Youth Identity

What does youth culture mean? Students explore the concept of Youth
and youth culture. Mind map out things associated with British youth culture and cultural movements e.g. Punk, Rave etc. Feedback results to class

Images and props can be used to stimulate discussion

The images chosen should represent key youth culture movements such as Punk, Mod’s as well as Rave and Emo culture. It would also be asking students to try and define the sub culture they feel they belong to

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GCE Media

= Innovative teaching idea

= Stretch and challenge opportunity

= ICT opportunity

Identify British films that deal with Youth and youth culture. Where do these films
fit on the timeline produced for British Cinema? Students to research one film identified in pairs and produce an info

Timeline of British films on display to act as a prompt

This session build upon a previous session and will allow students to see the time delay from a youth movement happening and its appearance on screen

Screening of a British film either historical or contemporary that can be
used to illustrate a representation of
youth and youth culture

Would be useful to compare/contrast two films representing youth/youth culture e.g. This is England (Meadows 2007) and Quadrophenia (Rodham 1979)

Follow up to screening. How does this film represent youth/youth culture? In
pairs students could try and identify all
the ways they consider the film

Clip from film 3-5 minutes long

• •

Close analysis of clip from chosen film – focus on how camerawork, editing, mise- en-scène and sound create meaning

Screening of a second British film either historical or contemporary that can be

used to illustrate a different
representation of youth/youth culture

Should be able to act, as a contrast to film one, and at least one should be as contemporary as possible 

Follow up to second screening. In what ways does this film represent youth/youth culture? How is this similar/different to film one?

Teacher led close analysis of particular scene highlighting how camerawork, editing, mise-en-scène and sound are used to create meaning 

n groups students to select a scene from a British film of their choice that they feels represents youth/youth culture and present analysis and scene to class

Films that represent youth/youth culture include: 24hour party people (Winterbottom 2003), A room for Romeo Brass (Meadows 1999) 

Examples of Past Media and Collective Identity Questions

  • Analyse the impact of media representation on the collective identity of one or more groups of people.
  • Compare the different ways in which one or more groups of people have been represented by the media.
  • Analyse the ways in which at least one group of people is ‘mediated’.
  • Discuss the social implications of media in relation to collective identity. You may refer to one group of people or more in your answer.
  • “The media does not construct collective identity, they merely reflect it”. Discuss.
  • Analyze the ways in which the media represent one group of people you have studied.
  • “Media representations are complex, not simple and straightforward”. How far do you agree with this statement in reference to the collective media group you have studied?
  • How far does the representation of a social group change over time? Refer to at least two media in your answer.
  • To what extent is human identity increasingly ‘mediated’?
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Collective identity implies a homogenous group, each with common interests and a similar lifestyle. Representation is the way in which the media mediate, repackage or ‘re-present’ individuals, people, places and social groups to audiences. Anything can be a representation. Theorists like Richard Dyer argue there are political and social reasons for maintaining ahegemonic collective identity in perpetuating social divisions, maintaining the dominant culture and legitimising inequality. Hegemonic assumptions about collective identity are often reinforced and circulated by the media as ‘common sense’ and this can lead tomarginalisation and can also embed ideological beliefs e.g. the myth of older age and its association with wisdom. This in turn can be underpinned by moral panics – wayward youth culture was seen to blame for the 2011 London riots and applying Stanley Cohen’s appropriation from Wilkins – 1964 of the concept deviancy amplification, youth was demonised in tabloid, mid market tabloid and television news coverage.

Changes in technology and the liberalisation of social values has led to more pluralistic representations however. Web 2.0 has changed the face of media and technology empowering youth more, not just in relation to the manifest rise of youth entrepreneurs. It suggests a more confident identity and a more valued contribution to society than archaiccultural stereotypes. David Gauntlett argues that the idea of identity is “complicated” and that “everyone’s got one” with the added suggestion that the idea of a collective identity is slowly being eroded – this would link with the idea of the young ‘prosumer’ as both consumer and producer of media, exploring digital parameters and sharing media via social networking. David Buckingham approaches the concept of identity in a slightly different way suggesting that it is the way we relate to, or ‘fit in’ with those around us. This in turn could relate to notions of the disintegration of youth sub cultures, prevalent historically but now perhaps recognising the power of the individual and with identity as a “unique marker of a person”.

