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This week and next, we’re counting down the Top 20 cultural events that impacted teens and families this year. Some of these stories are silly, some are sad, and some are just starting to unfold. But we found all of them to be relevant to family life in 2023 and the way we’re called to live as Christians in a complicated culture. 

At Axis, our biggest headline of the year—and the thing we are most proud of—is making all of our resources absolutely free for everyone to use. We made the switch in March and have seen an explosion of growth, reaching thousands of new families every week!

Next year, we’re poised to help parents and caring adults reach 1.5 million teenagers with culturally relevant conversation starters that point toward Jesus. But to do that, we need your help. If you’ve been blessed by our content this year, please consider an end-of-year-gift to help us meet our fundraising goal. Axis is a 501(c)(3) donor-funded ministry, and every donor gets exclusive access to a special edition Parent’s Guide to 2024 that’s all about what to expect from culture in the new year. If you’re a regular Culture Translator reader, we know you’ll love this guide.

Thank you for all of your emails, comments, prayers, and support throughout this year. We’re incredibly grateful for the parents and caring adults who are connecting with teens over culture and keeping the conversation going, day after day. Our audience of insightful, curious, and spirit-led adults are a truly special group, and we thank God every day that so many of you are here. 
– The Axis Publishing Team

The Top 20 Culture-Shaping Events of 2023: Part One

20. Controversial influencer Andrew Tate indicted for trafficking.

Andrew Tate, a kickboxing champion with over 6.9 million followers on X, spent much of 2022 flaunting his lavish lifestyle and creating content aimed at influencing young men. 2023 looked a lot different for Tate, who was arrested in Romania last December for charges including rape and human trafficking. To some, this was unsurprising. In posts now deleted, Tate wrote that his impressive income stream came from convincing girls to exploit themselves sexually on camera. Tate was under house arrest for most of the year, though in August he won an appeal to be put under judicial control measures, instead, while he waits to stand trial. In June, Tate told the BBC that he was under instructions from God to do good things, insisting that his platform promotes a disciplined, anti-drugs, pro-religion lifestyle.

19. YouTuber MrBeast criticized for his philanthropy.

MrBeast’s main account remained the most subscribed-to account on YouTube this year, racking up 219 million subscribers. Many of his videos spotlight philanthropic efforts, like building wells in Africa and paying for cataract removal surgery for 1,000 people who had impaired vision. Some of his efforts drew criticism from those who found this content exploitative. These moments of criticism perhaps say less about MrBeast himself and more about how complicated it is to perform public acts of charity in a world where any action can be perceived as “chasing clout.” But they also created a prime opportunity for Christian families to discuss the meaning of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:1-4.

18. Formula 1 takes a gamble in Las Vegas.

This year’s Formula 1 season made a strong case for just how much the imported racing sport is rising in popularity with younger audiences. An average of 1.11 million viewers tuned in this year to the 22 live racing events broadcast on ESPN and ABC. The glamorous Las Vegas race, held on November 18, brought Formula 1 to Nevada for the first time since 1982, and was held on a brand new track on a public roadway. The sporting event cost $500 million, kicked off with a disastrous practice, ran on a less-than-ideal schedule, and charged hefty ticket prices for onlookers. Even with those factors, the Las Vegas Grand Prix was generally considered a success.

17. Super Mario Bros. song “Peaches” hits the Billboard Hot 100.

The “Super Mario Bros.” movie was a runaway success with young audiences in 2023. The film, which opened in April, broke multiple box office records, including the biggest worldwide opening weekend for an animated film. But the overall plot arc of the film wasn’t anything groundbreaking; in fact, a piano ode to Princess Peach sung by Bowser (Jack Black) might be what audiences remember the most from the movie. “Peaches” peaked at #56 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the song trended on TikTok throughout the year.

