Youth – the new folk devils

Media and young people – hyping up new folk devils|22Sep07|Socialist Worker

This is a link to an interesting piece by academic Mike Wayne, published in the British Socialist Worker newspaper. Wayne is a researcher in media and I’ve read his work, particularly on global capitalism and media forms. It is a good follow up my previous post about tasering students and how cops now think it’s normal to shoot thousands of volts through people who are disturbing the peace.

In this article, Mike Wayne is commenting on new attempts to demonise young people and he’s got the research data to back up his claims. In case you don’t want to read the whole piece, here’s a grab that sets the record straight about media coverage of youth. There’s no balance here just commodified celebrity role models – spend, consume, shut up – and deviant bastards – shut up, lock up.

I have been working with a team of researchers at Brunel university looking at how young people are portrayed on television news.

Our analysis covered 2,130 news items across all the main television channels during May 2006.

We found 286 stories in which young people were the main subject of the news item. Twenty eight percent of these stories focused on young celebrities such as footballers Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott.

This mirrored the wider role that young people play in commercial culture.

The overwhelming majority of the rest of the stories, 82 percent, focused on young people as either perpetrators or victims of crime.

Violent crime made up 90 percent of these crime related stories.

Across the entire sample violent crime figured in 304 cases. And in 42 percent of these, offenders or suspects were young people.

Yet while looming large in the popular imagination as threats

to people and property, young people themselves have little voice in news world.

Young people accounted for only 1 percent of all the sources for interviews and opinions that were on offer over the sample.

Predictably, crime was the major topic on which they were asked to speak.

These results show that even television news – our most public service orientated source of information and knowledge – is in effect turning young people into non-citizens to be feared.

This is not an argument for “good news” stories about young people, although that could do little harm.

This is about the one dimensional picture of young people’s lives which the media and news offers to us.

Where are the stories about how young people are affected by problems in housing, education, health, unemployment, parental abuse, politics and so forth? And where are even the most banal indicators in the coverage of crime that point beyond the individual person or event?

This encourages fear and condemnation rather than any understanding or criticism of some of the major political and economic institutions that are responsible for the tearing the social fabric apart.

The crisis around young people will only get worse if the quality of public debate does not get better.

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