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Freaks, Geeks, And Cool Kids-American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jul 20th, 2020

Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids is a book by Murray Milner that explains teenagers’ behaviors in American high schools. The author of the book turns the readers’ attention to how teenagers’ lives are organized in secondary schools across America. In addition, the book addresses how these formations shape these teenagers’ lives. In this book, Milner tries to explain teenagers’ behaviors. The book also addresses other related issues like consumerism, teenage culture, and status systems in American schools.

This book was put together after the author embarked on a two-year field research. Moreover, Milner used over three hundred written interviews from students. Through these interviews, the students detailed the status systems in their respective high schools. These written interviews were collected from twenty-seven states across the country. The author uses his fifty years of contact with teenagers to legitimize his observations.

One of the author’s claims is that teen culture shapes America’s consumer society. In his social research, the author begins by posing two questions. In the first instance, the author questions teenagers’ behaviors. The other question addresses the connection between teen culture and the rest of the society. These two questions act as the guide to Milner’s qualitative research.

Milner’s research findings are presented in a narrative and outlined in chapter form. The first part of the book is titled “The Puzzle and the Tools”. In this part, the author presents his two research questions. In this case, his initial hypothesis is that teens model their behavior according to the mores in their surrounding environment.

To get his point across, he fronts the theory of status relations. This theory investigates what status is and how it is related to power. In addition, it is in this part that the author introduces the limitations of his research. According to the book, it is not the author’s mission to test the theory’s effect on teen-age culture. Instead, the author’s mission is to show the efficacy of the theory in relation to the information we already have concerning teenagers.

The second part of the book is titled “Explaining Teen’s Behaviors”. In this part, the author strives to show the application of his status theory. For instance, he starts by using the famous quote that “taste classifies and it classifies the classifier”.

This is a deliberate way of correlating high school culture with the status theory. This part consists of three chapters. The first chapter, which is titled “Fitting in, Standing Out, and Keeping Up”, addresses what teenagers go through just to conform to aspects that seem more acceptable. Such aspects include beauty and athletic ability.

Other aspects that fall under this category include the type of language and speech forms used by teenagers. The second chapter is titled “Steering Clear, Hanging out, and Hooking Up”, and is an analysis of among other things the gossip associated with teens. The last chapter in this part covers labels and put-downs in a teenager’s life. All of the subtopics discussed above are pointers into how teens imitate the society in matters of reaching for and recognizing status.

The author of the book clearly states that it is not the American schools that make the teenagers behave in this manner. Instead, these behaviors are the main framework of how our society is shaped. The outcome of this behavior is a social system in which lifestyle differences and status are at the center.

Such claims carry a lot of weight because it means poor parenting and immaturity are not solely to blame for America’s consumerism and status systems. From this book, it is clear that some of the undesirable traits found in grownups were adapted in the adolescent stage. This is when obsession with matters like dating protocol, dress codes, or who sits with whom in the cafeteria dominates a teenager’s life.

These obsessions in turn shape the adulthood of the said teenager. Moreover, for one to gain admission in any status in life, one has to conform to the dynamics of the group of people associated with this status. This fact gives rise to undesirable dynamics such as alienation of adolescents with disabilities. The general idea in this part of the book is that money and consumerism brings about status. This status or power is usually the determinant of success.

The third part of the book addresses how status systems vary in different schools. The author classifies American high schools into two, pluralistic and other types of schools. Pluralistic schools refer to those institutions that have a more diverse population. The other types of schools as addressed by the author refer to those institutions that have some form of uniformity like military schools, religious schools, and small town schools among others.

According to the book, status systems are less harmful in pluralistic schools. In the other types of schools, the less population makes the effects of alienation more severe. This concern has been addressed in various forums around the country especially in debates addressing the suitability of public schools. For instance, there has been pressure on most private schools to embrace more diversity in their student populations.

This is because private schools are more associated with status systems and consumerism. The author suggests that in order to counter the effects of status systems, schools should do away with activities that foster self-expression. These include activities like singing, dancing, and sports among others. This seems like an unrealistic claim but future research may help shed light on the matter.

The author chose “Teen Status Systems and Consumerism” as the title for the fourth part of the book. The title is an overall summation of the book’s main topic. Hence, this part consists of the findings, implications, and a conclusion of Milner’s research. Among the findings of this research is the fact that although consumerism and high schools are not related, they are intertwined.

In addition, it is clear that high school students are pushed to embrace consumerism through the various adverts that target them. The book cites the teenagers’ quest for trendy designer jeans, cars, and cell phones as an outcome of these advertising campaigns. Milner finds out that teenagers’ struggle for conformity and fierceness when protecting their turfs are just some of the reactions they have to their assigned positions. Therefore, their quest for status is fueled by the little power given to them by adults.

Another finding confirms that the groups at the top have to keep redefining the norms of their membership. In addition, for one group to move up, another has to move down. In conclusion, the clothes, the cars, music, demeanor, dancing, gadgets, and body language are just an adolescent’s means of acquiring and displaying status. Therefore, learning how to consume is one of the main lessons taught in high schools around America.

Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids is a prolific book that gets through to most of its targeted audience. This audience includes scholars, teenagers, undergraduate students, and non-scholars. The book takes everyone back to his or her high school days and there is no dispute about its portrayal of high school hierarchies.

The author of the book was careful in his analysis and did not stretch his data to unrealistic levels. The book also made a successful connection between high school culture and trends in the society. Another strong point of Milner’s research is that it does not offer unrealistic predictions about what direction status systems may take in future.

The status theory that is introduced in this book is well carried from the beginning to the end. One area that the book failed to address fully is on the first and second parts. The author could have created a more robust link between educational organizations and status cultures. The author seemed hesitant to take on a more academic path. This would have helped him make this link conclusively. The author made a lot of effort in explaining high school culture and lingo.

Given his targeted audience, this was not necessary. This is because the intended audience consists of people who are familiar with high school. Overall, the book is quite engaging and may be an important tool even for students who may not be familiar with research methodologies. The book offers great understanding into how social scientists examine adolescents, education systems, and societies.

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