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The Relationship Between Youth, Lifestyle and Consumption


Young people as a special group of society have always been in the focus of attention of researchers and politicians during many years. Nowadays it is possible to talk about the beginning of the new stage of development of youth. The problems of youth are very interesting for the representatives of the states; the new strategies in the field of new youth policy are being developing. Especially politicians who are interested in the political development of young people. It is an interesting fact that many young people are trying to avoid participating in the political life of society.

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The most important changes in the life of young people are connected not with the political but with the cultural sphere, with the fighting for cultural dominance. One of the last researches showed that only three percent of young people are ready to participate in political events and the cultural events are attractive for more than half of young people. Political movements and parties are not so popular among the young people and participating in public events is connected with material, but not ideological stimulus. But this should not be understood as the moral falling but as the natural reaction to the commercial side of the political sphere. I think that this moment is very important for the understanding of the contemporary context of such issues as young people and youth culture.

The issue of youth culture is created to describe the special social space for people who are relatively dependent. This dependence means that young people have always been viewed as the resource for the future society but not as a full-grown social group.

Biopolitical construct

Here it would be appropriate to speak about the biopolitical construct which is still appreciated. According to this biopolitical construct young people are viewed as the homogeneous age group with the single psychological characteristics and social needs. Young people are viewed as the special stage of developing personality. Behaviors and values, assimilated by the young people in this period, becomes the ideological orientation for the whole life. There is also a phase of «rebelliousness», which is a part of cultural tradition, transmitted from one generation to another. Recently, this transition is complicated by new conditions – social transformation and modernization, so the young people are in need of supervision and support from professionals.

Direct ideology comes from these principles, justifying the need and the “natural” adult superiority and domination, which in practice lead to the open and covert discrimination because of age. It is true that the discriminatory ideas are in theoretical constructs so deeply that it seems impossible to write and think about young people without using the words “young, “awkward age”, “Youth transition”, “the problem of youth”. ( Blackman: 1995)

Classical in this area are the theory of Stanley Hall, Karl Mannheim and T. Parsons. According to their views, “drama” of adolescent development is due to clash of irresistible forces of nature (“sexual drive”, “hormonal awakening”) with “fixed” barriers of culture, i.e. social institutions. The awakening of sexuality (biological premise) determines the need for generation of socialization (the political prerequisite). This is the formula of biopolitical construct.

The notion of “youth culture” by T. Parsons is associated with the perception of stability and feasibility of the development of social systems. This concept has affected the post-war revival of the western societies, the belief in the possibility of welfare and prosperity of all its members. Youth culture is an independent social space in which young people can find authenticity, while at home or school, they are deprived of real rights, and fully supervised by adults. In traditional (pre-industrial) societies, the family is fully performing all necessary functions of social reproduction – biological, economic and cultural. In modern industrialized societies, the family, according to the scientist loses the traditional functions in the field of culture (educational and professional). Young people took their most vulnerable position, while values between the two worlds, between the patriarchal model of family socialization and adult roles, which set off market rationality and impersonal bureaucratic structure.

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The youth, according to T. Parsons is the time of “structured irresponsibility”, a moratorium inserted between childhood and adult life. This is a long preservation of spatial and temporal position of youth in the life cycle leads to the formation of peer groups and the youth culture, which promotes the development of models of emotional independence and security, the privatization of “their” territories changing the role of characteristics of primary (child) socialization through learning taken in the company competitive techniques.

The issues of subculture and contrastructure

Another concept which describes the characteristics of youth identity is subculture or contrastructure. These terms emphasize the underground nature of the new formations, their respect to the socio-cultural mainstream. The most striking subcultural identity acquired their names: Teddy Boys, fashion, skinheads, grow, punks, Goths, and others. The prerequisites of such subcultures, and their confrontation with the culture of the majority arose thanks to a significant weakening of the patriarchal order, making the young people in an independent entity use (their earnings, the availability of leisure time, development of recreational infrastructure), independence, albeit relative, the private space from the public, the development of cultural pluralism.