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Cultural stereotypes and moral panics still remain however but arguably are as less obvious than before. Passive computer game culture, obesity, young female drinkers and smokers, unemployment and general social deviance are all still recurring though and are often used to blame for problems within society. Quadrophenia is a 1979 film that can be used as a historical frame of reference to explore the changing representation of youth culture – using a 1964 event on Brighton seafront as a visually iconic, recognisable narrative the film builds to a climax by recreating the well known fight between two traditionally opposed youth sub cultures - the Mods and the Rockers. Stanley Cohen described the event as a moral panic that was used to show how youth had become ‘out of control’ but in the film it could be argued elements of these sub cultures are represented as glamorous and aspirational. Produced by The Who, the film had a primary objective to entertain target audiences and as such, although themes and issues are explored, particularly through the character of Jimmy it is a musical journey as much as a spiritual one. A young Ray Winstone plays a biker while Sting (Ace Face) is represented as the ultimate Mod with his Vespa GS 160 scooter that Jimmy drools over; his good looks, smart dress, attitude and the ability to pay his fine in court immediately by cheque.

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This representation is later ‘smashed’ with Jimmy seeing the Ace Face for what he is as a Bell Boy in a hotel, running around catering for the dominant classes which leads to his complete break away from any structure or support mechanisms whether family, girlfriend or youth sub culture. Older, middle class representations in Quadrophenia reflect Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony – middle class lives are seen normal, natural and commonsense while the behavior of Jimmy and his friends is seen as ‘different’ and unacceptable with social class as much as youth underpinning. This struggle for acceptability changes over time in as much as the negative representations of age and social class in 1979 is seen differently in more contemporary television teen dramas such as Skins (E4, 2007 – 2013) and Misfits (E4 2009 – 2013) and British films such as Fish Tank (2009) andThe Selfish Giant (2013). The idea of spectatorship and the encoding and decoding of, according to Stuart Hall dominant preferred meanings is also important with interpretations varying.

Jimmy, for example could be seen as a more contemporary representation of youth (in the end) looking to break away from his social, and in the end cultural straightjacket with which he becomes so embittered and disappointed. In the

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21st century his mental illness and problems potentially would be identified but inQuadrophenia he resembles notions of difference and the outsider as he reflects and obsesses over his own mod identity which leads ultimately, applying Taijfel and Turner to his marginalisation from the collective group (the Mods) to which being part of was so important. Jimmy is semi suicidal, pill pops and in a final scene, the dominant reading of which is that he takes his own life by riding the Ace Face’s scooter off a cliff provides audience with anegotiated or oppositional reading – Jimmy instead is symbolically trashing the culture of the Mod and with it, his collective identity. He is seen at the beginning of the film walking away from the cliff further anchoring his individualism with the realisation that youth culture and the politics of youth is built on fragile foundations.

In Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Dick Hebdige posits the idea that youth sub culture maintains divisions in society identifying two stereotypes – youth as fun and youth as trouble. In The Selfish Giant, an independent social realist film distributed in 2013 the latter ‘trouble’ stereotype is explored – it portrays the dysfunctional lives of two young boys, Arbor and Swifty who steal copper cable for Kitten, the unscrupulous boss of a scrap yard in Bradford, west Yorkshire. The film compares well with Fish Tank as two films from the same genre focusing on the representation of youth and regional identity but also for British film, seemingly unable again to detach itself from issues of social class. The Selfish Giantexplores the innocence of childhood, myths surrounding this construct and the idea of consequences. Both boys attend school but Arbor is permanently excluded and both have as priorities making money, long before they would be stereotypically seen as legitimately on the job market. Arbor actually gives some of the money he makes to his family in a reversal of parental expectations.

