Consumer Culture′s Grip on Youth | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 28.04.2005
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Consumer Culture's Grip on Youth

The influence of advertising is everywhere. How can young people maintain their own personalities amidst all the commercial noise? The exhibition "Coolhunters" shows that youngsters are not just victims of consumerism.


No easy game being just a number among millions of youths

Young Germans live in a highly commercial and media driven world, that at least the idea conveyed in a new exhibition at what the Karlsruhe city gallery.

Television and the Internet are crammed with advertising slogans, and upon being asked what they want to be when they are older, a staggering number of kids reply "rich and famous". Perhaps that's not surprising given that they're surrounded by television and music teen success stories.

There's no question that today's society is a consumer's paradise. Young people are top targets for banks and the like who rate naivety as a key to highly profitable interest. 21st century youngsters are in fact growing up immersed in unprecedented levels of debt.

Heart Explosion, Alex McQuilkin

Alex McQuilkin "Aye, Me (Heart Explosion) 1", 2004

Swept up in the general whirlwind of light-hearted spending, they sink the money they don't have into cell phone bills, the latest in high-street fashion and mainstream lifestyle accessories they think they need to shore up their existance in the modern world. In short, they buy their identity, and the price is high.

Defining yourself

But Sabine Himmelsbach, who is curator of the exhibition, says not much has changed for this generation of youngsters. "They are faced with the same questions, such as "how do I define myself? How do I carve an identity for myself in society?"

Yet she says the market has become a more dominant force "What we are doing is showing the whole spectrum and proving that youngsters deal with the situation in a critical way."

The exhibition clearly emphasises the fact that young people are not just victims of the consumer world, but that they contribute to its creation. One example of such is called ad-busting, in which well-known slogans or brand names are slightly altered turning "Snickers" into "Suckers" and "T-Mobile" into "T-Error".

Andreas Gursky

Andreas Gursky "Union Rave", 1995

The exhibition in Karlsruhe looks at youth culture from many different angles, and comprises videos and objects relating to six subjects: body, language, space, time, gender and violence.

What language do young people today speak? And how do they construct an identity or a profile, as it is more commonly known today. What role do clothes, computer games and the Internet play? How influential is television violence? The questions are endless. The answers too.

The show tries to let young people and their objects speak for themselves rather than citing studies and statistics. There are countless pairs of jeans, T-shirts, underwear and caps, a collection of skateboards and sneakers, and even the essential accessories of the modern-day Goth.

Youth culture


PIPS:lab "Luma2solator", 2004

In keeping with the times, the exhibition's Internet site shows a collection of work, including photos, paintings, interviews and short films by school children and students on the subject of youth culture.

Young people are the trendsetters in society, they are the ones who best know how to navigate the maze of new media, and for many bright young things, hacking game codes and firewalls is not just fun, but also a route towards creating an identity.

Coolhunters. Stätische Galerie Karlsruhe, until 3 Juli 2005. Wed. - Fri. 10am to 8 pm, Sat. - Sun. 11am to 6 pm.

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