Some prom issues and prom’s role in solidifying youth identity and autonomy

Prom is one of the major events in American high school life, which is widely seen as a rite of passage into adulthood where freedom begins. It is usually held at the end of the school year but early in the year, pre-prom planning already takes place for decisions about theme, location, decoration, music, menu and others (Best 2000).

The contemporary prom is associated with iconic images: groups of prom-goers arriving in the scene with limousines walk on red carpet, priding themselves on their expressive evening dresses and accessories or expensive suits and ties. After the celebrity-like red carpet performance comes dinner and dancing time. In addition, participants are also eager for the announcement of a prom queen and king, where 2 of the most popular students gain the titles. To some prom-goers, driving around for displaying their showy outfits is part of the fun. Later, the celebration night likely continues with private parties or after-prom event provided by the schools or non-profit groups (Best 2000). As they play an important part in American high school scene, proms have been portrayed in many American teenage films, such as “10 things I hate about you”, “American pie”, “mean girls”, and TV series like “friends”, “Sabrina the teenage witch”, “Buffy the vampire slayer”. Today, proms have spread across countries to become a trendy celebration in high school, probably due to the popularity of American movies and TV shows. In Britain, where 85% of high schools have adopted the norm (according to British council), some primary pupils can now take part in a prom (McVeigh 2012).

Alongside its immense attraction and popularity across countries, proms have long been raising concerns about youth consumerism and youth safety, as remarked by Bert Nelson:

“prom time is both the best and worst of times. It should be a happy and memorable occasion for students and their families. Sadly, it sometimes becomes a tragic and memorable occasion for an entire community” (1994 cited by Saslow 1994).

Regarding the issue of youth consumer culture, within the context of booming prom industry (where prom services thrive), the escalating levels of prom-related spending and today showy performances of the self (to the extent that some of them are even aired on local TV) reflect an expansion of youth consumerism, which many parents have found problematic. In the US, an average cost per person spent for the night amounts to $500, fundamentally on limousine rent, clothing and accessories, hair styling and prom ticket. And that excludes post-prom spending. On top of that, post-prom occurrences pose a number of problems about youth safety, where a prom night may expand to a prom weekend (Saslow 1994) and engage heavy underage alcoholic use. On such an occasion, many teenagers perceive drinking not only as a way to celebrate but also a common ritual of entering adult world. PAD (parentsactionondrugs.org) contended that after-prom private parties, possibly at someone’s home, in a hotel or at a camp ground, provide chances for wild drinking behaviors without adult supervision, which could even lead to drugs use and unrestrained sexual acts. To minimize the post-prom problems, teens have been encouraged to attend supervised after-prom events organized by parents or some non-profits groups, and to increase the effect of the approach, prizes are introduced to attract more of their attention (Mannette 2013).

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Apart from its significant role in signifying new independent stage of life, prom creates emotional once-in-a-life-time memories of high school life, where friendship and togetherness are celebrated. Besides, Dr. Caroline Schuster proposed that the appeal of contemporary prom is also rooted in red carpet experience, where students seize a chance to appear and behave like celebrities (Williams 2012). According to Miller (2010), the Hollywood-like opening of a prom night emerged as a tradition at the beginning of the 21st century, and around 2005, filming and broadcasting of proms on some local cable TVs even started to involve in the scene.

“The new age of participatory media has turned the prom into a fast-emerging vehicle for teenagers’ self-conscious displays of stylized drama” (Miller 2010, p.12).

Originally, proms have been identified as a space of self-presentation and “self-(re) invention” for the youth, “in which to express a range of confrontational youth stances” (Best 2000). More precisely, prom fashion display and acts imply adolescents’ establishment and insistence of individuality. Furthermore, the after-prom related problems about youth safety reflect the trend of teenage resistance to control from schools and adults in general, as highlighted by Best (2000):

“located at the intersection of school, commercial, and youth cultures, proms are contentious spaces wherein kids work through central issues surrounding questions of authority, class, diversity, sexuality, and romance”.

References

Best, A., L., 2000. Prom Night : Youth, Schools, and Popular Culture. [online]. New York: Routledge

British Council, 2016. Prom time [online]. Available from: http://learnenglishteens.britishcouncil.org/uk-now/read-uk/prom-time [Accessed 24 April 2016].

