Young people’s access to housing is under the spotlight in the UK. The Housing and Planning Bill is currently being debated in the House of Lords, and there are campaigns across the country for people to have a right to secure housing. Many of the young people we spoke to as part of the celebyouth project talked about where they lived now and in the future – with popular culture being one resource they drew on to talk about their lives. In this guest blog post, blogger and writer Chris Smith discusses how reality TV represents housing, and what impact this might have on young people’s aspirations.
Hindsight is an interesting thing. There are things that we are exposed to early during our childhoods that can have a lasting effect on our opinions and attitudes well into adulthood. For members of the so-called millennial generation, there is multitude of TV programming that we can look back at now, and consider how they might shape the attitudes of their target audiences. In the early 2000’s there began a trend of different reality TV shows that were marketed towards young people, the majority of which were from the USA. Examples of these types of programmes, mainly made by MTV, include Pimp My Ride, 16 And Pregnant, My Super Sweet 16, and in later years Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Jersey Shore, and Made in Chelsea.
In 2000, MTV launched one of its most popular franchises, ‘Cribs’. The show featured celebrities and media personalities giving guided tours of their homes and mansions. A large mix of people were involved with Cribs during its original 11 year run, before it moved to MTV’s sister network CMT to focus on celebrities specific to the South East of the USA. Throughout the MTV years of the show, which was broadcast extensively in the UK, young people saw inside the homes of many celebrities, mainly musicians, including Ozzy Osbourne, Snoop Dogg, Tony Hawk, Lil Wayne, and somewhat memorably out of place, Richard Branson.
What we saw was opulence of the highest order. Sprawling mansions in places like Beverly Hills, sports cars, jet-skis, swimming pools, and in the case of boxer Floyd Mayweather, random piles of money. What we have to ask ourselves is how has this form of aspirational television come to inform the attitudes of young people towards housing? Especially now that urban areas around the UK, London particularly, are in the midst of a housing crisis. February’s article featuring guest blogger Anita Biressi raised some interesting points around television programmes that are targeted toward children today and the potential effects that they could have on the people who watched them, and how their attitudes may be shaped in broader terms.
Today, both the government and banks are offering advice and products to help young people to get on the property ladder in an effort to resolve this problem, as the percentage of young people who own a home is now at its lowest level since 1996. Economic forces will ultimately dictate the house prices, but the attitudes to home ownership are a much less tangible thing to quantify. What this form of programming did imply to the viewer was that owning extensive property was a form of success, and herein lies the problem.
The millennial generation has been brought up on the likes of Cribs, as well as other so-called ‘aspirational’ reality TV programmes such as the aforementioned Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Made In Chelsea. What these programmes have in common is that they take place inside the homes of their ‘stars’. Whether it is inside studio apartments that look onto Central Park in New York, or town houses in Mayfair, the backdrop to these TV programmes is one of high class property, and therefore a measure of success, regardless of whether or not there is any reality in what is being shown on screen.
What we’re left with is an unending cycle, where we have a group of people who have been brought up to believe that a key indicator of success is owning their own home, and a housing economy that effectively denies them access, despite the best efforts of the government. There needs to exist a greater degree of accountability when it comes to what we are choosing to show young people, and what they might interpret as success because ultimately, the system is not working in their favour.
The main thing protecting young people of falling into a trap of unachievable aspirations presented by the media is their own cynicism towards what they are shown. Research by the University of Georgia, as reported quite fittingly by MTV, found that Millennials are the most cynical generation ever. Granted, this research was carried out to gauge the opinions of young people living in the USA, but the trend can be expanded across the pond to the UK, with the global nature of social media influencing the attitudes of young people the world over. As long as young people are able to not take everything that is targeted at them completely at face value, they will be a stronger position to create their own personal vision of success. Ideally, one that isn’t defined by pop stars and actors and their vast mansions filled with material possessions.
Chris Smith is a blogger and writer, with a focus on finance, as well as the relationship between sport and finance. He blogs at Spend It Like Beckham.
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