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The film stops short of developing a macro narrative on the problems faced across the UK in impoverished areas where young boys will risk their lives stealing cable from railway tracks and other hazardous areas like behind power stations. At the same time youth is represented as arrogant, selfish, aggressive, deviant and criminal but Arbor and Swifty are also framed as kind, emotive and vulnerable with the key criminal in the film the adult owner of the scrap yard who exploits them. Skins, on occasion offers similar narratives to encode a challenging representation of initially deviant youth but as victims of adult crime. In series four, episode one audiences immediately are introduced to youth culture through drugs and club culture but soon into the episode we see a morally correct young DJ challenging his unethical club owner boss who on a regular basis has no problem with having his club flaunting health and safety guidelines in terms of numbers allowed in.

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The Selfish Giant has parallels with the 2007-2014 long running Barnardos ‘Believe in Children’ campaign, also social realism which asks the public to challenge the aggressive, cultural stereotypes they are being presented with in the poster campaign and think again about the vulnerability of youth. Martin Hoyles in The Politics of Childhood examines how and why children have gradually been separated from the adult world of work, in turn leading to a form of marginalisation where their role in society is stereotypically to be ‘looked after’ having no economic value (the Barnardos children are represented as marginalised as everyone has turned their back on them).

Under no circumstances is Hoyles suggesting a return to child labour but points out that media representations of childhood commonly conform to stereotypical assumptions while a large proportion of young people earn a small amount of money to sustain themselves and to facilitate independence. In The Selfish Giant and in Barnardos advertising Acland’s‘ideology of protection’ can be studied with Arbor and Swifty promoting the collective notion that young people are in need of constant surveillance and monitoring, allowing society and the state to have more control over them. The two boys in the film strongly challenge this collective ideology on one level but in terms of narrative outcomes it arguably is reinforced with Arbor hiding under his bed and refusing to come out until the Swifty’s Mum (Swifty has just been fatally electrocuted while with Arbor stealing cable) appears in a scene that suggests emotional understanding and forgiveness.

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In Fish Tank, representations of youth are similar. The more middle class Connor exploits Mia sexually and she is seen in a victim role, despite her manifest aggressive behavior in a similar way that Arbor and Swifty are exploited by Kitten. Her family, like Arbor and Connor’s is also dysfunctional and the film takes a ‘Broken Britain’ approach to representations of family and social class. Mia is an interesting character in that her youthful vulnerability is evident and is given over to audiences as equally as her anti social behavior – this references Martin Barker’s ideas of how moral panics of deviant youth culture are often challenged through good and bad deeds. Mia’s positive feelings for her sister are apparent and her symbolic desire to free a horse she thinks will be killed by Billy and his brothers is admirable (the role of horses is also important in The Selfish Giant). Andrea Arnoldpositions audiences however into decoding intelligent, sympathetic readings of poverty, neglect, abuse and notions of the difficulties faced by single parent families on a low income and the idea of consequences. Through the mise-en-scene the film represents all of the youth chav stereotype signifiers but arguably suggests a more pluralistic representation.

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Using Stuart Hall’s framework, this dominant or oppositional reading would be dependent on audience – I witnessed a white, middle class west London independent cinema audience laughing at the representations, aghast that people ‘could live like that’ while a BFI audience fully understood the social realist conventions and the director’s encoded meanings. The film had a limited theatrical release in only 40 cinemas and for some audiences it was reassuring in how it perpetuated cultural stereotypes, applying Dyer’s theory again of legitimising ideas of difference to maintain unequal power relations in society. Mia could be seen as ‘belonging’ to a collective group of dysfunctional, urban teenagers with no value in society, economically or socially. The representation of this collective group is frequently alluded to in the right wing press, e.g. during and after the London riots and similar images are circulated and reinforced, often deliberately placed in binary opposition to more ‘normal’ mainstream culture. Levi Strauss’ framework is useful in understanding this with middle aged, more respectable representations seen as the dominant culture in teen dramas such asWaterloo Road and mainstream soap operas like Eastenders.

