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2020 Survey Results Show the Age Most Americans are Influenced by Popular Culture

At what age do we find our favorite media (and our identity)? CableTV.com surveyed readers to find out!

Do you recall how old you were when you encountered your favorite movie, TV show, book, or album? At first blush, it might seem like a silly detail. But think about it—the media we watch, read, and listen to teaches us about, and helps shape, the world.

A lot of research has been conducted on when we are most impressionable, but CableTV.com wanted to know specifically about media consumption. When do we encounter the media that’s most meaningful to us?

We surveyed 500 people to find out, and the median age for media impact is . . . 16. Let’s ponder what this statistic, and our respondents’ favorite media, mean.

Media consumption and age

At what age did you discover your most influential movie, show, book, or album?

The Most Impressionable Ages to Consume Popular Media

Sixteen makes sense. At that age, we’ve (hopefully) survived puberty, we’ve (hopefully) earned our driver’s licenses, and we’re (hopefully) figuring out who we are. Also, we sense independence growing ever closer—even while we know that with adult privilege comes adult responsibility.

So, what themes resonate most with us at 16? Let’s look at our respondents’ top 10 movies, shows, books, and albums and see what insights we can unpack.

The Most Influential Movies, TV Shows, Books, Albums

Movies

Whether we watch them on towering silver screens or smartphones, films are epic and inspirational—especially to teens. Judging by the top 10 films in our survey, the themes that resonate with 16-year-olds are football, romance, underdogs, gods, godfathers, and coming of age stories (go figure). Hope they don’t pick up on the problematic racism in Gone With the Wind. . .

TV Shows

What 16-year-old doesn’t dream of spending their twenties living next door to their Friends in the biggest of cities? But teens are smart, and they’ve sniffed out that the world is also absurd a.f. (The Office, The Simpsons, Seinfeld), not to mention dangerous (Law & Order, Breaking Bad), and perhaps doomed (The Walking Dead). Which would explain why some teens seek the high fantasy of Game of Thrones.

Books

Fifteen percent of respondents named The Bible as their favorite book. Seems legit. After all, it has everything you’d find in the other books that made our survey. Talkin’ ‘bout fights between good and evil, coming-of-age stories, rules about how to treat our neighbors (read: social justice), literary elements, self-help tips, and dystopian stories.

Albums

Music is hugely influential during adolescence. The favorite albums of our respondents have some heavy themes: conflict, greed, existentialism, classism, struggle, rape, murder, and general bleakness.

Now, that doesn’t explain Michael Jackson and NSYNC. But the lost-boy King of Pop and the boy band represent a simpler and more apparent truth: Sometimes kids just wanna bop.

Ch-ch-changes

You’re thinking back to when you were 16, aren’t you? If not, why not? Looking back at your life through the lens of popular culture, with years of perspective, can yield fascinating personal insights and growth.

But remember: 16 is only the median age based on 500 other people. The age when popular culture most influenced you may vary (see below). But the rewards—the insights into how media molded you at that age—are the same.

Check yourself: To see when popular culture most influenced you, we need to know when you discovered your favorite movie, TV show, book, and album.

Example: I became a KISS fan at age 4. I saw Pulp Fiction when I was 21. I was 29 when I discovered my favorite TV show, Trailer Park Boys. And, at 48, I still can’t pick a favorite book (but I can, indeed, read).

Arrange the ages in numerical order. Now drop the lowest and highest numbers. Finally, add the two middle numbers and divide by two. For me, it looks like this:

4 + 21 + 29 + 48 = 50 ÷ 2 = 25

So popular culture was most influential on me at age 25, which was during the late ‘90s. That’s not the answer I expected, but it kinda puts your nostalgia in perspective. Try it out!

Methodology and sources

We surveyed 500 people aged 18+ to ask them a variety of questions regarding their media consumption.

Sources: Pollfish Survey

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