By Kelly Moffitt, Social Engagement Manager - St. Louis Business Journal
MTV’s Vice President of Insights Innovation, Alison Hillhouse, recently came as part of a five-person team to St. Louis and studied what she calls “generational innovation” going on in the city. Originally from St. Louis, Hillhouse and her team are charged with understanding millennials and then taking that research back to MTV producers, who then use the ideas drummed up from across the country for show development.
Her team came to St. Louis for four days in February and found the energy in the city to be “extraordinary.” You can watch the video embedded below ( or at this link) to get a sense of the young tech entrepreneurs, non-profit founders and artists Hillhouse spoke with, largely centered around Cherokee Street. Though the people Hillhouse interviewed avoided the word “movement” to describe the amorphous feeling, she said there’s a lot of passion to change things not only on a personal level (like you see in New York) but also on a city-wide level.
Her team’s visit to Cherokee Street, including Nebula Coworking space and Smalls tea and coffee, reminded Hillhouse of Brooklyn but rawer as innovations in St. Louis are still happening for the first time. The qualitative research found these were reasons millennials found value in St. Louis:
1. The ability to make an impact—a smaller city gave entrepreneurs the chance to make a significant change with programs like “Sloup.”
2. Space, budget and freedom to experiment: There’s space to try and fail at projects in “beta mode” while living for a low cost.
3. The city is a blank canvas: Abandoned storefronts, warehouses and cheap, old homes offer a space to revamp.
4. The emphasis on community: People are nice here — plus the city is small enough to get connected to many of the creative movers and shakers.
Opinions of St. Louis from outsiders are changing as well, Hillhouse said.
“We spoke with a few Wash U grads who stuck around after graduating who said that five years ago, the people they knew who graduated from Wash U would go straight back to New York or LA, but now there’s a sense that St. Louis is a viable option for starting a business,” Hillhouse said.
The research team found that the vibe in St. Louis fits with what’s going on in other “second cities” like Detroit or Memphis. Previous research her team had done on the American Dream showed that 70 percent of people want to live in a city in their 20s. That passion for urban living was something Hillhouse found corroborated in St. Louis.
So, will what Hillhouse found in St. Louis end up as MTV’s next ‘Sixteen and Pregnant’? Likely not, but you never know what story lines or components of a show might make it in, Hillhouse says.
By Alison Hillhouse, MTV Insights
“I tell all of my friends out on the West Coast, St. Louis is the City of Dreams. You can do whatever you want here if you have the will and ambition.”
— Lisa Govro, young entrepreneur
Get More: MTV Shows
Yes, St. Louis. Not New York, not San Francisco, not Austin, not Chicago. Pockets of young people are choosing the road less travelled and flocking to cities that offer more of a “blank canvas” on which to create their dreams. Think Nashville, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and St. Louis … cities that have not been known as “hot spots” for recent grads, cities that young people have historically avoided in favor of the surrounding suburbs. But things are changing, as MTV research shows 70% of young people want to live out their 20’s in a downtown or near a downtown, not the suburbs. Where many older people see urban decay and crime in these cities, Millennials see opportunity.
MTV recently travelled to St. Louis and met with young tech entrepreneurs, non-profit founders and artists to learn more about the groundswell of young people revitalizing and re-crafting this urban landscape (they balked at the word “movement” which seemed to try too hard at pinning down the amorphous energy bubbling up). These urban pioneers are launching tech-startups in abandoned buildings, starting art collectives in old breweries, remaking turn-of-the-century homes and building pockets of commerce where young people can live, work, consume and bike everywhere. Universally they are connected to the mission of revitalizing the city and creating a community of likeminded individuals.
Why Millennials are saying “yes” to reviving cities:
Make an Impact
Young people want to make a tangible positive impact on their world, and feel more empowered to do so than ever before. Across the country, they are realizing that a smaller city, especially one that’s seen decay, offers an opportunity to create projects and launch businesses that can significantly change an urban landscape. According to MTV research, 80% of Millennials feel like it’s important to “revive cities in decay.”
In St. Louis, we learned of “Sloup” – a micro-funding monthly soup dinner where mostly young people pitch art or community improvement ideas, and attendees vote on which to implement with the proceeds from that night.