Mannette, A., 2013. The supervised after-prom party: Now with cars, iPads and other goodies. Chicago Tribune [online], 17 May 2013. Available from: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-05-17/features/sns-rt-us-usa-prombre94g0ma-20130517_1_after-prom-party-two-students-ipads [Accessed 24 April 2016].

McVeigh, T., 2012. How British children have embraced the high school prom. The Guardian [online], 3rd June 2012. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/jun/03/high-school-proms-in-britain [Accessed 24 April 2016].

Miller, M., 2010. Taking a New Spotlight to the Prom: Youth Culture and Its Emerging Video Archive. Journal of American Culture, 33 (1), 12-23.

Williams, S., 2012. Fairytale ending: the rise of the British prom. The Telegraph [online], 10 August 2012. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/9459579/Fairytale-ending-the-rise-of-the-British-prom.html [Accessed 24 April 2016].

Saslow, L., 1994. Post-Prom Activities Worrying Schools. The Telegraph [online], 12 June 1994. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/12/nyregion/post-prom-activities-worrying-schools.html?pagewanted=all [Accessed 24 April 2016].

The Twilight Saga’s influences on worldwide pop culture

The Twilight Saga, written by Stephenie Meyer, has been identified as one of the contemporary pop-culture phenomena, and a Vampire Renaissance. Although it had faced prior rejection of 14 agents, it immediately achieved a best-seller status upon its first novel’s debut, “Twilight” (Sawer and Mendick 2010). The series includes 4 novels, telling the love and life story of Bella Swan and a vampire, Edward Cullen, from when they fell in love in high school until they stood together defending their daughter against the Volturi, the most powerful and influential coven of the vampire world. “Breaking dawn” is the last novel of the series.

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To summarize, during Bella and Edward’s honeymoon, Bella showed early symptoms of pregnancy. The couple hurriedly returned home due to the risky condition of her pregnancy, where her half-vampire, half-human child was growing very speedily. When Jacob Black (the young werewolf in love with Bella, also her childhood friend) discovered Bella’s bad health condition, he tried to convince her to have abortion, yet Bella insisted on keeping the baby irrespective of the danger it brought. Informed about Bella’s pregnancy, Jacob’s werewolf pack planned to murder her and the baby for their fear of the possible risks induced by a vampire-human child. However, Jacob, along with 2 other werewolves, sided with the Cullens to protect the pregnant Bella, fighting against the pack. At the same time, since the baby grew up so strong that it broke many of its mother’s bones, the Cullens decided to take it out of her. Bella then stopped breathing, where Edward had to inject his venom into her with a hope that it could save her, transforming her into a vampire. Later, her daughter, Renesmee, was mistakenly reported to be an “immortal child”, whose power was uncontrollable. As the creation of an immortal child was against the rules established by the Volturi, they set out an attack to destroy the Cullens. Facing the fatal risk, the family persuaded vampires around the world that Renesmee is not an immortal child and asked them to be their witnesses. On the day the 2 groups confronted, Aro, the Volturi’s leader, got to know the truth about Renesmee through her telepathic power, still whether she remained a threat to the protection of vampire world was still uncertain to the Volturi. Finally, thanks to Alice and Jasper Cullen’s return with a vampire-human man who could solidly prove that hybrids were no harmful to the secret vampiric world, the Volturi were convinced and left the Cullens and their allies in peace.

As of 2010, its 4 books (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn) had been translated into 39 languages and sold roughly 100 million copies (Pomerantz 2010). In the UK, along with its huge commercial gain, the series contributed to a rise of 20% in sales of sci-fi and fantasy fictions between 2005 and 2010 (Sawer and Mendick 2010). Following the novels’ success, their blockbuster movie adaptations generated even wider public attention and a great number of fans around the world, adding up to the popularity of the original works. The film series also helped young actors, Kristen Stewart (playing Bella), Robert Pattinson (as Edward) and Taylor Lautner (as Jacob Black), shoot to considerable fame (Ross 2015). Critics have referred to The Twilight Saga as Vampire Renaissance, where it resulted in a “massive influx of vampire-related entertainment”, such as HBO’s hit “True Blood”, “The Vampire Diaries” – one of The CW’s most watched TV series, 2012 “Dark Shadows” starring Johnny Depp, 2012 “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, 2013 “Beautiful Creatures” (Ross 2015). Interestingly, another publication and box-office success, “Fifty Shades of Grey”, had been inspired by Bella and Edward’s romance, where the most obvious correlation between the 2 plots is the female protagonists’ willingness and eagerness for dangerous relationship, which put them at risks of suffering violence from their lovers. Besides, a possible “Twilight effect” among teenagers is the exchange of “love bites” (Hartenstein 2010), which means the behavior of biting boyfriends/ girlfriends, or even close friends, to show affection. The series’ teenage fanatics even go further to “exchange blood with each other to prove their passion”.