16. The Titan submersible expedition ends in tragedy.

On June 18, 2023, a manned deep ocean submersible embarked on an expedition to view the wreckage of the Titanic. It is now believed that the vessel imploded before reaching the ocean floor, killing all five passengers inside. But it would be four days before any debris from the Titan was found. And rescuers believed there was a chance they were still alive—but running out of oxygen. As the world watched a desperate search unfold, memes that mocked the wealthy passengers of the Titan spread. It was a tone that only intensified when the wreckage was located and the rescue was declared a recovery mission.

15. “The Last of Us” featuring Pedro Pascal is a dystopian hit.

“The Last of Us” is a scripted series on Max based off of a video game of the same name. It stars Pedro Pascal as Joel Miller, a man traveling the ruins of a post-apocalyptic America with Ellie, a fourteen-year-old orphan. The show won a massive audience, as well as critical acclaim, even as it significantly altered its source material. Teens who engaged with “The Last of Us” applauded Pascal’s performance, and for a moment, it seemed like the actor (who plays a similarly rough, gruff, but ultimately protective character in “The Mandalorian”) was omnipresent in memes and popular media. Pascal is now in talks to play a character in the Marvel Universe and is currently filming “Gladiator 2.” IMDb ranked Pascal as their most searched-out star of the year, and he ranked 5th on Google’s list of searched-for actors.

14. Skibidi toilet hits 65 billion YouTube views.

The bizarre short-form narrative animated series “Skibidi Toilet” was a tremendous hit, especially with Gen Alpha. The world of “Skibidi Toilet” is expansive and nearly incomprehensible; the basic premise revolves around human heads that emerge from toilets to wage war against camera-headed surveillance robots. Maybe it’s a brilliant meta-commentary on the way modern life feels for young people today. Maybe it doesn’t intend to make any sort of artistic statement at all. Both scenarios seem equally plausible as the series continues to release more short, weird episodes. The series was YouTube’s #1 trending topic for the year.

13. Sam Altman quits, then rejoins OpenAI.

Young people might not have cared for the details behind the scenes at the company that owns ChatGPT—but they will most likely be impacted by them at some point. One hundred million people now use ChatGPT every week, many of them teens using the technology for homework help, search queries, or simply their entertainment. The internal disruptions in OpenAI’s leadership this year were caused by ethical concerns over the future of artificial intelligence. The reinstated Altman told TIME at the end of this year that those anxieties are understandable, but everything is under control. Meanwhile, malicious uses of AI—such as creating explicit material based on the likenesses of real people—continue to proliferate.

12. Barbenheimer sets box office records.

When the splashy, colorful, and comedic “Barbie” movie was scheduled to release on the same weekend as the biographical epic “Oppenheimer,” the jokes seemed to write themselves. But instead of competing for the top spot at the box office, the films ended up contributing to each other’s success. Over 200,000 viewers took in the counterintuitive pairing in a double feature. “Oppenheimer” is a meditation on destruction, while “Barbie” interrogates the patriarchy while somehow landing lightly on its (pointed) feet. “Oppenheimer” grossed over $900 million worldwide, while “Barbie” became the highest-grossing film of the year at $1.36 billion. Videos about #barbenheimer also racked up 1.3 billion views on TikTok.

11. Twitter becomes “X.”

The app formerly known as “the bird app” ditched its branding one summer day. This marketing decision has done nothing to attract a bigger share of Gen Z to the platform, with only 20% of teens saying they currently use it. Up until this year, X still occupied an important role in the cultural landscape that no other app was able to duplicate. But in 2023, it seems possible that the online world has outgrown its need for a text-based, microblogging-style feed. Meta’s attempt to replace X, an app called Threads, made a brief splash in social media circles before being, for the most part, forgotten immediately. For a generation of millennials, Twitter was a place to get news. And most of Gen Z is using TikTok for that.

That’s it for this week. We’ll be back next week with numbers 10-1. Until then, from all of us at Axis, we hope you have a Merry Christmas!