Community activist/artist Becca Moore, 25 explains, “I received a lot of pressure from people like, ‘why aren’t you moving to NYC, LA, or Chicago’… but the opportunities I have in a city like St. Louis are more exciting… I’m able to plug in right away and be involved in projects that impact the community.”
While a new coffee shop in Brooklyn is a dime a dozen, Small’s Tea Shop in St. Louis, recently launched by Lisa Govro, plays a role in the revitalization of the historic Cherokee Street neighborhood that thrived in the early 1900’s. Young people and Mexican immigrants are working together here to create a new community that’s a hotbed of artist collectives, tech start-ups, quirky shops and popular Mexican restaurants…. somewhat paralleling San Fran’s Mission district.
Sloup MicroFunding Dinner
Space, budget and freedom to experiment
Young people in smaller cities boast of the opportunities to start a project in “beta mode,” try it out, and if it fails, start something new… all while maintaining a lower cost of living (Yes, it’s possible to live in a beautiful Victorian-era home in St. Louis with a handful of friends for just $160 a month).
With such a low cost of living, it’s not surprising that St. Louis is becoming more attractive to young start-up founders and artists. As developer Matt Ström, 26 says, “St. Louis is becoming a good place to start a business – it’s part of the ‘Silicone Prairie.’” Mallory Nezam, 27, notes, “My friends are brilliant artists in New York and have this little chunk of time to do art between 3AM and 6AM– but people in St. Louis have that time, all the time.”
As Moore says, “I’m not sure I would’ve been able to do this if I had to move to another city and hustle to pay rent… my extra time and energy goes into projects that I really care about. The barriers are lower in a lot of rust belt cities – you can see your projects gain traction a lot faster.”
Popular band Sleepy Kitty recently relocated from their “tiny cramped space” in Chicago to their duplex “Art Castle” on Cherokee Street, where they have a music studio, a graphic arts studio and living space all-in-one.
Sleepy Kitty’s “Art Castle” - duplex art/living space in an old brewery
In cities with multitudes of abandoned storefronts, warehouses and dirt-cheap turn-of-the century homes, it feels like anything is possible… like BANK projects, an old drive-through bank repurposed into an art gallery by recent college grads.
Daniel Burnett, part of the Screwed Arts Collective, is inspired by the fact that St. Louis is a “grimy city.” He explains, “I think a lot of young people are tired of over-produced culture. Making everything shiny and plastic has its place, but even a lot of pop culture is embracing grimy elements. Grimy means you can get away with a little more, people are more relaxed, living is cheap, urban decay is prevalent.
In mid-sized cities like St. Louis, young creators speak positively about the tight knit community where people are “nice,” “welcoming” and “eager” to partner with you to make things happen. Ström says, “You have to be careful who you tell your ideas to – not because they’ll take your idea, but because the next day you’ll have tons of texts and emails from people saying “I heard you are thinking of doing this thing, I’m so excited. How can I help?” And Amy Flauaus, former Brooklyn resident and owner of Strange Overtones vintage shop, says, “It would take a lot for me to leave St. Louis at this point. Everyone just seems so happy here.”
By Alison Hillhouse, MTV Insights
When fake becomes authentic: Faux-Wood Paneling shoes from Proenza, posted on ithinkyou’reswell
Over the past decade, every last bastion of culture and consumerism has strived to be “authentic” – chain stores like West Elm offer handcrafted textiles from the Philippines, Dove produces tear-jerking documentaries on the meaning of beauty and Brooklyn grocers pride themselves on carrying locally-made potato chips (what’s so authentic about potato chips coming from Brooklyn, anyhow?)
This stuff is clearly working, so it’s not surprising that people and brands are beginning to explore the next levels and layers of authenticity. In fact, signs are pointing to the emergence of “post-authenticity” … playfully exploring the blurry lines between fake and real, between unique and mass.
People are saying: maybe everything doesn’t have to be authentic, if we all acknowledge together that it’s fake. Maybe sometimes we shouldn’t try so hard to be authentic. Maybe authenticity lies in owning “fake.” And maybe what’s at the core of authenticity – uniqueness – is not so easy to come by anymore. In this vast world of the internet, is anything truly unique?
