In this guest post for the CelebYouth blog, Gemma Ahearne a PhD student from Liverpool John Moores University, looks at the regulation of class and gender in UK TV programme Snog Marry Avoid in which ‘ordinary’ women can get their 15 minutes of fame by transforming from ‘bad girls’ to ‘good girls’ and subjecting themselves to the scrutiny of the male audience and the camera.
On 9th May, The Education Secretary Michael Gove delivered a keynote speech at a conference hosted by Brighton College (The Sunday Times ‘Best Independent School’ no less). The title – What does it mean to be an educated person? – is provocative enough, but the full speech is really something else. There has already been a lot of excellent analysis of Gove’s sneering and patronising speech on twitter, in cartoon form, on several blogs (a great example being this by The Plashing Vole), among professional associations, and in the news. We don’t want to repeat too much of this, but rather to draw attention to three key issues about education reform and aspirations discourse under this government – crystalised within Gove’s speech – which continue to raise concern for us.
On 7th May the UK’s Guardian newspaper carried a short story headlined “Brian Cox urges BBC to do more to educate viewers”. It reports that, in an interview in Radio Times, Physicist and Science TV presenter Brian Cox said:
Television is the most powerful way of getting ideas across. Often, it doesn’t take its responsibilities seriously. … We have had enough of talent shows. I don’t want my kids exposed to them and get it into their minds there’s a shortcut to riches. I want them to go to university and work hard for everything they get.
While we welcome the recognition of the importance of television as a pedagogical tool, we are troubled by some of the assumptions underlying Cox’s statement about young people’s aspirations and their relationship to Reality TV talent shows. In this blog, Kim and Heather share their concerns.
We’ve already started to talk about our work to journalists, in our universities, and even at the South Bank Centre. We have more conferences and events planned in coming months. We’re doing a workshop at Gender and Education Conference at London South Bank University on 26th April and a talk at the Education and Learning: Sociological Perspectives Conference at the University of Surrey on 25th September. As more events come up we’ll post them on the website, tweet them and announce them in the newsletter so do sign up on the right if you want to stay in touch.
The team have now started collecting data on our 12 case study celebrities. Over the next six months we will be collecting data from an array of sources – including Twitter, Facebook and national newspapers – as we track the media representations of our case study celebs and discourses of aspiration within these. We will also be analysing other supplementary texts that appear to be central to their celebrity image and ‘back story’ including their autobiographies, documentaries, and their TV shows, films or music. As Heather recently reported, these additional sources are wide and varied – culminating in a rather bizarre but completely legitimate Amazon order from Brunel University. In this post, Kim makes some emerging observations from the case study data collection, and remakes on the inescapability of one celebrity in particular.
It’s strange (and slightly disturbing) to think that I’ve been researching young people’s educational and employment choices and aspirations for over a decade now – from my doctorate, that looked at gender and the choice to study maths, to this current project. One thing I’ve noticed is how young people increasingly cite happiness as a rationale for their choices. This happiness is seen by those citing it, both to offer freedom and to guarantee the future. But in this post I want to question this by showing how happiness carries its own constraints.
I’ve recently submitted my strangest work-related Amazon order ever for research materials to support our case studies of twelve celebrities so I thought I’d share it via the blog. We’ve picked twelve celebrities who came up repeatedly in our group interviews and who seemed to have significance for the young people to whom we spoke. They are: Beyonce, Bill Gates, Emma Watson, Justin Bieber, Kate Middleton, Katie Price, Kim Kardashian, Mario Balotelli, Nicki Minaj, Prince Harry, Tom Daley and Will Smith. In addition to focusing on three sources of data across six months, we’re swotting up on our case study celebs’ back stories hence the Amazon order. So, what did we choose?
Interviewer: Is there anything you would like to be known for [in the future]?
Jason: Um, no, not right now.
Our first phase of data collection is almost complete, and the team are currently working their way through pages upon pages of transcripts from 24 group interviews with year 10 and 12 pupils from six schools across England. In this post, Kim reflects on some of the emerging findings and the thornier methodological issues arising for us as a team.
As part of this research we’re doing case studies of 12 celebrities that came up in the group interviews. In December we blogged a tentative top 12 based on fieldwork in our first three schools. We’ve now visited two more schools, Merlin, in the rural South West, and Windsor, in Manchester (all the names we use in our writing are pseudonyms). Our final school pulled out at the last minute and we’ve had to arrange a replacement but have decided to pick our case studies based on where we’re at now so that we can get started on the data collection. In this post I reveal who they are…