Subculture and contracultural movements were caused by post-war reality, changing the lives of Western youth. Expanding the space of leisure, the rise of the service industry has led to complex nature of youth consumption. At certain times of the real youth issues such as employment and education, fell from the scope of research interests, all the attention of sociologists and cultural studies turned to cultural practices and panic, which they bear in the society.

Subcultural forms, in a modified form, continue to exist in the modern world, and the contracultural youth movement remained in the rebel 60’s. The need to interpret the changing forms of youth activity in the context of widening the choice which is offered by modern “cultural style” supermarket, presents several new research questions.

Youth culture, as it was understood in the early and mid twentieth century, left the scene. Subculture was filled up with new content. However, ironically, it changed the cultural reality of the era of globalization, set up the preconditions for the birth of a new youth culture, which since the late 1980’s is going through a real renaissance. Reformatting the youth culture, turning it from a structural “freeze” into resource extraction for commercial profit contributed to the profound changes in the general modern culture, which occurred in the late twentieth century. They became the foundation of transforming youth culture in a particular style.( Pilkington: 2003)

Describing the features of American society of the last third of the last century, John Sibruck uses the concept of “culture of supermarket”. The central actor in this culture is constantly conceived with the help of new commercial networks. The author describes how the total space of the pop-culture neutralized opposition high / elite and low / mass. Elite, high culture relied on the experts supporting the notion of artistic taste, formed on the “classic” cultural samples. Before the advent of a new culture (a culture of “noise”, it is the supermarket culture, is relocating to the area of cultural consumption of the ideology of mass market sales) elite increasingly distancing themselves from the consumer or commercial mass culture. The term “high” and “low” transformed from taste differences into caste.

There is a new division in new culture: not into the elite and the business, but to worship and mass. In the aristocratic culture, based on taste, valued coherent cultural preferences, and in the culture of the supermarket valued preferences, violate the traditional cultural hierarchy. In aristocratic culture content and advertising existed separately, but the in the culture of supermarket there is no boundaries between them. J. Sibruck is building a new type of cultural hierarchy in the culture of supermarket in the following way: individuality – subculture – the culture of mainstream – subculture – individuality. ( Pilkington: 2003)

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According to the author, subcultures are beginning to play the same role as the high culture of aristocratic culture, becoming a source of new trends in the culture itself. An important condition for entering into the mainstream – is the ability to adapt subcultural content to any demographic or “psychographic” market niche. The nucleus, the center of the culture of supermarket, although very large, becomes mainstream, and individuality takes its peripheral position.

On the one hand, cultural power shifting from individual tastes (tastes examination) to the authority of the market (a key figure – teenagers, knowing that there will be fashionable tomorrow). On the other hand, new names, ideas, findings are born to “individual margins”, in search of authentic laboratories of “culture”.

With the help of market mechanisms, individuals becomes subcultures, and then the new trend of mainstream. Thanks to MTV and cable television mainstream boundaries were expanded; it began to include avant-garde artists. As the new information technologies have contributed to reduce the distance between the artist and their potential audience, the mass market has begun to acquire some kind of integrity and to express preferences of the audience. Have an understanding of authorship. The very idea of the artist as an unusual creature, the work of the sacrament as the magic begins outdated, and its boundaries blurred.

Pop-culture becomes a zone of connection of youth and mainstream dominance (sustained power), political and cultural discourse. The driving force of the new pop-cultural revolution is the mainstream youth. The Revolution produced the weakening value of subcultures, the reduction “lifetime” cultural underground in general. This trend is evident in the reproduction of the image of “Youth”, which are considered to be active, mobile, optimistic, the propensive to take risks, exclusive.

Extravagance, display of sexuality, power, healthy and beautiful body are the signs of the appropriate style of life practiced by far not all young, but, in contrast, often attracts the mature and elderly people. Dynamism of modern consumer markets helps to evade strict regulation of attitudes.