Three interesting examples on post-authenticity come to mind:
1) Trendspotting agency K-Hole’s declaration of “normcore,” a deliberate decision to reject being unique… “normcore moves from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity coolness that opts into sameness”
2) Proenza launching “fake” looking designs from the “underbelly of America.” Designer Jack McCullough says of their recent collection: “we wanted it to all feel kind of fake – like not real wood – paneling. Everything fabricated.”
3) Our obsession with the uber-fake, like Twinkies or ‘90s sitcoms or ‘80s computer graphics or any kitschy nostalgia for that matter (TV shows, music, foods etc). What’s authentic is the naiveté we once possessed when we genuinely fell in love with these things. Now, we might all be jaded.
Post-authenticity and Millennials
Our audience is grappling with the move towards post-authenticity in their own worlds. Some of the most heated conversations we see around social media involve teens complaining about who is “trying too hard” to seem like they are not trying. For example, the “no-makeup selfie” phenomenon was once respected, now teens question whether there is something inauthentic about trying too hard to be authentic.
On the other hand, there almost seems to be more leeway granted to someone who clearly owns up to the fact that they ARE trying. Case in point: the elaborately staged @perfectprompictures Instagram with 100K followers
Another example: young people once wanted reality TV shows to feel so real that you were unaware there were camera crews and MTV producers hovering over the cast. Now, Millennials love to catch a glimpse of the camera guy, or see some of the orchestration of reality shows… knowing full well, it isn’t all just hidden cameras in a house.
We’re continuing to explore how the concept of “authenticity” morphs, how our audience interprets it and ultimately, how it impacts their attitude towards content.
By Stephen Friedman, president of MTV
The Millennial audience won’t be limited by the dichotomies of the past. Yes, Millennials are vociferous critics of our nation’s flaws. But in a new study, MTV asked young people how they felt about our country — and 86% of Millennials described themselves as “proud to be an American.”
Millennials love America as much as any generation. They just want to love it on their own terms. For young people, the word “patriotic” suggests a rigid acceptance of an ideology, an unquestioning fixation on a symbol or a flag that they feel misses their deep and complex relationship with their country.
For example, MTV interviewed Millennials about the Pledge of Allegiance. We asked them to dissect how the words they learned as children related to their attitudes today. Many of them, in hindsight, rejected the notion of “pledging allegiance,” which sounded to them like obedience instead of choice. They preferred to speak about their “pride” and “commitment” to America — about dedicating themselves to their country as a personal choice, not binding compliance.
Millennials believe that self-expression is America’s greatest good. Over 90% of young people feel it’s essentially American to be free to express yourself and your opinions.
That includes raising your voice when you feel your country is in the wrong. Young people realize that America has deep issues along with its myriad opportunities. They believe that advocating for change is an essential part of being American.
"Having American pride is about loving the country, but still acknowledging that we have faults as a nation and society," said one young person we interviewed.
"I see American pride as acknowledging the wrongs that America has done to other countries, but still [being] proud of the good things our country has done for the world," said another.
Millennials don’t believe you have to adhere rigidly to one side or the other. That’s why it’s no surprise that the Pew study found that more Millennials identify as politically independent than as Democrats or Republicans combined.
Often, Millennials turn to humor to express that combination of pride and criticism. It’s the South Park, Colbert Report mentality that you can both celebrate our strength and laugh at our absurdities — and that the very act of laughing at our country makes our democracy stronger.
Just look at “#Merica,” a Millennial meme that’s swept across social feeds and college theme parties over the past two years. The viral idea embraces both the greatness and the follies of American culture. An image of an oversized plate of fried chicken and waffles could earn the #Merica hashtag. So could a pickup truck driving into the sunset behind a sweeping mountain vista.
Millennials realize how lucky they are to have the right to criticize the government. Young people today have a more global perspective than older generations. The 24-hour news cycle and Twitter have exposed them to stories and imagery from around the world. They see what can happen in Egypt when citizens criticize the new government or in Uganda when ordinary people dare to express themselves. They recognize their good fortune.
They also see how America’s influence and resources can be used to confront global issues. Millennials conceive of themselves as “global citizens.” Young people are significantly likelier to give to global causes over local causes than Boomers or Gen Xers. They believe the solutions to worldwide problems can originate on our shores, even if sometimes we get it wrong.
