Transformation of the American Dream
Report on the Transformation of the American Dream, pollster John Zogby writes that the generation he calls the “First Globals,” Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine, are “the most outward-looking . . . generation in American history.” On the question that has challenged America for more than two centuries—race—Zogby says, “The nation’s youth are leading the way into a more accepting future.”10 From MTV’s embrace of black pop to the selling of hip hop, this generation certainly came of age in a cultural milieu in which racial signifiers were not only visible, but also elaborately marketed entertainment. This generation per- sonally experienced a racial milestone in 2008, the historic presidential election of Barack Obama. Liberals and conservatives alike argued that by embracing Obama’s message of “CHANGE,” young whites provided evidence of a generation no longer burdened by our nation’s racial past. Meanwhile, our conversations with young whites show that some view MySpace and Facebook, in part, through a racially coded lens. Race, it turns out, still matters.
“MySpace,” said nineteen-year-old Thomas, “is on crack. There is too 31 much glitter and music.” Twenty-two-year-old Veronica also drew a con- nection between MySpace and the notorious drug. “My favorite is Face- book because MySpace is absolutely on crack and overwhelming,” she said. The reference to crack, a drug associated primarily with the black urban poor, is certainly not race neutral. Add to this a sentiment like “MySpace is too ghetto,” and the racial marking of the digital world is apparent. Like- wise, the belief that MySpace is sullied with profiles that feature “glittery, gaudy-as-shit layouts” and “too much glitter and music” invoke another racially marked term—bling—a popular slang derived from the larger- than-life fantasies played out in hip-hop songs, videos, and style.
Starting around the early 1990s, hip-hop music, fashion, movies, and 32 marketing campaigns were made as much for young white consumers, especially suburban males, as black and Latino consumers. So, why would a generation that grew up consuming hip hop be turned off by the “bling aesthetics” that pervade MySpace culture? To answer that question, you have to understand the difference between “old media” (think television) and “new media” (think social-network sites).
Television and social-network sites represent two fundamentally dif- 33 ferent kinds of mediated experiences. Whereas television is about watch- ing and consuming, social-network sites are primarily about doing and sharing. Facebook users share themselves daily through wall posts, news feeds, blogs, photos, gifts, and other activities. This kind of constant con- nectivity establishes varying degrees of community and intimacy. By the time they arrived in college, the late teens and young twenty-somethings we met were a little less concerned with the quantity of their online social networks and more concerned with what the quality of those networks say about them and the people they are associated with. It is one thing for young whites to listen to music inspired by the hood, and something