In these circumstances subcultural capital becomes a commodity, along with others. Informal subcultural practices do not disappear, but their transformation, digestion in pop version is much faster than before. The process of transformation of subcultures into pop-culture radically alters the meaning of the subcultural elements. The subcultural “proposal” fit into the broad consumer supermarket, where you can choose something like “subcultural classics”, but the meaning and context of its use is random.

The peculiarity of the real rather than symbolic (brand) youth is striving of the girls and boys to acquire an independent space, conquer the place for the manifestation of their own, not an imposed identity.

Once young people caused the idea of youth as a social group as the particular social problem. Today the youth is assigned as an all new style and new segments of the consumer market. It seems that young people are “leaving the street”, creating an entirely new type of youth “room culture”. I do not want to say that young people fully left public space, realizing only in the private sphere, but the trend is beyond dispute.

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The role of modern life styles

Modern lifestyles of young people are from different sources, depending on their availability. The loss of subcultural (group and individual) identity does not mean that today’s youth are limited in resources, with which they can create a unique version of life-style. The rapid development of information technology gives it the resources of global culture, so that it receives substantial benefits, creating the illusion of control over their own biography. However, these benefits often are only new ways to standardize the youth experience. Mass media, especially the youth television, strongly encouraged the young to think that the digital world is necessary and indispensable attribute of a young “body”. ( McRobbie: 1994)

Globalization is actively involved in everyday life. Today’s youth is socialized in the global knowledge, global images. Globalization creates a new type of social differentiation, the gap between those who are well familiar with technological innovations, and those who do not have full access to them. But even they have to become involved somehow in this new space.

When neither friendly company, nor social institutions regain their own identity, a fundamentally important for the modern young man becomes the existence of a protected personal space. A special role belongs to a room – as compared with the past, young people clearly prefer to spend their leisure time not in the streets, and houses, especially if the boy or girl has a computer, television and other means of communication. Experience of communicating with today’s youth is not so ritual as before: the participation in traditional forms of joint time (holidays, picnics, etc.) is not so regular.

Youth and mass media

A special role in the relationship between modern youth and mass media is played by MTV. This brand has become an international television over the past 10 years, in an ideal broker, not just offering global products, but skillfully embedded them into MTV has created a climate of friendliness and good mood. Language of MTV is wavering and volatility that matches young people with self-uncertain social position.

Researchers say that today’s youth audience due to the peculiarities of language and style of MTV, many other media have been “mtvized”. Interactivity and free access for all, the specificity of presentation, speed and flexibility of installation – all this made the MTV audience in the most sophisticated consumers. The ability for rapid, patchy and complex perception makes young people more sensitive to this type of information is generally characteristic of the modern communications. A special role in these processes belongs to computer technology and global network. Electronic mass media are the new colonialists of youth, panic is caused because of the risk of “drug” depending on computer games, which are becoming more and more common. Computer games contain traps: reaching the same level, players move on to the next, etc. B.Greene said that there is a new «Generation Nintendo» (from the name of the game). Youth Nintendo, according to the author, completely identifies themselves with a computer, it seems that computers and they are belonging to one generation. Computer games are not only addictive; they form the identity, entirely immersed in an imaginary world, which becomes a stay to play more and more important. Digital technologies, in the opinion of the scientist, socialize generation on a massive scale. The vast majority of gamers are adolescents between 12 and 17 years, their life is constructed in accordance with scenarios of postmodern attitude. The computer, along with other mass media is becoming a resource and foundation of their everyday life. ( Green: 1997)

Another name for this generation was given by D. Rashkoff describing contemporary young as screenagers. In his view, young people who are born in the world of indirectly television and computers, the ability to teach adults how to adapt to the realities of the postmodern. If the adults are afraid of a fragmented global culture, the young absorb it since early childhood, and media are helping them. Young people, therefore, create a special form of culture where it is, as it seems to be in full control of their time and where freedom becomes a form of interactivity. However, mass media young people are hardly able to control and, in fact, the control lever is not in their hands. ( Rushkoff: 1997)

