Chinese kids posing as "American Teens" in front of blue lockers at Ikea

Vice recently reported on a new trend that entails Chinese youth posing as "American Teens" in front of the blue lockers at Ikea. Chloe Xiang explains:

IKEA's blue locker rooms are being used not to store bags, but to pose in front of as a pseudo-American high school. One of the biggest trends right now on the Chinese version of Instagram, Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu), is America core. The trend is called "Meigaofeng," which means "American high school fashion," more or less. The trend romanticizes a stereotypical American private school uniform, with influencers wearing pleated skirts, ties over white collared shirts, loafers, blazers, and looking straight out of something like Gossip Girl or Clueless. 

The influencers have chosen IKEA's locker rooms because they mimic what an American high school would look like and famous scenes from any number of movies and TV shows, including Clueless, Mean Girls, and The Breakfast Club.

Another recent article in Yahoo reports that Ikea China is now banning the influencers from posing in front of Ikea lockers. Tech investor Rui Ma tweeted that Ikea has forced the teens to quit because they were too "disruptive" during their photo shoots. Yahoo further explains the current ban and also explains that the trend of Chinese youth imitating American culture is not new:

IKEA China has allegedly banned influencers from posing in front of store lockers, after people flocked to IKEA locations to participate in a trend that romanticizes American high schools.

Young Chinese citizens' interest in American culture — especially trying to emulate it — isn't anything new. Apparently, the trend was already popular in China when Gossip Girl first debuted.

In late 2021, as pandemic lockdowns in China started to lift, a trend exploded on social media where influencers would pose and pretend to be in the U.S. The trend inexplicably had people posing in front of the Shanghai Costco, with captions that said they were "pretending to be in Los Angeles." Similar to Meigaofeng, influencers posed with items that seemed to try to reflect America: shopping carts, pizza boxes and cans of Coke.

I don't think these reports capture the complexity of what's happening here, though. This TikTok, from a user who calls herself "Dr. Candise, Chinese tutor," seems to have a different take—one that moves beyond simply describing the trend as Chinese youth "romanticizing" American culture, and that at least hints at the ingenuity of the folks spreading it and the subversive potential of these practices. Dr. Candise captions her TikTok that explains the "America core" trend: "Gotta hand it to Chinese people when it comes to maximizing limited resources." In the video she explains the "American high school style" trending on the Chinese version of Instagram, Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book). The script of the video states:

Influencers are wearing white shirts with short pleated skirts and posing in front of the blue lockers in Shanghai IKEA. They thought IKEA's blue lockers create the atmosphere of the high school campus in American dramas. Some influencers even bought dozens of outfits and are posing like no one is watching. In China, IKEA is not just for furniture shopping. Many fall asleep on the beds and sofas in the showroom. The cafeteria has become a hot place for blind dates for elders. Influencers have posed with pizza and shopping carts in front of the COSTCO in Shanghai and told their followers they were vacationing in L.A.

I kind of dig the trend. It reminds me of the brilliant web mini-series from 2009, "Ikea Heights," which was filmed covertly inside the Ikea store in Burbank, California. I'm all for folks using commercial spaces for their own purposes in ways that resist the capitalist imperative to ALWAYS BUY THINGS—even though these acts of resistance might be fleeting or feel miniscule. French consumer theorist Michel de Certeau sees promise even in these small moments of resistance, positioning them as a kind of productive act aimed at altering the "prescribed" or "intended" meaning of goods and products—or in these cases, the intended meaning of the consumptive spaces themselves.