John F. Kennedy said, “Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive.” Young people are rooting for our nation, questioning it and challenging it, and pushing America to improve. Freed from the strict division between patriot and protester, Millennials are making our country stronger.
This piece originally ran at USA Today Opinion on July 4, 2014.
By Alison Hillhouse, MTV Insights
The 8th deadly sin according to Millennials…“trying too hard” in social media, especially when it comes to photo sharing.
Posting requires a careful balancing act between presenting a good version of yourself but not trying too hard…. between revealing your personal life but not overdoing it… between capitalizing on share-worthy opportunities but not taking too much advantage of them. Getting the balance wrong can impact your social standing, particularly among teens who tend to over-analyze every move peers make.
When asked about the most “predictable” Instagram behaviors right now, our panelists told us about instances in which peers were trying just a little too hard to look good, get likes or paradoxically, appear casual. At MTV, we refer to this as “Predictagramming.”
Our panelists have shared with us some of the latest Predictagrams that have saturated their feeds and gotten under their skin:
- “Posting photos that make you wonder ‘who is taking your pictures?’ Like photos of you ‘candidly’ brunching, behind you as you ‘walk’ down the street as your Loubotuins flash me, etc.”
- “When people COMPLAIN & BRAG in the same sentence or post, for example: ‘It was a really tough decision, and I hated having to turn down some great job opportunities… even though I could graduate in 3 years, I’ve decided to stay and do all 4.”
- “On-purpose ugly selfies with downgrading captions because people are trying to get compliments”
- ”When people use all the filters it’s obvious and embarrassing, especially for a selfie”
- “One of my biggest pet peeves is when girls do their boyfriends for #mcm (Man crush Mondays)… as if we didn’t already know you had a crush on this guy because you are DATING him.”
- “Non-ironic use of hashtags, except when necessary (like names of places). If you have to hashtag ‘nails’ or ‘dress’ in every picture I am annoyed.”
- “TBT, MCM, WCW or any other made-up day as an excuse to post more pictures (like National Siblings Day?)”
- “Monitoring weight loss via half naked selfies”
- “When someone checks in so much they are stalkable”
- “Posting a clever gym status faithfully every day”
Gaming the system:
- “When people or companies buy thousands of followers on Twitter/Facebook and you can tell because no one engages with their content. So unethical!”
- “Scheduled tweets that are obvious”
- “When people post something and realize it’s not getting the attention they want, so they take it down and put it back up later at a more strategic time.”
- “When girls find ways to somehow morph into giraffes and find a way to angel their neck into a photo.”
By Alison Hillhouse
Generations of teens have been “obsessed” with pop culture – from fainting at the sight of The Beatles, to memorizing epic lines from The Godfather and Dirty Dancing, and stampeding malls to see 90210 heart-throb Luke Perry. But today’s tech-fueled Millennials possess new tools to take the content they are most passionate about and unapologetically look for ways to throw themselves into it.
Welcome to the world of “fandoms” – online subcultures that orbit around cult TV shows, movies, celebrities, books, comics and more. Fandoms can involve people of all ages, but tend to be dominated by teens and 20-somethings. So on the howls of last night’s Teen Wolf finale on MTV – a franchise with a huge following of its own – below is a primer on what you need to know.
What does fandom culture say about Millennials?
First, geeking out is cool! Clever GIF sets, crafting alternate endings to a plot and knowing obscure lines are social status to the Millennial generation, which prides itself on smarts and creativity. Millennials are earnestly enthused about things teens from yesteryear might have dismissed (or kept well-hidden).
Second, fandoms are a vehicle for Millennials to exert power over “people in charge” from the ground up. For example, Dr. Who fans were able to get a crying Statue of Liberty written into an episode after fantasizing about it online.
What are popular fandoms?
If you dig deep enough on the internet you’ll probably find a fandom for anything and anyone, but some of the biggest among MTV’s Millennial audience include:
- TV shows: Dr. Who, Sherlock, Supernatural and Teen Wolf;
- Books to Movies: Divergent, The Hunger Games and The Fault In Our Stars;
- Musicians: Austin Mahone (“Mahonies”) and early ’00s bands like Linkin Park.
