News | Wednesday, 26th March 2014
Celebrities help teenagers 'make sense' of their lives
Research shows youngsters don't crave easy fame
TEENAGERS from the ‘X-Factor generation’ are not celebrity obsessed and do not yearn for easy fame, according to a new study.
Research is challenging the popular belief that many modern youngsters, fuelled by an abundance of TV talent and reality shows, only aspire to be famous and rich.
A new study suggests the opposite is true: few young people crave easy fame despite often focussing on celebrities and discussing their lives.
And the researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University, Brunel University and the University of Surrey discovered celebrity actually helps teenagers to make sense of the world.
Dr Kimberley Allen, from MMU’s Education and Social Research Institute, said: “We regularly hear politicians and media pundits bemoan young people's lack of aspiration and desires to be rich and famous. In contrast, by talking to young people we have found that few teenagers actually aspire to easy fame.
“In our research, we've discovered a much more complex picture about how celebrity functions in young people's lives. In particular, our research shows that we shouldn't take young people's investment in celebrity at face value.
“Rather than being an indication of young people's hunger for fame, their talk about celebrity suggests not only that they are critical consumers of celebrity culture, but that celebrity culture also performs an important function as young people try to make sense of their place in the world including inequalities in who gets what.”
Over the last year, Dr Allen, Dr Heather Mendick and Dr Laura Harvey, interviewed 148 14-17 year olds in schools across England.
Serving a social function
They discovered that young people were often critical of the culture, dismissed footballers’ salaries as ‘ridiculous’ and debated the value of reality TV stardom or being in a boy band. The most valued celebrities were seen as hard working and not money-driven, such as actor Emma Watson and Olympian Tom Daley.
And the research team argue that young people's talk about celebrity serves an important social function.
While some were envious of the wealth and status celebrity brings, the researchers say that when youngsters compare themselves to those who are more privileged, it is often their own lives that end up looking better. By replacing envy with pleasure in being ‘ordinary’ - through talk about celebrity - young people are making sense of the massive inequalities between them.
The study was funded with £170,000 from the Economic and Social Research Council for the project Celebrity culture and young people's classed and gendered aspirations running from September 2012 until July 2014. More information on the project and emerging findings can be found at: www.celebyouth.org.