Like Jimmy in Quadrophenia however, Mia manages to break of out this spiral (hence the title ‘Fish Tank’) and is empowered to escape from her life when narrative resolution sees Mia driving away with her boyfriend to a new, albeit uncertain life in Wales. Tyler, her younger sister waves her farewell uttering the immortal line, “Say hello to the whales for me”. Tyler is also wayward in that she drinks, smokes, swears but has more of an emotional, dependent loyalty to her mother and ironically is seen in some scenes ‘telling Mia off’ for not attending meetings with the local education authority about getting her back into school. Youth culture in Fish Tank on one level is seen as empowering despite the fact that Mia’s childhood ‘innocence’ has been destroyed by her upbringing as she challenges societal norms, escapes from a recognised collective identity and builds her own future.

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Fish TankKidulthood (2006) and Adulthood (2008) reflect the recent trending of social realism towards youth audiences – central protagonists of social realist films have always been young, angry and alienated but potentially a more compassionate reading is becoming evident. An oppositional reading to this could reference the aspirational genre hybridisationof recent social realist films like ShiftyIll Manors and Shank with the gangster genre. The deviant threat of criminal youth culture could potentially be amplified by the hybridisation with a negative collective urban group reinforced – passive consumption by youth audiences remains a possibility but there are moral messages encoded into the films. Many contemporary social realist films have moral closure e.g. Shaun turning his back on racism at the end of This is England or Ricky’s younger brother Curtis symbolically turning his back on gun crime in Bullet Boy. In Kidulthood, Trevor pays the ultimate price for exploring his individualism with collective identity a key theme of the film in relation to youth and gang culture.

The representation of age is also subject to biological and social constructions. Youth culture is mediated through media representations to an audience who read potential encoded meaning. The TV teen drama Waterloo Road is an interesting text that explores this concept as it main narrative function – the main characters in the drama are school children and teachers, often teachers ‘saving’ and looking after their charges with parents rarely seen throughout the nine series. A latent meaning from Waterloo Road, and on occasional manifest is how the programme takes a critical approach to parenting, often blaming parents within the narrative for the anti social behavior of the children. Originally set in Rochdale (Greater Manchester) it again, like many other British media representations of youth makes clear correlations with deviant, anti social behavior linking with working class culture. The programme moved from a dysfunctional school in Rochdale to an independent academy in Greenock, Scotland for the eighth series but for the ninth series currently airing (as of February 2014) the school has lost its benefactor and has returned to a comprehensive status.

Waterloo Road in its ninth series presents audiences with exaggerated narratives that deal with hyper real, although potentially realist scenarios including a teacher discovering a pupil is suffering from neglect, finding out her brother is dealing cocaine from their family home, a kidnapping by a supply teacher, alcoholism and social exclusion – Gabriella, a pupil from a privileged middle class family who has recently been excluded from school arrives in Greenock as a form of ‘tough love’ metered out to her by her parents. Other themes explored over the years have included homosexuality, racism, rape, cancer, divorce and suicide; all directly involving the children in the school. The programme borrows from soap opera conventions in terms of familiarity with character and setting also the dramatic nature of the representations encoding at times a form of hegemonic cultural stereotyping (common formainstream texts aimed at mass audiences).

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Waterloo Road concerns itself with negative and positive representations of youth culture with an emphasis on the negative. David Buckingham, in Youth, Identity and Digital Mediaexplores the idea of deviance and delinquency as a social problem which legitimises various forms of treatments e.g. the work of social, educational and clinical agencies that seek to rehabilitate troublesome youth. ‘Problems’ are omnipresent in the drama, normalising the traumatic world of the teenager by way of hegemonic representations suggesting even that narrative events are a form of rites of passage. While good drama is not always born from ‘normal’, non dramatic representations Waterloo Road perpetuates the idea of ‘youth as trouble’ and successfully marginalises working class youth culture into a collective identity.

