Sunday mornings roll around and the first page that children (and teenagers) usually turn to is the Sunday comic page. Not only do these comics provide classic entertainment for the young readers, there is also one particular comic that unites all parents in regards to their children—Zits. Created in 1997, the comic follows the life of a sixteen year old boy named Jeremy and the many comical obstacles his parents face in raising him (and any teenager) and you can follow his life here. Just like in real life, however, the times are a changing and creator Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman wonderfully capture and chart the changing life of a teen in regards to technology and relationship with his parents. Here, we are going to chart the comics’ illustrative design throughout the years till present day of technology and examine how society is reflected through Jeremy and his parents reactions and use of the technology.
Video games. Almost every teenager then and now has played at least one video game on one of the many systems at some point in their lives. Looking into the finer details of this comic, Jeremy appears to be holding a game controller that has a joystick—this is none other than the original Atari (we can assume Atari 2600). He may be playing Space Invaders or another intergalactic game, but the message is the same—while he is clearly enjoying the game, his father is obviously not. One constant theme throughout the Zits comic as a whole is the parents inability to full understand Jeremy’s likes and distastes as well as their utter confusion at any and all new technology and games.
It provides an interesting commentary on parent-child relations that seems to be a constant throughout the past thirty years. No matter what is new or hot for the teens in a generation, the parents are always skeptical or confused by it. Obvious from the look of pure enjoyment on Jeremy’s face, video games were a major characteristic of teen culture in the 90’s. As you look below, you will see that this has not changed at all twenty years later.
Again, Jeremy’s father is subjected to the video game culture that he obviously does not find enjoyable. Jeremy and his friend are not playing Atari here, but rather Xbox or PlayStation (judging by the controller shape and attributes). Instead of trying to understand what it is all about, however, like he attempted to do in the April 1999 comic, he chooses to leave the house and ignore the video game entirely (maybe he believes that since he tried it once, it’s not worth trying to understand again). Between the two comics, it seems as though Scott and Borgman are explaining that no matter the changes in video games or the like, parents who grew up in a world without video games are never going to truly understand them—whether they exist in a comic or not.
The computer. The Internet. Originally created for the purpose of retrieving information fast and communicating with others without leaving the house through email, such a simple invention has exploded into an industry that we cannot live without. Above, Jeremy is frustrated with the slow speed of the modem to send a simple email to his friend. During this time period, internet was moving from dial-up into broadband and it can be assumed that his computer is still using dial-up based off of the “chug a chug a chug” emanating from it. Jeremy’s father is unsympathetic toward the “first world” problems Jeremy is facing and tells him to deliver the email in person.
Obviously, society is reflected as being too dependent on technology and is slowly losing the ability to communicate in person with the introduction of the slow speed internet. Jeremy’s father is clearly mocking the use of technology to communicate even ten years ago before the explosion of all the new features and gadgets.
Clearly, twenty years later, the sole use of computer has changed. In fact, all of the activities that Jeremy’s mom lists that he does on the computer has no relation to the email he was desperately trying to send back in 1998. Not only does the computer serve as a host of information and communication, but as a gateway to any sort or type of entertainment and connectedness to the world. This strip clearly reflects society’s changing attitudes toward technology and its primary uses throughout the years.
The iPhone 7. Android. With all the new developments in the mobile phone industry, it’s hard to keep up with the changes. Here, we find Jeremy not using a cell phone, but instead, a corded phone to communicate to his friend (later, girlfriend, but that’s not the topic of this post). This is definitely a product of the times considering he does not have a cell phone and, even if he did, he is not using it for personal reasons like so many teens and even adults do today.
Then we enter into the present world of the iPhone or some sort of touch screen phone where communication is done by texting. Much like how Jeremy’s dad made Jeremy deliver the email to his friend across the street, Jeremy’s mom is very much affected by the lack of person to person communication she is receiving from her son. The phone took over communication and not simply by speaking over the phone, but through texting. In the previous comic strip, Jeremy at least spoke to Sara, but here, he is just typing out words and ignoring the actual conversation his mom is trying to have with him.
All parents can agree that communicating with their teens in today’s day and age is more difficult because of all the distractions—smart phones, computers that can do virtually anything, and video games that don’t even need a controller to be played. However, what the comic Zit’s does is show us that even twenty years ago, parents faced this problem with the limited technology that was available. No matter the new advancements in technology, there has and will always be a new “something” that parents will never understand but their kids are invested in. Jeremy and parents are forever playing “catch-up” in the comics—while we forever play “catch-up” in real life.