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Representation: How Have the Youth of Today Been Portrayed in Documentaries Essay

The youth of today are viewed as being an uncontrollable generation; events such as the London Riots have created a shift of perspective of youths in the United Kingdom. This uncontrollable generation is depicted through social issues such as binge drinking, drugs, smoking; as well as violence and unemployment. Most of the representations in the media today are exaggerated to an extent for entertainment purposes; such as documentaries, news and reality television shows.

I will be looking into documentaries to view how the youth of today are being portrayed whether it is positive or negative and if it conforms to cultural stereotypes of society. The image of teenagers has changed over the many years with Stanley Cohen’s Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of Mods and Rocker (1972); has led the innovative discussion on the constantly growing image of the teenager. He used moral panics to describe the emergence of individuals or groups to become defined ‘as a threat to societal values and interests’ [1].

His book has been evolutionary to the perspective of teenagers and his inspection of youth gangs; most notably the ‘Mods and Rockers’. This links to the London riots of 2011 that had shook the nation, the tension between gangs and the police grew resulting into chaos. Such a social issue is viewed as a taboo of the current era and the media took a pivotal role to generate facts and spread anxiety and fear; thus creating a Moral Panic in the UK. The first documentary that I will be analysing is Channel 4’s documentary ‘Educating Essex’.

The Passmores School in Harlow, Essex, is a successful school in a challenging area. The documentary exposes what life is really like for today’s students and teachers. The school had been rigged with 65 fixed cameras – from the corridors to the canteen, and from the head teacher’s office to the detention hall – to reveal every detail of daily life. The first programme of the series joins the deputy head at Passmores School in Essex and sees how he deals with emotional teenagers. The depiction of teenagers in this documentary varies and the audience views a lot of head on confrontation between students and teachers.

The young adults in this documentary are all shown to be underachievers who hassle teachers, and cause problems within the classroom. The portrayal of teenagers in the series is progressively negative, due to their constant confrontations with teachers and their actions in lesson. The dress code of the adolescence in this documentary is disordered. This is shown to the public to allow viewing what teenagers look like at school and the deteriorating education system. The documentary also displays the binary oppositions between the student and teacher, and soon it becomes the centre of attention of the documentary.

Channel 4’s documentary making is heavily edited (also mediated) and shows only the points of commotion throughout the day at the secondary school. The target audience is identified through the documentaries use of colloquial language. The target audience is teenagers and young adults/ parent with the ages ranging from 14- 24 years. Most will watch as to identify with the students, but some may watch for information. The media plays a key role in the representation of teenagers as well as influencing their young minds.

In the research paper: The Influence of Media Violence on Youth; ‘violent television and films, video games, and music reveal unequivocal evidence that media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behaviour in both immediate and long-term contexts’[2]. The research paper goes on to describe how reality television, gaming and music are leaders in the influence of youngsters minds. In Dr Kate Orton-Johnsons talk on Youth Culture, Media and Society she describes how ‘Mass media plays a crucial role in shaping public opinion about youth culture and the various forms of social practices that young people engage in’ [3].

Albert Bandura’s: Bobo-Doll Experiment highlighted the role of social imitation of aggression. Thus, the more you are exposed to violence the more you are prone to repeat the same acts that you as the individual have witnessed [4]. The second documentary I will be analysing is Ross Kemp on Gangs: Liverpool where he visits Liverpool to investigate the infamous postcode L11 gangs. The murder of an 11-year-old boy in a Liverpool suburb alerted the country to the city’s escalating gang culture. Rhys Jones was an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire of gang war.

Ross Kemp goes in search of the youth gangs said to be causing mayhem on Liverpool’s streets and asks whether this area is becoming a reputation of a hub of gun and gang crime. Ross Kemps documentary style is investigative and it involves one of ‘the six types of modes of documentary’ [5] that Bill Nicholas identified. This documentary in particular involves the participatory mode of documentation in which the film maker is directly involved with the subject, while all events are recorded. The youngsters in this documentary are portrayed as being violent, ignorant and unemployed.

This conforms to the cultural stereotypes of the ‘teenager’. The guardian newspaper wrote an article on the cultural stereotypes that young adults face and tries to show the two ends of the spectrum. The article allows youngsters to have an input to the stereotypes that they face and express their view on the issue at hand. ‘It doesn’t matter how you look, speak or dress, the only criterion required is whether you’re a young person’ [6]. The newspaper highlights a binary opposition between youths and adults.

Ross Kemps approach to the youngsters in this documentary appears to be welcoming. As he interviews them he climaxes the fact that young men from deprived, and that neglected areas are failed by the state and thus, these youngsters resort to violence, drugs and overall suffer from unemployment as a consequence. These young adults are not only failed by the state but also on behalf of the education system and their parent. This documentary is revealed to be somewhat sympathetic towards the youth of today reiterating the fact that youngsters are victims of the adult world.


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