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Influenced

My friends complain that I am behind the times, and I have to admit that they are justified. I don't buy into commercials or follow celebrities and their fashion statements, and remain largely oblivious to all but the most commonly known pop culture references and trending slang – I only recently discovered what YOLO means. I text on my flip phone, which doesn't have a QWERTY keyboard; my television only has about 14 channels; I would rather get lost than use a GPS; and I buy disposable cameras when I want to take pictures. My first attempt to explain why I prefer my flip phone to a smartphone resulted in disaster: before I could get past restating that I still use a flip phone with limited success, my friends were already engrossed with their smart phones – probably texting each other about how boring I am. Due to my limited exposure to necessary television channels such as ABC Family, TLC, and MTV and having never purchased a magazine, I am woefully uninformed about the latest television scandals, greatly restricting my ability to make small talk with other teenagers. I have yet to discover exactly who the Kardashians are or why we care so much about them, and have always wondered whether The Deadliest Catch is about fishing or dating. When I do watch television (usually in the morning), I alternate between BBC on Channel 2 and the weather on Channel 11. Although it appears I have been left behind, I enjoy my way of life. I don't feel like I'm missing anything.

I've learned, however, that when I ask my my friends or my mother to explain what is so bad about neglecting the media and why they are so hooked on it, they think that I'm trying to be funny, but I'm not. They never directly answer my questions, but fortunately, by observing their behavior, I can get closer to understanding the depth of my ignorance.

My friends have taught me that liking the same popular music as them is essential to relating to others. It is never fun for my friends to jam to the radio with a friend who plugs her ears and screams in agony as songs by Lil Wayne, FloRida, Ke$ha, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift all blast over the radio. I try to explain to them over the meaningless noise that there is better, less popular music out there, music that has never been featured in a Twilight soundtrack or played in a car commercial. I tell them that dubstep, Muse, real country music (think Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter), and even some classical music is superior to their trashy pop music in every respect. They respond that not all of their music is trashy and poppy, and as an example, they demonstrate that they also listen to Disney songs, which are both cheesy and outdated. However, only some cheesy and outdated music is socially acceptable, because when I sing "Walk Like an Egyptian," they glare at me until I stop. I ask them why they still like Disney songs (which were written for children), and they come at me in a screaming mob, exclaiming things sounding like "deprived child" and "heartless."

After failing to assimilate me into the world of popular music, my friends have tried to find common ground with me by introducing me to some popular movies and books, which I am also terrible at relating to. With some luck, I can identify stars like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, James Franco, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, and Zac Efron. Some are easier than others. For example, every one of Kristen Stewart's characters is depressed, and Taylor Lautner can never seem to locate his shirt in time for a shot. When my friends go to the movies, they watch chick flicks smacking of young love starring shirtless male leads. When I go to the movies, it is often with my grandfather to see Gustavo Dudamel direct the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, or with my mother, who is more informed about Twilight and The Hunger Games than I am. Sure, I read Twilight and The Hunger Games, but that was a long time ago (before they were popular, of course). Ever since the end of Harry Potter, I have not had much literature to make small talk about. While I read Centennial, Catch-22, and The Book of Lies, they reread Twilight, numerous magazines, some book about teenage spies, and The Hunger Games, which, of course, I had been finished with for quite some time. There is nothing wrong with popular books and movies, but they often lack depth, which I have learned is not as desirable as I once thought. Ever curious about the draw of popular media, I finally wrangled an answer from my mother about why these movies and books have so much popular appeal: mindless entertainment. Apparently, the typical teen doesn’t like to think.

Being removed from Hollywood has not only stunted my ability to make small talk, but also my ability to be looked at without being judged. It is easy to shift from targeting my patchy knowledge of pop culture to my appearance because to anyone who hasn't noticed, I look the same every day. I wear the same hairstyle (a ponytail), clothing combination (jeans and a tee shirt or a sweatshirt), and shoes every day. Sometimes, I impress. I wore my hair down for Easter Sunday Mass, and I bought a new pair of shoes, which are not Converse. This is not good enough, though. My friends want to know why I hardly ever wear make-up or why I don't coordinate jewelry with my outfits, if you could call them that. I can't explain it to them, but making up appearances doesn't matter to me. I'm not trying to be stylish or hipster or really anything else. For reasons I can only attribute to the media, they all want me to look like they do. Even my mother tries to help me look like them, regretfully reminding me that I clean up nicely and that I could look "so pretty if I wanted to." But what if I don't want to? Is that even allowed?

Beyond my appearance, even my family and general behavior don't match the ideal teenager template. Nearly every commercial or video game or sitcom involves a cute family of four, plus their pal Fido or Tiger, and features a fashionable teenage child who is involved in all of the right school activities. My family of three has two rats: Marcus and Clyde, and instead of trying out for school musicals, speaking (or even texting) in text talk, going shopping, and partying, I represent my school as a member of the math team, enjoy using big words in conversation, seldom go to bed after 9:30, and spend my weekends doing homework, melting cheese over pretzels in the microwave, and trying to teach my rats simple commands such as "stay," name recognition, and "come back here." On longer weekends, teenagers, on television and in real life, travel with their families and get tan. Traveling to tropical places, the media insists, is every person's big dream, a luxury earned after hard work and perseverance. My friends tell me about their great escapes to magical destinations and occasionally ask me why my family doesn't travel more. But we do – my family and I go to Itasca nearly every year. Like with music, movies, and books, I enjoy more the obscure, meaningful, and educational travel experiences to the hyped up and media-ecnouraged destinations that my friends sunburn at.

Based on my experience with the media and with my friends, I can conclude that normal people like sophisticated technology, popular music, movies, and books, following fashion trends, and tropical vacationing. I don't. Where is this strange streak coming from? It could be my personality or perhaps my purposeful rejection of the media's ideals. It is not a burning desire to be unique. Rather, I am just trying to be honest with myself. Influences aside, I enjoy things I like and disapprove of things that I do not. At times I still buy into the media: I have an unhealthy obsession with The Simpsons; may have some brand loyalty (which I am trying to get over) to Converse and Fossil; don't hate popular music as much as the hipsters do; have a Facebook (which triggered an addiction to Happy Aquarium); and secretly think that Uggs are cute. Obviously, I'm not completely exempt from the media's effects. This explains why I will wear the occasional stylish shirt; don't mind listening to a popular song every now and then; have caught myself being mindlessly entertained by the characters on The Bachelor and other victims of reality television; and, most importantly, why I have any friends at all.




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