To characterize the effects of changes in the cultural situation in the late XX-th – early XXI-st century, the mosaic of modern youth culture, youth subcultures extinction the Western scholars use the example of rave culture – frankly hedonistic aimed at short-term pleasure and promotes dissolution of young people in the dominant mainstream culture. Rave culture referred as a form of “collective disappearance” and even “the death of youth culture”. However, we must speak not only about the death of youth culture, but the disappearance of the culture, which is described using traditional approaches. For social scientists studying rave culture is interesting to speak about the fact that the path of its development in many ways helps to understand the features of inclusion of young people to the popular commercial culture. ( Phillips: 1992)

An analysis of the history of rave gives an opportunity to see how active the institutionalization of a youth recreation promotes degeneration of youth culture in its commercial form. The modern rave culture is closely linked with the market, since it is formed due to the brand that became a mass culture. However rave culture went further, breaking the subculture of their style and making it a cultural strategy. It is interesting that part of this subculture (as, for example, rap), was used as a strategy for social mobility.

Youth and consumption

The consumer experience of today’s youth constantly selects something new in the “style supermarket”, becomes like an experimental laboratory: young people are changing the cultural strategy, as they do not consider themselves bound forever to belong to the same style and ideological requirements. However, this freedom is illusory.

Hence, the direct and indirect advertising promoting the thesis according to which young people can fully satisfy their ambitions in the selection and purchase of goods provided by an independent construction of their alleged “individual” identity, their style. Raids on shops (shopping) are becoming part of youth for a form of cultural activity, fills a lack of teamwork. To understand the true reasons for the consumption of which can not be attributed only to hedonism, it is very important to know how young people interpret such a practice. These spaces developed by young people away from parental control, access to the consumer market give them an opportunity to enjoy freedom, independence and make their choices. However, this freedom is not available to everyone.

There is a distinction between those who consume and those who only dreams of consumption. Indeed, consumption is not a pleasure, as a source of disease and mental disorders. For many young, it turns into a war for it to maintain a certain style, to remain in a number of peers and not to become outsiders. Of particular importance is the consumer “battle” is for youth, growing mostly in poor or not very wealthy families. Mass production only creates the illusion of individual choice, but keeps the vast majority of young people under control. Construction of a youth consumer style in one way or another occurs in the mass production. Even when young people begin to create something, it’s all the same, sooner or later, followed the massive youth industry. This happened with all subcultural styles, the findings were numbered in youth fashion industry.


Youth culture is not a separate delimitation of space, as part of an overall consumer culture in which people constantly pushing to make the purchase, containing the “pill” youth, supporting their expectations, namely that the possession of these goods will help them to keep (to renew, restore) youth. Consumer activity is inherently irrational, based on fantasy, exaggeration and suggestibility, but it is such an “irrationality” adult pleasures and sold best in a “package” of youth, associated with the spontaneity and the constant fun. Commercial image of youth continue to be shown in magazines, on billboards and in the video, exploited all the more subtle, artistically subtle and effective; the problem of age transitions looks increasingly confused. Changing the style and fashion orientation, one way or another, dating back to the topic of youth, is rapidly creating new models of treatment. Quite often the adults involved in teenage industries (pop culture, fashion and youth in business), talk about “the end of the century teenagers” or “the death of youth”. However, the modern business (including advertising) industry continues to use this theme to create new products and services, creating irrational demands, complicated forms of consumer activity. The idea of youth in the modern world has not been explicitly attached to a certain age group, and became the focus of the global consumer culture as a whole.

Still, there are young people, continuing to create different “youth cultures” as a way of understanding themselves and their lives. Young people will continue to seek and occupy a new cultural space and the pop industry is still “catching” it and replicating the new ideas that it creates. But, to my mind, there will soon come a time when the leading style is not the youth, for example, “maturity”. It is possible that the notion of “pension subculture” will appear.

As a consequence of fertility decline and increase in the duration of life, pensioners will be the main subject of consumption but not young people, whose cultural choice will depend on the welfare of the public. In search of new market niches the culture of supermarkets will master all types of needs, if they meet the promise to be profitable.


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