Questions regarding a sensible reason for Twilight’s worldwide popularity have been raised among both film critics and wide audience. The books have actually been negatively judged for a mediocre writing style, a somewhat poorly developed plot with main characters lacking personalities and depth, and its advocacy of a plain love story of an unhealthy relationship. One assumption about its attraction to young people is that “Edward and Bella spend some 2,000 pages in tortured anticipation of sex” (Valby 2012), where Edward resisted the temptation many times before the marriage, even though Bella was up-front about her desire. In fact, the author created a romanticized vampire world, in which soulful vampires, with supernatural talents, refused to feed on human blood and go for animal blood instead. In this respect, Twilight stands out from a range of literature of vampire themes, which has long been exploited the fearful nature of vampires, including sexuality. Furthermore, Twilight is a romantic fantasy with horror elements: its immense focus on romance makes it more likable in the mainstream, at the same time the dark side of vampiric experiences added a thrilling quality to the series. However, more research effort is still needed to decode this pop culture phenomenon.

References

Hartenstein, M. 2010. Teenagers inspired by Twilight sink fangs into each other in new ‘biting’ trend, parents fear risks. Daily News [online], 7 July 2010. Available from: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/teenagers-inspired-twilight-sink-fangs-new-biting-trend-parents-fear-risks-article-1.467584 [Accessed 9 April 2016].

Meslow, S., 2012. After ‘Twilight’: Where Do Vampires in Pop Culture Go From Here? The Atlantic [online], 19 November 2012. Available from: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/11/after-twilight-where-do-vampires-in-pop-culture-go-from-here/265393/ [Accessed 9 April 2016].

Pomerantz, D., 2010. Inside The ‘Twilight’ Empire. Forbes [online], 28 June 2010. Available from: http://www.forbes.com/2010/06/22/twilight-kristen-stewart-robert-pattinson-business-entertainment-celeb-100-10-twilight.html [Accessed 9 April 2016].

Ross, A., 2015. 8 Things That Wouldn’t Exist Without Twilight. Time [online],5 October 2015. Available from: http://time.com/4057415/twilight-anniversary-anna-kendrick/ [Accessed 9 April 2016].

Ross, A., 2015. The Vampire Craze in Popular Culture Isn’t Dead Yet. Time [online], 27 October 2015. Available from: http://time.com/4061384/vampires-twilight-halloween/ [Accessed 9 April 2016].

Sawer, P., Mendick, R., 2010. Success of Twilight films leads to boom in sales of fantasy novels. The telegraph [online], 31 January 2010. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/7112976/Success-of-Twilight-films-leads-to-boom-in-sales-of-fantasy-novels.html [Accessed 9 April 2016].

Valby, K., 2012. The ‘Twilight’ effect. The telegraph [online], 31 January 2010. Available from: http://www.ew.com/article/2012/11/16/twilight-effect [Accessed 9 April 2016].

Narcissism: an aspect of selfie

On social media, visual-led communication has been increasing in amount. Nowadays, Facebook posts without images are becoming difficult to find. Other major digital platforms like Pinterest, Instagram or Tumblr all have their content organized around images. Image-centered mobile apps like WhatsApp or Snapchat have also been increasing in number and popularity. In line with this steeply rising significance of visuality in communication, in recent years, selfie has been a phenomenon that has both remarkably attracted public attention and sparked vigorous debates among academics. In this context, a number of researchers who try to unpack this social media phenomenon have linked it with narcissism.

Basically, a selfie is a snapshot of oneself taken by holding a camera or smartphone at arm’s length, or sometimes with the help of a selfie stick. One advantage of taking photo this way is that selfie takers are in full control of the whole process and results. People like the fact that they can decide how to frame themselves on screen and how many times to retake a selfie for the best outcomes (1). The need for flawless selfies on social media has given rise to popular use of mobile apps for instant photo editing, such as PhotoWonder or InstaMag.

