Pharrell’s ‘new black’ : on racism, happiness and not being a ‘sore point’

Written by Kim. Posted in News

pharrell-oprah-interview-1We’ve been struck by news this week that Pharrell Williams – successful music producer, singer and collaborator – has asserted his belief in ‘the New Black’.  In an interview with US chat show host Oprah Winfrey, Williams stated that he represented a different kind of black identity:

The “new black” doesn’t blame other races for our issues. The “new black” dreams and realizes that it’s not a pigmentation; it’s a mentality. And it’s either going to work for you, or it’s going to work against you. And you’ve got to pick the side you’re gonna be on.

In this post Kim troubles Pharrell’s move, arguing that it denies the ongoing realities of racism.

Extreme neoliberalism: Will Smith and mathematics

Written by Heather. Posted in News

Neoliberalism, the marketisation of everything, including ourselves, runs through our data. Indeed we’ve encountered several of examples of  ’extreme neoliberalism’ where celebrities find ever more excessive and expressive ways to convince us that their wealth and success derive not from luck or privilege but from superhuman levels of hard work and self-transformation. In a recent example, US actor Matthew McConaughey used his Oscars speech to tell us that his hero is himself in ten years, writing his success as the result of endless striving. However, it is the actor, musician and celebrity dad Will Smith who continues to provide the most compelling examples of extreme neoliberalism. Memorably, he once assured us that his commitment to sickening hard work is such that he would rather die than get off a treadmill before someone else. In this post Heather focuses on her favourite example from Will Smith in which he claims that he can choose the answer to two plus two.

Aisha Ahmad joins the research team

Written by Aisha Ahmad. Posted in News

Aisha is an avid footballer and has been capped three times for the British Muslim women’s football team.  Aisha is CEO and founder of an inter-faith sports charity All Sports Women.  The charity was established to encourage cross-cultural dialogue through sports participation, with the hope of using sport as a means to bridge the gap between different faith groups and cultures.  Aisha continues to challenge stereotypical notions of the ‘Asian woman’ through her academic research and community involvement.  In this post Aisha tells us a little bit more about her research.

What to make of Matthew McConaughey’s Oscars acceptance speech?

Written by Kim. Posted in News

Awards ceremonies are fascinating sites of analysis for those studying celebrity. While increasingly staged and manipulated, these ceremonies continue to offer the public the chance to catch a glimpse of famous people ‘being themselves’, promising us a rare insight into who they ‘really are’ behind their star image – from the red carpet interviews or falls (see Jennifer Lawrence) to candid shots of after party revelry. In this post Kim and Heather focus on one of the more rehearsed aspects of Awards shows – the acceptance speech. Here celebrities get a chance to represent themselves – as generous in acknowledging the co-workers, as family men and women, as political – as when Marlon Brando refused to attend the Academy Awards and sent Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American civil rights activist to speak in his place as a protest against the treatment of American Indians by the film industry. Here we focus on a neglected gem of a speech from this year’s Academy Awards, that by Matthew McConaughey, which contained the remarkable revelation that he is his own role model.

“Middle class universities must learn to become more working class”

Written by Kim. Posted in News

This week, the Telegraph newspaper – often referred to as ‘Torygraph’ – published a highly provocative article, entitled “Working class children must learn to be middle class to get on in life, government advisor says” which reported on recent comments made by Peter Brant, head of policy at the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. Leaving aside for a moment that this is not exactly what Brant said, this piece is oozing with symbolic violence and provides another example of the narrow and problematic notions of aspiration, class and social mobility held by our politicians, policymakers and the right-wing media. In this guest blog post, Jessie Abrahams – a ‘working class’ student who attended an elite university and has researched social class and belonging – offers an alternative perspective.

The Homeward Bound Campaign: Using celebrity culture to promote social justice issues

Written by Heather. Posted in News

No question, celebrity culture is fascinated with mothers and motherhood, from bad mums, good mums, reformed bad girl mums, out-of-control mothers, to the domineering ‘mumager’ and so on. Oftentimes, these images of celebrity mothers are shaped by gender, race and class ideologies; that makes some kinds of mothers more desirable or respectable than others, typically white, heterosexual, middle-class mothers. Celebrity motherhood has become big business too, as many women have created lifestyle brands using their mothering style as a selling feature (see Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, Jessica Simpson, Tori Spelling, just to name a few). For some of these women, pregnancy became their ticket to public reformation; allowing them to transition from “bad girl” to “happy, fulfilled, doting mother”. However, many are also very critical of this celebration of celebrity motherhood for creating even more unrealistic standards/ideals for the average woman who does not have the privilege of being helped by a staff of nannies, cooks and trainers. In this guest post, Natasha Patterson explores what a new Canadian campaign to support single mothers, has to say about debates on celebrity motherhood and about parodying celebrity culture to promote women’s issues.

What do young people think of Beyoncé?

Written by Heather. Posted in News

beyonce 1This is the third of a series of posts exploring what the young people in our group interviews had to say about key global celebrities. Here Heather looks at the talk about singer and actor Beyoncé. Elsewhere on the website you can read what our participants had to say about Bill Gates and about Will Smith. If you’re interested in how we analysed our data to arrive at this account then follow this link, here I focus on how and why it appeared to be compulsory to like, even love, Beyoncé.

Celebrity Teachers? Tough Young Teachers, social class and inspiration

Written by Heather. Posted in News

We are now coming to the end of the reality TV series Tough Young Teachers. This show, screened by UK publicly-funded youth channel BBC Three, focuses on the lives of six beginning teachers in ‘challenging’ London schools. We see these new teachers taking their first lessons. We hear their frustrations and their triumphs. We follow their progress through the ups and downs of the year. This makes good television, as the number of excited tweets each week using #ToughYoungTeachers indicates. However, among the enthusiasm is a strand of critique and concern coordinated by TeacherROAR, for the show focuses not on any first year teachers but on those who enter teaching through a relatively small but rapidly expanding route into teaching: Teach First. Politically popular with both the Labour party and the Conservatives, Teach First brings many fantastic – mostly young – people into teaching. So why the resistance? While Michael Gove may see this as yet more evidence that many teachers are leftie ‘enemies of promise’ more interested in ideology than in supporting young people, in this post Heather shows why we really should be concerned about Teach First and its celebrity teachers.

Character, Values and Celebrity Culture

Written by Heather. Posted in News

Celebrities make the headlines with such regularity, you could be forgiven for concluding that as a society, we are completely obsessed by celebrity culture. We consistently volunteer an interest in the things celebrities do or say – particularly when their antics are less than admirable. There tends to be a sense of ambivalence about our attitudes towards celebrities: they are either adored or exalted; defended or attacked; glorified or demonised; derided or revered. In this guest blog post, Gary Walsh from Character Scotland, explores the relationship between young people, celebrity culture and character education.

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