'How does the representation of youth culture change over time' Essay - Media Studies


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This is a long essay i wrote on the representation of youth culture in films changing over time. I got an A* grade for this essay, so feel free to use it for revision purposes.
You can visit my A2 media studies blog at jademeladya2media.blogspot.com

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'How does the representation of youth culture change over time' Essay - Media Studies

  1. 1. Jade Melady How does the representation of youth culture change over time? Youth culture is “the sum of ways of living of adolescents; it refers to the body of norms, values, and practices recognised and shared by members of the adolescent society as appropriate guides to actions”. Youth culture elements include beliefs, behaviours, styles, locations and interests, and also have an emphasis on clothes, vocabulary, popular music, sports and behaviours which sets adolescents apart from other age groups, giving them what many believe to be a distinct culture of their own. Within youth culture, there are many constantly changing youth subcultures. These subcultures vary widely and may differ from the general label of youth culture. Being part of a certain youth culture allows us to achieve our personal identity, we adopt values and norms of that culture and that is how we choose to represent ourselves to society. Dave Gauntlet states that “modern societies do not leave individuals in any doubt that they need to make choices of identity and lifestyle”, this suggests that youth has no choice but to be part of a youth subculture because of societal pressures. In his book, Subculture: The meaning of style, Dick Hebdige describes subcultures as a reaction of subordinated groups that challenge the hegemony of the dominant culture. This theory accounts for factors such as gender, ethnicity and age. Youth can be seen as a subordinate group in relation to the dominant, adult society. Youth cultures are re-presented through the various aspects of the media. Youth cultures values, behaviours, and styles are represented both positively and negatively to society. Historical theorist Steven Mintz claims that youth subcultures did not exist until the mid 1950’s. The 1950’s was post war Britain, people were grieving and parts of Britain were still bomb sites. Cosh Boy (1953) by director Lewis Gilbert reflects the hardship of the 1950’s and how youth were a part of that society. Amongst the dark alleys of post-war London Roy Walsh and his gang of juvenile delinquents waylay and rob old ladies. Without parental control from his war-widowed doting mother, already on probation, drifts into more and more devious and serious offences. Roy is represented as the ‘gang leader’ in Cosh Boy and he bosses the other young males around. Throughout the film the fact that it was a patriarchal society is clearly highlighted through the consistent male dominance and female submission. Roy, who lives with his mother and his grandmother after his father and uncles were killed in the war, is now the male in the family, and more often than not disrespects his mother, hurts her and disobeys her, and she is completely obedient to him, showing his power and dominance over her. In the film, Roy also uses violence and power to ‘get the girl’ Rene (played by Joan Collins), a naïve, pretty and virginal girl, who then becomes rebellious and later pregnant after being overpowered by Roy. When Roy refuses to marry her, it is shown that the women in the film a desperate to control their own lives, but they are afraid because they must follow societal rules and be submissive to men. Masculine authority is also portrayed when Roy’s mother re- marries and man called Bob. After Bob witnesses one of Roy’s many crimes, he
  2. 2. Jade Melady goes to punish him, and once the police arrive, they allow Bob to physical punish Roy in order to teach him a lesson. Roy is terrified of Bob and is finally overpowered by another male, as he realises he is no longer in charge. In Cosh Boy, we see a clash of the classes, as the working boy’s rebel against the middle class authority figures and attack the middle class vulnerable women. Cosh Boy is a typical ‘individual against the state’ story, however, in this film, the state wins, as Roy gets punished then sent to prison (as far as we can guess). In a way, Roy’s prominence in the film allows us to create a relationship with the character, so at the end when he is abused, we are made to feel sorry for him. The youth subculture which is most dominant in this film is the early version/beginning of the ‘Teddy Boys’. We can see this through the youths clothing, i.e., Edwardian suits. A Teddy Boy (also known as Ted) is a British subculture typified by young men wearing clothes that were partly inspired by the styles worn by dandies in the Edwardian period, styles which Savile Row tailors had attempted to re-introduce in Britain after World War II. The subculture started in London in the 1950s, and rapidly