Today, selfie is the most popular photo genre (5) to the extent that some even call it a “social epidemic”. According to Rawhide, an American non-profit organization offering assistance for at-risk youth, 93 million selfies were taken daily in 2015 (2). Taking selfie seems to be more prominent among young generations. 95% of adolescents had ever taken a selfie, and the amount of time every one of them spent for selfie went up to almost 7 full work days. From celebrities to “more serious” well-known people, and even the world’s political big fishes, have partaken in this “digital ritual”. On Instagram, Kim Kardashian is notorious for her selfies of flashing the flesh and in pretty much the same manner, Justin Bieber has updated countless selfies of him going topless. In 2013, a picture of Barack Obama, David Cameron and Helle Thorning-Schmidt taking a group selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service went viral in cyberspace (8). Also in 2013, the Pope was captured to be taking selfie with a teenage group (6). Selfie has spread out to outer space: in 2012, a space selfie by Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide was claimed to be the greatest selfie of all time.

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It appears that everyone could be influenced by the trend. As observed, infrequent selfies are generally acceptable or can be seen as a fun activity. However, heavy exploitation of selfies has been criticized and can be associated with “social media-driven narcissism” (9). Narcissism is a personality trait characterized by grandiosity (2): a typical narcissist tends to adopt an inflated self-view, exaggerate their accomplishments, and lack empathy for others. In online environment, narcissism is reported to be associated with a desire for big audience’s attention (1). At the same time, research found out that narcissists are more likely to perform positive self-presentation on social media, where they reveal a large number of photos of themselves (11).Likewise, Rawhide suggested a number of narcissistic behaviors on social network sites, including frequent change of profile picture and oversharing of self-promotional images (2).

In their effort to examine the issues of online privacy breach faced by young people, Berriman and Thomson mapped different youth cultural positions on social media against two axes: participation and visibility (Figure 1). According to this model, active narcissistic users can be placed in the group of high visibility and high participation, the e-celeb. In fact, many famous bloggers, vloggers, Facebookers posting a high quantity of selfies can be identified with narcissistic traits. Because social media facilitate activities of self-broadcasting, they do foster narcissism. On the one hand, they function as a vehicle for already egocentric people to brag about themselves (7). On the other hand, social media use can be addictive, where self-absorption is reinforced to create narcissistic individuals, especially with flattering function like the “like” button. With regard to this, Emily Johnston, the blogger of Fashion Foie Gras (FFG) made a comment: “Before I started FFG I genuinely didn’t care how I looked in pictures. When you have hundreds of thousands of people seeing an image of you it takes on a whole new level of importance. You become self-absorbed (8).

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In conclusion, today popularity of selfie is very likely to correlate with the increasing intensity of narcissism in social media environment. Although much concern and effort has been invested in analyzing these cyber phenomenons, both of them still require further examination. Probably, selfie will be a continuing trend, especially among young people. Considering Facebook’s latest mode of profile picture, where users can upload a brief video instead of an image, in the future, video selfies could possibly take over to lead online communication.

References

  1. Barry, C., T., Doucette, H., Loflin, D., C., Rivera-Hudson, N., Herrington L., L., 2015. “Let Me Take a Selfie”: Associations Between Self-Photography, Narcissism, and Self-Esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture.
  1. Cohen, D., 2016. Selfies, Narcissism and Social Media (Infographic). Adweek [online], 06 January 2016. Available from: http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/rawhide-selfies-infographic/632428 [Accessed 07 March 2016].
  1. Day, E., 2013. How selfies became a global phenomenon. The Guardian [online], 14 July 2013. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jul/14/how-selfies-became-a-global-phenomenon [Accessed 07 March 2016].
  1. Hart, A., 2014. Generation selfie: Has posing, pouting and posting turned us all into narcissists? The Independent [online], 5 December 2014. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11265022/Selfie-obsession-are-we-the-most-narcissistic-generation-ever.html [Accessed 07 March 2016].
  1. Knibbs, K., 2013. Selfies are now the most popular genre of photo; in related news everyone’s the worst. Digital Trends [online], 20 June 2013. Available from: http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/selfies-are-now-the-most-popular-genre-of-picture-and-in-related-news-everyones-the-worst/ [Accessed 07 March 2016].
  1. Molloy, A., 2013. Year of the Selfie: The birth – and death – of 2013’s biggest star trend. The Independent [online], 24 December 2013. Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/year-of-the-selfie-the-birth-and-death-of-the-year-s-biggest-star-trend-9024534.html [Accessed 07 March 2016].
  1. Odell, A., 2015. What Selfies Really Say About You — and Your Friends.The Independent [online], 21 July 2015. Available from: http://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/news/a43647/what-selfies-really-say-about-you-and-your-friends/ [Accessed 07 March 2016].
  1. Tate, A., 2013. President Obama Selfie: Obama Takes Photo During Nelson Mandela Memorial Service In South Africa. International Business Times [online], 10 December 2013. Available from: http://www.ibtimes.com/president-obama-selfie-obama-takes-photo-during-nelson-mandela-memorial-service-south-africa-photo [Accessed 07 March 2016].
  1. Weiser, E., B., 2015. #Me: Narcissism and its facets as predictors of selfie-posting frequency. Personality and Individual Differences, 86. 477–481
  2. Berriman, L., and Thomson, R., 2015. Spectacles of intimacy? Mapping the morallandscape of teenage social media. Journal of Youth Studies, 18 (5), 583–597

