Back in July we launched a new website examining celebrity’s significance in the construction of young people’s aspirations, trying to make the our findings as widely accessible as possible. This mythbusting site is aimed at those who work with young people – including teachers, careers educators and youth workers. The site presents evidence from our two-year study to debunk a series of powerful and stigmatising myths about young people, including ‘young people want to get rich quick’, ‘young people have low aspirations’, ‘young people don’t value hard work’ and ‘young people are obsessed with celebrity culture’.
One of the lovely things about working on this project with Heather is that we both love cinema. Frequently we will send text messages to each other about a recent release. We both love film for what pleasures it offers as well as how it stimulates ideas about sociological issues that we are engaged with. Very frequently these texts articulate things that our academic language cannot – similar to the ways in which Heather has written about fiction. Recently we both watched a film that generated very different reactions, as discussed by Heather in her recent blog on Gone Girl‘s Amy. In this post, Kim responds by exploring her anger at the film’s misogyny. (Please note there are spoilers so don’t read this if you are yet to see the film.)
It seems like everyone’s blogging about the movie Gone Girl, arguing over whether the central character Amy Dunne is a symbol of how much Hollywood (and the world) hates women or an icon of feminism or postfeminism. All of these responses seem to ignore Amy herself. In this blog Heather suggests that we should try harder to see Amy and other femme fatales on their own terms rather than insisting on reading them simply as symbols of something else.
Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind.
I’ve just finished reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and was struck by how much more pleasurable, insightful, provocative and better written it is than nearly all of the hundreds upon hundreds of academic books and articles I’ve read – as the exquisite quotation above on memory suggests. Beyond such quotations, Woolf’s narrative of Orlando – a person who lives for centuries, spontaneously changes from male to female and has sex with both men and women (including after changing into a woman) – says things about gender and temporality that I feel can’t be said outside of fiction. Reading novels, watching drama and otherwise engaging with fictions and fantasies has enriched my thinking so much, I’ve long wondered why I – and other academics – don’t reference these texts more often in our own work.
Emma Watson and Beyoncé, two of our six female case-study celebrities have recently publicly identified as feminists and issued calls for action to redress gender inequalities. This has provoked a deluge of opinion pieces and blogs, especially this week when it seems like everyone from Owen Jones in the Guardian to Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett in the New Statesman has jumped online to support Watson in the face of threats online to release nude photos of her following her speech at the UN. There’s also been a widespread celebration of her as making feminist an easier identity for men to admit in public. Given the ongoing discussion about this within mainstream media and the blogosphere, we’ve been left wondering if there’s anything left to say. But having closely followed the media representation of these two celebrities over the last two years, we’ve been struck by some contrasts between the responses to their two very similar articulations of feminism. While Emma’s speech generated the kinds of misogynistic e-bile increasingly levelled at women in the public sphere, she has been widely celebrated for her feminism. Far more criticism has been levelled at Beyoncé with commentators, many of them feminist, declaring her hypocritical for speaking about empowerment while posing scantily clad in her music videos and photoshoots and proudly naming herself ‘Mrs Carter’.
Before starting on the CelebYouth project, Aisha was vaguely familiar with some of our case study celebrities, though she knew very little about them. She had heard of Kate Middleton, Prince Harry, Emma Watson, Will Smith, Katie Price, Tom Daley, Beyonce and Justin Bieber. However, this project introduced her to Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, Mario Balotelli and Bill Gates. Over the course of three months of working closely with the celebrity case studies in coding data including their music videos, newspaper articles about them, their biographies and Twitter feeds she became increasingly familiar with these celebrity personalities and their mediation. In this post Aisha explores her journey as a researcher and the ways in which she responded to specific celebrities. She shares how the process of the research impacted on her perceptions towards celebrities, using Katie Price and Nicki Minaj as examples.
We learnt about a lot of things from the young people who we interviewed for this project. YouTubers opened up a whole new world of micro-celebrities, people whose fame derives from their channels on this website rather than via the more traditional media of television and film. Although there’s a growing number of influential young women beauty vloggers, the YouTubers who came up in our data were mostly male gamers, animators or comedians. But two women stood out: Tampon Girl who was hated and Jenna Marbles who was loved. As we explored their channels, Jenna Marbles struck us as someone challenging dominant ideas around women, weight loss and fashion. In her latest and 200th video, which we discuss in this post, she challenges dominant ideas of aspiration, success and the future.
Most of us see the mass media as something from which other people need protecting. We, in contrast, view ourselves as having the strength to withstand its influence and the insight to see through its lies. Usually these other people are younger than us and they’re more likely to be male than female, and more likely to be working class than middle class. This tendency to see other people as vulnerable to media corruption has been found so often in research studies that it’s become called ‘the third-person effect’. In this post Heather looks briefly at how far this came through in our group interview data.
On the 10th and 11th July, we hosted our end of award event to celebrate and reflect on the past two years of researching young people and celebrity culture. 22 months, 6 schools, 148 young people, 24 group interviews, 51 individual interviews, nearly 4000 minutes of interview data, 12 celebrity case studies… We couldn’t quite believe the end (or at least the official end) was here….
So the project officially ended last week. This means that the money stops flowing. This also means that Aisha, our wonderful researcher, has left Brunel – though we hope to have her back for a month in the autumn to do some writing. Aisha was only on the project for three months but in that time she presented with us in London and Chicago, tweeted and blogged @CelebYouthUK, designed a fabulous pull up banner, watched and made notes on videos of Prince Harry, Nicki Minaj, Katie Price and Mario Balotelli, and coded these and the rest of the case study dataset. Most recently she helped Heather direct a series of short films based on our data (coming to a YouTube channel near you soon). You can see the multi-talented Aisha in her comedy debut below.