Last week I spoke to two market and media classes at Texas State University. The topic I presented to the students was how social media habits differ among generations and how I believe it might be linked to changes in the entertainment industry.
The narratives of family comedies have shifted from reflecting adults’ views to the idiosyncrasies of tweens and teens. Over the decades the conventional-beyond-belief family of Beaver Cleaver got swapped with parodic Simpsons and the Nickelodeon and Disney shows where there adults are rarely if ever present. (Who are iCarly’s parents anyway?) I’ve talked to several Generation X parents who are bugged by this new normal of adult non-presence or demotion to odd buffoon roles. But is this because parents’ taste for entertainment where-in which they find advice, validation or recognition by watching other families has gone away? Hardly. I just think that these days parents don’t fulfill this by watching the fictitious lives of the Huxtables on TV. They’d rather read up on the real lives of Monica and Serge Bielanko who recently resettled into their once-fire-ravaged home. Or by reading Jen at People I want To Punch In The Throat’s witty comments about how her 7-year-old son, Gomer, has become “far more reserved.” In other words, I think parents have fled the TV screens for the various screens of cyberspace – more specifically, for the space of parent blogs and social media. Here the audience gets intermingled with the content producers where the allure of 15 minutes (or lifetime) of fame awaits along with friends and followers and sometimes advertisement revenue. In the 21 century, “Full House” is a better description of the blogosphere than of a sitcom.
In this new media landscape the biggest change is the shift from fictional to non-fictional plots. And from showcasing young cast members without their consent. So the question is: Does it matter that the stuff family entertainment is made of these days almost entirely consists of living, breathing, identifiable, children?
I ended the presentations with a Q & A session where I probably asked more questions of the students than vice versa. Younger Millennials are in an interesting position in this new conundrum. They still belong to this young demographic that might be subjected to other people’s sharing habits in social media or blogs. At least some of the students reported on younger siblings who were ‘overshared’ by their parents. The students also reported on parents who tried to stay in tune by conversing about Justin Bieber and the like on Facebook with their grown children. Unfortunately for the parents, these efforts were seen as desperate attempts at forcing artificially jovial bonds, which these kids did not want to have with their parents. Moreover, mid-generation Millennials (born early ’90s) do not yet have babies on their own to be blogged, shared and commented, so I wanted to hear if they had thoughts on how they planned to handle parenthood in this whole new non-private reality. The conventional myth we often hear is that younger generations are even more lackadaisical with respect to online privacy than older generations. My perception talking to these young adults was that it is not necessarily the case. They were far less willing to share intimate details than they reported their parents to be. They actually worried their parents didn’t know proper social media behavior and felt their seniors were too inclined to use status updates for long personal ruminations that should not be conveyed in public fora.
A lot has changed since families sat together around the family television while recognized themselves in the characters. At least for the parents. It’s a counterintuitive trend because the generation gap has been closing, not widening. So while the kids might still be laughing along with the dysfunctional families in tween series, their sullen parents went off to look for authenticity online. And perhaps that is more rewarding? At least when they don’t try to reconnect with their children over Bieber gossip on Facebook.