spread across the UK, soon becoming strongly associated with rock and roll. Originally known as Cosh Boys, the name Teddy Boy was coined when a 1953 Daily Express newspaper headline shortened Edwardian to Teddy. Some Teds formed gangs and gained notoriety following violent clashes with rival gangs which were often exaggerated by the popular press. The Teddy Boy subculture had no doubt an influence on Roy in Cosh Boy and with the pressing hardship of the era, there is no wonder he acts the way he does. The film attempts to reflect the terrible nature of youth in that time period, and how adults should punish them and over power them. However, the same cannot be said for youth culture once we leave the 1950’s. Although the 1960’s was the rise of most subcultures, such as the ‘mods’, ‘rockers’ and ‘hippies’, youth became the interest of everyone else, including filmmakers, because of their high employment rate and disposable income, they had more time for leisure, so had a prominent impact on the economy. Between 1961-1969 the number of students in full time education in the UK almost doubled from 200,000 to 390,000. For these young people there was little dependence on the older generation, and were free to do as they pleased. In Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964), a film about a ‘typical’ day in the life of the Beatles, including many of their famous songs, we are introduced to another individual against the state story, however, in this one the individuals win. Early in the film we see a reporter ask one of the Beatles, “are you a Mod or a Rocker?” attempting to define them to a certain subculture, in order to accept or fear them you could argue. He then replies with, “Neither, I’m a Mocker”. Hear we see the teenager fighting back, not confiding to a certain youth subculture, but embracing them both and not wanting to be defined. This reflects the independence that teenagers had in the 1960’s and represents them as intelligent and talented (the Beatles being the centre of the production). In contrast, the ‘not wanting to be defined’ attitude is not found in the 1970’s. Quadrophenia (1979), although supposed to be set in 1964 it “has very little to do with the high sixties, but everything to do with the period it was filmed in, the late
  3. 3. Jade Melady 70’s” (Article written by Jon Savage). Quadrophenia is a British film, loosely based on the 1973 Rock Opera of the same name by The Who. The film stars Phil Daniels as Jimmy, a Mod. The film accurately mirrors the conflict found between the two subcultures Mods (that dressed in suits and rode scooters and swore a lot) and Rockers (wore a lot of leather, rode motorbikes and looked for trouble with mods). Both subcultures in the film are represented as trouble makers (as seen in the scene with the riots at Brighton Beach) and are seen to be feared by the community. Youth is represented as disrespectful to authority figures and the elderly (for example, when Jimmy tells his boss to stuff his job – in much stronger language!) and violent towards other people and property (again in the Brighton riots). This is similar to Cosh Boy where middle class women feared young men because of the damage they could do, however, in Cosh Boy, Roy and the other boys feared authority, whereas in the 70’s, they are represented as not caring about consequences of disobeying the state/law. The fear of youth culture has not changed much since the late 1970’s, in fact; fear of youth is still apparent and still growing in today’s era. Greg Philo, research director of Glasgow University Media Group says that “the culture of violence is real. But for the British media, its simple – bad upbringing or just evil children. Their accounts of what happened are very partial and distorted, which pushes people towards much more right-wing positions”. Attack the Block (2011) directed by Joe Cornish is a story about a teen gang in South London that defend their block from an alien invasion. This urban London set British film powerfully reflects Levi-Strauss’ idea of binary opposites. Throughout the film binary opposites are apparent, for example, good vs evil. In the beginning we think that the good is the women (or victim) that is attacked by the gang, and the gang is the evil party, however, as the film progresses, we find that the gang are the good and the aliens are evil. The main character, a working class black fifteen year old male, Moses, is represented as violent, but protective. Throughout the film we see him grow from a leader of a violent gang, to a protector of the block, and sacrifices his life or the sake of everyone else. Although initially he is represented negatively, our view is changed when we learn his story, and the film represents the youth as troubled, having no one to look after him and wanting to help other people the best way he can (he gives the ring back to women and apologises after learning she is from his block). Another binary opposite we identify is individual vs the state (once again! As we see this theme hasn’t changed over the years). One way we see this is through language. The gang have their own language such as ‘bruv’ and constant swearing, whereas the police officers for example, as seen to speak quite educated and professionally, and we see these two groups clash constantly throughout the film. We also see a contrast in their dress code. The gang is represented very stereotypically of a group of young troublemakers, by wearing hoodies, flat peaks and trainers (iconography associated with young people) which automatically allows the audience to identify with already pre-existing ideas about youth culture from the media (as the hypodermic needle theory suggests we passively receive this information) which is in immediate contrast to the smart ironed