Where do fandoms live?
Fandoms mostly live in social media, particularly Tumblr, and feel like a teenage girl screaming, crying and laughing hysterically all at once. Fans post animated gif sets of favorite scenes, poignant moments, funny quotes or hot characters with tags like #MyOvaries!!! (meaning: he is so hot my ovaries are exploding!).
Why is it important fans watch TV LIVE?
Watching a TV show live is imperative so that fandom communities can participate in cultural conversations in real time – an extremely valuable source of social currency. They sit armed with “reaction GIFs” to tweet the second something reaction-worthy happens in the show, often from movies. For example, a GIF of Doc Brown looking like he stuck his finger in the flux capacitor was posted by the fandom during the mass murder scene on Game of Thrones.
What about IRL (In Real Life)?
Fandoms also live IRL (in real life), particularly when fans engage in cosplay (dressing as characters) and attend Cons to meet other fandom members. Comic-Con has achieved a SXSW “cool” status, and other Cons are growing, e.g. LeakyCon.
How do I speak Fandom?
Fandom is a foreign language. Here are a few words to get you started:
- Shipping: Stemming from the word relationSHIP - when fans champion the idea of two characters becoming romantically involved, often creating a morphed couple name for them like “Sterek” (Styles and Derek from Teen Wolf). Teens explain to us that some fandoms, such as the Glee fandom, put nearly 100% of their energy into shipping couples. In fact, Glee fans were actually able to convince writers to make “Britanna” (Brittany and Santana) a reality on the show (IRL…sort of).
- The Feels: Kind of what fandom is all about. It is uncontrollable, unrestrained emotion that is so intense and multifaceted that fans cannot articulate it, so they just call it the feels. It can be caused by anything from a death or cliffhanger ending to a shared, meaningful glance between characters.
- Keyboard Mashing: How fans articulate “the feels” online by mashing keys randomly, e.g. “adsfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdf.”
- Canon: What actually happens in the story: the real plot line as written and produced.
- Headcanon: Plot lines imagined by fans (canon, in their heads!). For example, when Carey Mulligan was written off Dr. Who, fans pitched the idea that she “time-travelled to the 1920s and became Daisy on The Great Gatsby.” Even though it didn’t happen in the actual story, they still accepted it as fact because it helped them continue to enjoy the show. This has now become official “headcanon” of the Dr. Who fandom.
The bottom line: for many teens, fandom = life. As Lea, 17, explains, “I have friends and family who aren’t even into anything, like a show…I’m like how do you live? I don’t know how to not be obsessed with something.” A sentiment worth paying attention to.
This piece was originally published at Myers Business Network
By Stephanie Monohan
Gen Y has a lot of love for the Olympics, something we’ve examined before, but Sochi offered its own unique fun. Here are five ways in which Millennials engaged with the 2014 Winter Olympics:
1. Shipping Skaters
The fervor over figure skating is an Olympics fandom on its own level. Millennials seemed particularly excited about watching couples skating this year, and with this level of emotional intensity it’s easy to see why. Fans had fun shipping the skating partners and creating romantic narratives to match the physicality they saw on screen.
2. Documenting Viewership
People kept up on the games in their spare time and….in their not-so-spare time too. And they made sure others knew too.
Parties were popular, for the opening ceremony in particular, and it was common to see Millennials Instagramming social gatherings, as well as their patriotic (and not just for the U.S.A.!) outfits.
Staying on top of trending hashtags was crucial if you wanted to be in on the conversation, especially with #SochiProblems. Americans really kept their eyes peeled for Russia to drop the ball as hosts, focusing on mistakes in the opening ceremony and cultural differences in the facilities.
Lest we forget! Even if you didn’t tune into the Sochi Games, it was hard to escape some of these.
(the modern classic: Doge)
(figure skaters in action)
(Sochi’s breakout face: Ashley Wagner)
By Alison Hillhouse, MTV Insights
While Instagram feeds have been infiltrated by parents and grandparents, the world of Snapchat is still largely Millennial territory. Gen Xers and Boomers frequently ask us to decode Snapchat – why is it so popular? What does it entail beyond a constant barrage of selfies?
