Welcome back to our countdown of the biggest cultural events of 2023. This week, we’re counting down the Top 10 cultural moments that impacted teens and the people who care about them over the past year.
Before we get into it, we wanted to remind you that Axis is a 501(c)(3) ministry. We rely on our audience to fund what we do. There’s still time to give to our end-of-year fundraising campaign. Remember, every donor gets exclusive access to a special edition Parent’s Guide to 2024 that’s all about what to expect from the next year. If you’re a regular Culture Translator reader, we know you’ll love this guide.
Thank you again for reading, and have a wonderful New Year!
– The Axis Publishing Team
The Top 20 Culture-Shaping Events of 2023: Part Two
10. TikTok is banned on government-owned devices in dozens of states.
The year started with widespread TikTok bans on state devices and ended with a poll showing 51% of voters in support of a blanket nationwide ban. TikTok is also currently banned from all devices used to conduct federal government affairs. Chatter about banning the app is nothing new but has intensified once again in recent months. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, submitted a proposal this summer to the Biden administration about how it plans to address US national security concerns. Worries over data privacy, along with the possibility of election manipulation from a foreign country, seem extremely timely as the US heads into another presidential voting cycle. But years into the US debate over TikTok, no one yet understands how such a ban would be physically enacted and what enforcement would look like.
9. Trendwatchers declare the “year of the girl.”
Some of the biggest hashtags of the year involved pinning down the particulars of what it means to be a girl. “Girl dinner” (a plate full of snacks) and “girl math” (doing mental gymnastics to justify a purchase) became everyday vernacular for millions of teens. The famously feminine “Barbie,” as mentioned above, was the highest-grossing film of 2023. Vaguely named aesthetics, such as “clean girl,” tomato girl,” and “strawberry girl” represented particular fashion sensibilities. But while everyone was talking about what girls do and who girls are, the experience of growing into womanhood continues to be confusing and, at times, frightening for American girls.
8. Whistleblower testifies that the US has proof of extraterrestrial life.
In mid-July, a retired Air Force intelligence officer told Congress that the US government is in possession of alien technology, which he claims they have been working for decades to reverse-engineer. This whistleblower said this program operates in extreme secrecy, concealed even from those in the highest levels of government. He even said that the program is in possession of “non-human biologics.” There might have been a moment in history where this revelation would become the main news story for months on end; not so in the limited attention span economy of 2023. It also looked like proof would soon emerge of said aliens, which it did not. While several other veterans testified on the subject, no additional evidence backing up the claims has materialized. #alien has over 29.6 billion TikTok views.
7. Reddit and TikTok become Gen Z’s search engines of choice.
Plenty of people are still using Google, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. But younger searchers, wary of the way the Google algorithm sorts and directs their queries, are trawling the web in different ways. When teens want to find a hyperlocal, nuanced, or detailed piece of information, they’re more likely to plug their query into TikTok or Reddit’s search feature to find their answer. In a spat over how AI is scraping data from its forums, Reddit even threatened to block search engines from its servers, saying that it doesn’t need to show up in Google results. This choice might make Gen Z’s search results feel more organic and specific, but it also is a step away from vetted knowledge shared by traditional institutions in favor of crowdsourced, non-expert opinions.
6. Morgan Wallen’s single “Last Night” spends 16 weeks at #1.
The country star’s song about longing, lust, and whiskey hit the number one spot in March of this year, and it stayed there. The song held at #1 for four months—the longest time span a song by a solo artist has stayed at #1. (The only song to ever stay at #1 for longer is Lil Nas X’s collaboration with Billy Ray Cyrus, “Old Town Road”). It was a big year for Wallen, whose album “One Day at a Time” was met with commercial success. It was also a big year for country and crossover singers, in general, with other acts like Luke Combs, Jason Aldean, and Oliver Anthony Music making hits (and headlines).
5. Meta sued by 41 states for designing their tech to be addictive.
It was a year when social psychologists continued to question if teens having social media was ever such a great idea—and also a year that indicated things might look much different soon. A huge multi-state coalition of attorneys general alleges that Meta has been aware of the way that their tech changes the brain chemistry of young people and has done everything to encourage screen addiction. Leaked internal documents proved some time ago that Meta has known that their apps could negatively affect teens—but this suit is just part of an industry-wide investigation, with a similar group of AGs investigating TikTok/ByteDance, as well. Laws that standardize and safeguard how teens are allowed to interact with social media could be years away, but that’s still a big leap forward from the time when they were unimaginable.
4. US Surgeon General announces a loneliness epidemic.
In May, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy published an advisory calling attention to what he sees as a social disconnect between people all over the nation. The document pointed out how loneliness and isolation can contribute to poor physical outcomes in addition to mental illness. Loneliness seems to be affecting a huge number of Americans, but teens may be feeling it acutely. Other research published this year indicates that Gen Z experiences loneliness in the extreme and in a different way than previous generations, and mental health professionals who work with youth say that teens’ levels of dissatisfaction and depression continue to be on the rise.
3. School shootings reach a grim new record.
The threat (and reality) of gun violence in schools continues to shape the anxieties of young Americans. As of this writing, there have been 82 assaults by gun violence in educational settings in America in 2023. This is a record amount, but only by three additional shootings. 52 of these shootings happened on K-12 school grounds, while 30 took place in college settings. 39 people died in school shootings this year alone. There is also no reason to believe that the situation will improve in 2024.
2. Taylor Swift dominates every chart and tabloid headline.
When TIME Magazine named the artist as their 2023 Person of the Year, it came as no surprise. It’s nearly impossible to pick out one standout moment for Taylor Swift in a year where she was in the news every day. The artist broke records with her “The Eras” tour, followed it up with a feature-length filmed concert released in theaters, re-released her records “Speak Now” and “1989,” had three #1 hits, and embarked on a very public romance with Kansas City Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce. Swift is undeniably America’s biggest pop star, wielding a tremendous influence on young women in particular.
1. Conflict in the Gaza Strip kills tens of thousands and divides the world.
The October 7 attack on Israel, perpetrated by Hamas, resulted in more than 1,200 civilian deaths. Over 250 hostages were then taken and held by Hamas, including some young children. Israel’s retaliation has been swift and deadly. Heavy shelling and a complicated ground operation in the Gaza Strip to retrieve the hostages and obliterate Hamas has been ongoing for two months, except for a temporary ceasefire that lasted a few days. The international reaction to this conflict has exposed a stark generational divide. A Harvard/Harris poll published in early December found that 27% of those surveyed find the actions of Hamas to be justified by valid Palestinian grievances and that 19% support Hamas over Israel. 19% also said the solution to the conflict is an end of Israel and a surrender of the territory to Palestinians. As the conflict continues to unfold, ending the lives of thousands and injuring thousands more, it seems certain that public perception will continue to evolve. How firmly that public perception will reflect reality is anyone’s guess.
As always, we hope this Top 20 countdown helps to spark conversation with the next generation about the cultural events shaping their world. From all of us at Axis, thank you so much for reading The Culture Translator, and we’ll see you in the new year!
The Axis Team