adventure? Unlike Jughead, Archie overuses hashtags and heavily promotes their social media accounts.
I understand that Archie Comics wants the young demographic to be a part of the comic, but it’s a little weird to see Archie turn towards me and say “Hey! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr @archiecomics! And don’t forget to send ideas for the #LipstickIncident!”
If you ask me, it’s all a little unnecessary.
It’s possible to sell teenagers compelling stories and dramas without pandering, the best example of this likely being Degrassi.
For those who have never been a teenage girl, or never got into it, Degrassi is an almost thirty-year-old (you’re reading that right – next year is Degrassi‘s thirtieth anniversary) teen drama that tends to focus on hot button issues that teenagers might deal with such as STDs, teen pregnancy, and gun violence. Not only did the show feature the issues that would effect teenagers, but all the kids on the show were actual teenagers that usually never had any other acting experience prior to the show, making the viewer experience that more real.
Now I usually don’t have much to complain about since I’ve seen and enjoyed almost every episode of the series, but the original incarnation of the series did not feature any pop culture references, and sadly, with the show’s latest incarnation, Degrassi: Next Class, it’s clear to see from the intro that the show threw the unofficial no-pop references rule out the window.
Now you may be thinking “Okay Courtney, but this is for teenagers! How else are you supposed to be able to relate to them?” How about with compelling stories and only having minor references to anything of today? I understand that the use of technology is pretty huge and discussing it is a great way to keep teens safe, but the intro for the new show really screams “we don’t know what the original intent of the show is anymore!”
One of my favorite stories (and what got me into the show itself) were the episodes “What a Girl Wants (1)” and “What a Girl Wants (2)” from Season 10 of Degrassi: The Next Generation. These episodes told the story of rich girl Fiona Coyne, who was being abused by her boyfriend, Bobby. It pained me watching Fiona suffer with alcohol addiction, eventually even hurting Adam Torres (the first transgender character on the show) by ignoring the fact that he was a boy. The story deep with many levels, and it was relatable for anyone who has experienced a similar situation (like me).
No pop culture was involved in these episodes, sans the use of a cellphone, which Fiona used to circulate photos of herself that made her appear more hurt than she really was (for sympathy, of course). Fiona is a really good example of a multilayered character, and I was happy to watch her story arc as time went on.
Degrassi did a very good job of using technology, but not pop culture, to create good stories.
Another good Degrassi example?
Degrassi High‘s season 2, episode 10 “Showtime (1)”. For a long time, this was the only Degrassi episode that featured a character suicide (Claude Tanner). It was a very serious episode, and it even opened with the actors discussing suicide and how the show dealt with the tragic story line. It was a really good episode, and one I would recommend anyone to watch.
Series like Degrassi prove that compelling storytelling and teen dramas can come hand in hand, so it upsets me when I see obvious pandering in not only the newest incarnation of the show, but in all media targeted at teens.
The next generation seems doomed to deal with corporate pandering and a lack of storytelling for the long haul.
Just in case you’re doubting how bad the issue has become, I leave you all today with a video that perfectly exemplifies how horrifying pandering has become:
And yes, this is a real ad posted by Nickelodeon.
What are your thoughts on demographic pandering? Let me know in the comments!