On the other side of the social class spectrum, Outnumbered is a British situation comedy based in west London that focuses on the role of the children within a middle class, barely functional family. Sue and Pete are literally outnumbered by their children who do not conform and engage in stereotypically adult dialogue with their parents, suggesting a form of pluralistic representation. It is worth remembering however the fact that the programme follows mainstream genre sitcom conventions and is scheduled on BBC1. Audiences are positioned into understanding the innocence of childhood and into ‘feeling the love’ in that there is a clear feel good element to the show as the two central parent protagonistsactually like each other which is a key appeal – cynically the show has surveillance aspects to it and it is actually promoting the ideology of a middle class, nuclear family lifestyle. Although the children on one level challenge cultural stereotypes they exist within the safety and parameters of a stable family environment. To explore representations of youth in British comedy further it is often worth turning to C4 and E4 for more alternative approaches that potentially offer a more obvious critique of hegemonic constructs revealing collective identity.

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Misfits for example was a science fiction comedy drama broadcast on E4 between 2009 and 2013 about a group of young offenders sentenced to work in a community programme service where they obtain supernatural powers. On one level, the comedy presents audiences with the familiar idea of ASBO teens (audience identification) but represents them in a likeable way. By giving them superpowers it directly contradicts the negative stereotype, offering audiences a point of view from the protagonists themselves. As with parents inWaterloo Road adult roles are represented negatively with characters like probation officers being represented as monsters – this leads audiences onto a latent preferred meaning that what is in fact monstrous is the negative representations of youth in society and the whole idea of stereotyping. Again linked in with working class culture, the programme is a genuine site of struggle exploring societal hegemonic constructs through humour. As with any text however, the audience is crucial and as with all E4 programing, the positive representation of youth culture may be explained by the niche 15-35 target audience.

Film and television, despite social networking and viral interactivity are still one-way narratives that either challenge, reinforce (or sometimes both) the idea of youth and collective identity. Perhaps looking at digital technology and developing further the role of the prosumer is a way of analysing the changing representation of youth culture in society with young people constantly exploiting new commercial opportunities. Memes are quite an interesting construct as a shared representation and Facebook also makes a perfect case study to discuss notions of the construction of ones own identity. Michael Wesch suggests the idea of peer to peer sharing has led the to fragmentation and implosion of traditional youth identity. Henry Jenkins reinforces this by challenging the dominant, mainstream belief that internet communication reduces social skills by stating instead, that users are actively participating in multiple communication. Without end loading this resource with theoretical input this in turn would support David Buckingham’s argument of the fragmentation of traditional collective identity. Digital technology, of all media is fundamentally changing the concept of collective identity while traditional media still mediates cultural stereotypes but dependent on audience and context. Audiences still expect these representations but are increasingly challenged by moves towards self-construction and pluralism within a changing hegemonic framework.

  • Homogenous Group: A group that all have the same characteristics
  • Mediation: The selection and construction of material in how it is given over to audiences via editing and point of view
  • Hegemony: Traditional stereotypes that are reinforced and circulated as common sense to audiences
  • Marginisalisation: How stereotyping can lead to someone or a social group being ‘placed’ on the outside of accepted cultural norms
  • Ideology: An overarching set of ideas often uses as a form of social control
  • Moral Panics: Issues in society that often lead to the blaming, and marginalisation of a scapegoat
  • Deviancy Amplification: Associated with moral panics, this explains how the media exaggerate a negative representation to ensure a dominant shared reading
  • Liberalisation: A more diverse, tolerant, equally acceptable approach
  • Pluralism: Again, more liberal suggesting and range of different, challenging representations
  • Web 2.0: Interactive internet media e.g. blogs and social networking
  • Manifest: Obvious, on the surface meaning
  • Cultural Stereotyping: The stereotyping of social groups in society by the media
  • Prosumer: A producer and consumer of media
  • Passive Audiences: Audiences that accept and do not challenge representations
  • Iconic: Well known and respected
  • Aspiration: Looking up to something or somebody
  • Encoding/Decoding: Putting meaning in, taking meaning out
  • Dominant, Negotiated and Oppositional Readings: The intended meaning of a text, where meaning is uncertain or where audience have decoded a completely different reading
  • Anchorage: How meaning is made more definite
  • Binary Oppositions: Where representations are deliberately different to construct further meaning
  • Latent Meaning: Less obvious meaning
  • Memes: Internet ‘stars’