First, Snapchat is much more than “just another app.” It lives in a unique sweet-spot for Millennials, providing a new level of intimacy while at the same time preserving a certain distance. The easiest way to think about it is falling somewhere between “real life conversation” and everyday social media feeds, which has interesting implications as to how Millennials are changing the way they communicate today.
We’ll explain more, but first, a tutorial:
Snapchat 101 – the basic mechanics: You snap a photo or short video, send it to your friend(s) and once they’ve opened, it dissolves within a few seconds… never to be seen again. You can also easily subvert the system with your phone’s “screen grab” function, and hold onto friends’ images forever (or at least until you lose your phone).
The new “Stories” feature allows you to create a public, daily feed of your activities, with photos/videos lasting a full 24 hours for friends to peruse. Some users are in love with it, some are already annoyed. As Hayley, 19 notes, “‘My Stories’ has become kind of annoying, like Facebook, where people post everything like ‘I just went to the nail salon.’” Some also feel this function is more polished and planned than regular Snapchat, with people “trying too hard to show they are having fun at a party.”
So what do people Snapchat?
Snapchats tend to be selfies (usually awkward) or photos of “random” things accompanied by equally random captions. One teen drew a face on a photo of an orange, and sent it along with the caption, “You are a good person.” A few teens talked about photos of themselves collapsed over homework with pained captions. Caitlin, 22, snuck a photo of a guy with a puggle in his man-purse for her puggle-loving sister. And if you are in the heat of a Snapchat convo and can’t think of a good image to accompany what you need to say, you simply take a photo of your thigh or bedroom wall. Artistic, well-thought-out photos are left to Instagram, where content is more “official.”
- Snapchat your crush first, text later. A group Snapchat is often an ice-breaker to one-on-one Snapchats, which are icebreakers to texting (where more “real” conversation happens). “It’s kind-of weird to text someone random, but you can Snapchat someone random and it’s seen as friendly,” Ellen, 19, explained.
- Don’t overdo selfies to people who aren’t your best friends.
- Selfies are best if they are raw, funny and awkward … unless to your crush. Millennials tell us about adjusting lighting, hair and makeup. Kayla, 17, says she used to spend eight minutes getting ready for a Snapchat to her now-boyfriend.
- Don’t send too many Snaps in a day, especially to a crush. You’ll look stalkerish. One panelist capped it at “5 per day.”
- Be careful when you open videos in public. You have no idea what they contain.
- Don’t open a Snapchat immediately – again, this depends on the desired relationship you are looking to cultivate. N/A if it’s your best friend. Definitely important if it’s your crush.
- Snapchat can offer a great opp to get status updates on exes, crushes and exes’ crushes. One college student notes, “I see my exes watching ‘My Story,’ which creeps me out, but is also flattering.”
- If you are out with other friends and Snapchatting, make sure not to send to an uninvited friend.
Why is it working?
Many reasons — the most interesting is that it’s actually a very personal form of communication. Millennials are looking for more intimate, “face-to-face” interaction in a world that’s increasingly virtual. The intimate, impromptu selfies make you “feel like you are just talking to someone.” But, Millennials also tell us that it simultaneously provides a bit of welcomed distance.
Snapchat also offers authentic, unpolished glimpses into someone’s life (or at least the impression of this… as noted above, sometimes shots are staged).
It lets you be lazy. You don’t have to think of something substantive to say or consider how it’s going to be interpreted. Snapchat helps you understand tonality much quicker than texting. A teen said “A ‘hey’ over text can be really loaded, but if you see it over Snapchat with a photo you can tell that it’s a friendly ‘hey.’”
And, it can even be highly resourceful. Sonali, 19, says, “Two of my friends who live on opposite sides of the country planned an entire vacation to Canada together solely through Snapchat!”
With all of the above, it’s no wonder that Gen Xers and Boomers are trying to understand what SnapChat is and why it’s so popular. The easiest way to sum it up – it’s personal, but not too personal. Welcome to the future of communication.
By Stephanie Monohan
When people think of Fandoms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fandom) in the Young Adult Fiction world, escapist, supernatural or fantastic stories like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Divergent come to mind. But in the seemingly endless ocean of supernatural romances and tales of dystopian futures exists an enclave of books that explore day-to-day tragedies and real life coming-of-age as opposed to saving the world and eternal undead love. And vibrant fandoms are growing around these tragically real, sometimes existentialist books.