A brief introduction about bohemianism and its influence on popular fashion

In essence, bohemianism is an unconventional lifestyle in Western societies widely identified with rebellion, ultimate freedom and artistic pursuits. A large number of people engaging with this practice are painters, writers, musicians, actors and other types of artists (1). Rejecting bourgeois values, a bohemian willingly leads a nomadic carefree life, which is of little material attachment, and adopts amoral attitudes towards love and sex (1). Regarding their nature of discarding conventional social viewpoints, Nicholson made a remark: “The bohemian is an outsider, defines themselves as an outsider and is defined by the world as an outsider…” (2).

 Originally, the word “bohemian”, or “bohemien” in French, is rooted in Bohemia, a Czech region where many of its inhabitants are Gypsies (3), therefore traditionally in French, a gypsy was called bohemien (1). However, by the mid-1800s, the term started to be used by a few French authors to refer to “one who lives a vagabond, unregimented life without assured resources, who does not worry about tomorrow” (4). Later, in 1951, “bohemien”, with its new sense, came into use widely as a result of the popularity of the play “La Vie de Boheme” (4).

The first bohemian communities were significantly made up of Parisian middle class youths who sought after a life abundant with the joy of autonomy, freedom and artistic creation. They associated bohemianism with “prolonged adolescence”, where they tried a counter-culture of rejecting materialistic values before an eventual return to their bourgeois society. Later, bohemianism began to attract working class people, and their participation in the bohemian subculture brought about the aspect of real poverty (4).

Until now, bohemian clothing has been generally related as outmoded, worn out and sometimes eccentric. Here, individual artistic selves are displayed not only in the lifestyle but also in ways of dressing (5). In the modern world, bohemian dressing styles have remarkably influenced on worldwide mainstream fashion (3). A number of popular elements of bohemian-inspired fashion style (or in other words, Boho chic) include “loose, flowing clothing made of natural fabrics”, “a general disregard for tidiness and uniformity of dress”, tribal, floral or geometric patterns, restrictive accessories of ethnic designs, long loose messy hair with a range of head bands (5).

In conclusion, bohemianism as a counter-culture insists on a freestyle life basically characterised by few permanent ties, open relationships, expression of identity, appreciation and creation of art. In the aspect of fashion alone, dressing Boho chic offers followers numerous occasions to play with their creative mind and to highlight their uniqueness. Whether it is indulging in bohemianism or merely putting on Boho chic outfits, the spirit has been a great source of inspiration for many young people in the world.


References

(1) Subculture List, 2016. Bohemianism [online]. Available from: http://subcultureslist.com/bohemianism/ [Accessed 19 February 2016]

(2) Walker, A., 2011. What is bohemian? BBC News [online], 11 March 2011. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12711181 [Accessed 19 February 2016]

(3) Grimwood, J., 2015. Bohemianism: A British Subculture. Impact [online], 28 September 2015. Available from: http://www.impactnottingham.com/2015/09/bohemianism-a-british-subculture/ [Accessed 19 February 2016]

(4) Mount Holyoke College, 2016. Bohemianism and Counter-Culture [online]. South Hadley. Available from: https://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255-s01/boheme/lifestyle.html [Accessed 19 February 2016].

(5) HubPages, 2015. Boho – Fashion History and Bohemian Style. HubPages [online]. 12 August 2015. Available from: http://hubpages.com/style/BohoTheFashionHistoryofBohemianClothes [Accessed 19 February 2016].