Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Collective Identity: Youth- demonisation

This is the most popular topic for the A2 OCR exam, with case studies of all kinds of social groups being possible to undertake. I did an event at Rich Mix in London this week for 170 students which focussed on Youth as a group for study, so I decided to share the material with other readers of the blog here. I made a lot of use of material featured in my friend Dave Harrison's blog here at

I started with some quotations about young people and asked the audience when they thought these things might have been said:

'Kids are out of control... They're roaming the streets. They're out late at night.'

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

You can probably tell by the language that the second one is much older, but it surprised everyone to find out just how old. The first was from Gordon Brown in 2008 and the second from Plato in the 4th century BC. So as we can see, complaining about the behaviour of young people is nothing new!

We looked at this shocking video, from a Barnardo's campaign, all dialogue coming from what adults had written on national newspaper websites in response to stories about teens

We went on to look at other press coverage, but bearing in mind the five structuring points for this topic from the Specification:

how media today represent youth in different ways
how these representations differ from those in the past
what effect these representations have
how young people use the media to form a collective identity
how far identity is increasingly constructed by, through or in response to the media

In January's exam, these were the two optional questions:

analyse the ways in which the media represent groups of people
what is collective identity and how is it mediated?

So we were looking at examples and arguments in order to try to see how we might use them to answer such questions.

We looked at the way the meaning of the hood has changed over the years, with examples from fiction and non-fiction, including some of these:

From these and others, we were able to identify the use of the hood as a sign of comfort, protection, religious and academic status but also of disguise, transformation, concealment and violence. Most recently in relation to youth it has often become almost synonymous with criminal behaviour. News coverage of the student protests culminated in these front covers the next day, a moment captured which once again involves a hooded youth in an act of criminality, standing in for the whole story.

This demonisation of youth can be taken to absurd extremes perhaps having the effect that the Barnardos video illustrates, as in this Sunday Express campaign and more humorously this story reported in The Cambridge News.

A survey of the content of national and regional newspapers found that out of 6500 stories about teenage boys, over half were about crime and only in one in ten allowed the voice of a young person to be heard in a quote. The language used to describe teenage boys was quite harsh: nearly 600 references to 'yobs', 250 to 'thug' and over 100 to 'sick', with 'feral' and 'hoodie' close behind. There were some positive terms used, such as 'angel', 'altar boy'. 'model student' and 'every mother's perfect son' but these only appeared in relation to boys who had died, either murdered or in accidents. There is more detail on this and some other surveys on Dave Harrison's blog here.

A useful critic in relation to this is Stanley Cohen, who wrote about the media coverage of mods and rockers from the 1960s, in his book 'Folk Devils and Moral panics'. His ideas still apply today.

Although Cohen points to the ways in which the media amplify anxieties and events and create a moral panic, the demonisation of youth in this way can only come about if there is some kind of collective identity to which to point. Dick Hebdige's study 'Subculture, the meaning of style' examines how young people construct their identity through fashion and musical influence. His arguments still apply today even if subcultures do not neatly divide in quite the way they did in the 70s, given the way music has tended to hybridise. Two current subcultures are shown below- Emo and Goth. can you identify others?

Nick Barham's interesting book 'Disconnected' was based on research he did talking to teenagers about their lives today. Given the absence of young voices in news coverage, it makes for an interesting contrast, one that is taken up by Nathan in Misfits.

Misfits - Nathan on Youth by LRCMediaPractical

1 comment:

  1. Pete:

    I attended this workshop with some of my A2 students. Could you post the powerpoint/key note? It would be very helpful.

    Thank you
    John Dunford
    Head of Media Studies, Coopers' Company & Coborn School