These touching, relatable stories about young love, loneliness, and even death are striking a chord with young readers (and many adults as well) who are looking for a bit more honesty in their fiction, but there’s something about the authors as well. Novelists like John Green, who penned Looking For Alaska and the YA sensation The Fault In Our Stars (currently being adapted into a feature-length film), and Rainbow Rowell, author of Eleanor & Park and the more recent Fangirl, have developed rabid fan followings due to their openness and communication with their readers, as well as their own personal histories within fandom communities.
While the glut of YA fiction reminiscent of the massive Twilight and Hunger Games franchises often feels overwhelming, there are still many teens and young adults willing to let their hearts break a little for this engrossing fiction. YA readers seem hungry for stories that speak directly to their experiences and don’t sugar-coat the realities of not only growing up, but being alive.
Much of that has to do with these authors’ understanding of fan communities and their own unique engagement with their fans. John Green, for instance, regularly updates his hugely popular video blog series vlogBrothers while also taking time to interact with his fans on his personal Tumblr page, reblogging them and offering long, thought-out responses to their questions. Rainbow Rowell incorporated her own experiences with fandom into her latest novel Fangirl, which follows a girl who turns to online fandom to cope with her real-life problems, a journey that many people who become part of fandoms may recognize.
This kind of connection is very important to young fans in general. The Millennials we talk to frequently emphasize the importance of celebrity/creator transparency and relatability. They have come to not only appreciate zero-distancing, but to expect it. They enjoy seeing not just the behind-the-scenes, but into the lives of the people creating their favorite pop culture. Plus, when it comes to books about serious subjects, or even just about growing up, it feels like the author is imparting advice in a personal way. As one of our panelists put it, “Now famous people can be your best friend.” (Julian, 23) Overall, this kind of closeness as well as the honest, yet humorous wisdom found in these stories is resonating with young readers and possibly jumpstarting a refreshing trend in young adult fiction.
By Alison Hillhouse
Many have fallen prey to the narrative that Millennials choose to disengage with “real-world” experiences and spend 24/7 on technology. While we knew this wasn’t the case, we were surprised to find out just how much Young Millennials are actually seeking out hands-on, tech-free maker experiences, in our recent meta-study on the younger half of this demo. Whether it’s baking, crafting, woodworking or jewelry making, they tell us of the immense satisfaction they get from these immersive, self-soothing experiences.
But tech isn’t entirely removed from these maker experiences, as Millennials engage in what we call “Digital Bookending” – research & documenting the before & after. The making of a duct tape wallet (a hot craft right now among girls and guys) involves first watching a how-to YouTube video for instructions, then immersing yourself in the craft, and finally capping it off with an Instagrammed photo to express yourself/get credit for your work/connect with peers on a deeper level. (motivations of course vary…)
Three of our panelists tell us about their “Digital Bookending” experiences:
1) Alondra, 17, tells of her pop-art project, in which she first “looked at cool pop art pictures online… role models and important cultural figures.” She then chose to feature her role model Jenni Rivera, a famous Mexican-American singer whose life ended on Alondra’s birthday and recently wrote a #1 NY Times best-seller. Afterwards, she posted her creation to Instagram, where 68 friends were a fan of her work:
2) Gabrielle, 17, tells us about her duct tape prom dress, which took a whopping 100 hours of work! She says “I’ve always loved reptiles, and couldn’t think of a more awesome theme than dragons!” To prep her for the work, she went online and watched a Project Runway episode featuring duct tape dresses. Her process was very elaborate, including hand-cut flames and a wire-framed tail. Obviously, this was not only a sensation at the prom but also afterwards on Facebook.
3) Deven, 17, made a “plant cell cake.” He first went on YouTube to see how other people made cell models, and “observed how they structured and positioned various parts of the cell.” Deven also Instagrammed his final “Eukaryoptic Plant Cell.”
Brands can take advantage of “Digital bookending” by facilitating the before or after experience… whether that’s sponsoring DIY content or launching contests for Millennials to share creations.