  4. 4. Jade Melady black and white uniforms of the police officers. Attack the Block can be interpreted to only conform to stereotypes for humorous purposes. The film and the others I have mentioned are mainly only made for a teenage audience (15-24), as adults might misunderstand the meaning and humour the films, and may interpret them as factual about youth culture. The same can be said for teenage comedy The Inbetweeners Movie (2011), a film about four socially troubled 18 year old boys from the south of England that go on holiday to Malia. Adults would not get the humour and references of the film like teenagers would, which is its target audience. In the film they are represented as foul mouthed and troubled delinquents that chase females and are stereotypically not very bright. The females are represented as sexual objects in the boys eyes, as they are in Cosh Boy and Kidulthood, so the dominance of males has not changed over the years, however, towards the end of the film the boys release how wrong they were and the females make the rules, over powering them and becoming the centre of the film, not the boys. The traditional view of women as a housewife or low-status workers has been kicked out of the picture by the feisty, successful ‘girl-power’ icons. Meanwhile the masculine ideals of absolute toughness, stubborn self-reliance and emotional silence have been shaken by a new emphasis on men’s emotions, need for advice, and the problems of masculinity. Although gender categories have not been shattered entirely these alternative ideas and images have at least created space for a greater diversity of identities, explained by Dave Gauntlett in Media and Collective Identity. In the Inbetweeners we see how the representation of youth has changed over time because of the way they are seen as so independent. The characters in the film go off on holiday with no retaliation from their parents, their head teacher doesn’t care about their lives and they are free to say and do as they please, whereas in the 1950’s, we see in Cosh Boy, the boys have to sneak around in order to see their friends or girlfriends, and are in total fear of authoritive males, but in the 21st century teenagers are seen as the ruler of adults (such as in Attack the Block where adults fear youth and they rule the block). Interactionist theorist Stanley Cohen argues youth subcultures are not coherent social groupings that arise spontaneously as a reaction to social forces, but that mass media labelling results in the creation of youth subcultures by imposing an ideological framework in which people can locate their behaviour. Cohen also proposed the idea of Moral Panics. A moral panic is an intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order. Those who start the panic when they fear a threat to prevailing social or cultural values are known by researchers as moral entrepreneurs, while people who supposedly threaten the social order have been described as ‘folk devils’. In application, youth culture over the years has been often represented as the folk devils, and the media as the moral entrepreneurs that alert us to the danger of youth culture. For example, in Kidulthood (2006), youths and gangs are seen to be disrupting the social order in
  5. 5. Jade Melady west London with violence, drugs and murder. Also, in Cosh Boy (1953) the police, Roy’s mother and society are terrified of Roy and his gang and what they have been doing, again representing the youths as the folk devils. The idea that youths cause moral panics by being folk devils has not changed over the years as we can see from media interpretations in various sub-cultural films. Throughout each era, a group has emerged who ‘fits’ the criteria, such as Teddy Boys, Mods, Rockers, Skinheads, and Chavs. They all become associated with certain types of violence, which in turn also provoke pubic reactions and emotions, as topics in their own right. In conclusion, although youth subcultures in themselves have only changed slightly over time, their representations and interpretations have not. Youth from the 1950s and earlier up until now have always been represented as the evil party in the media. In the films I have looked at youth subcultures are represented as violent delinquents that cause harm to society and societal values, and these views have not changed over time.