The representation of British Youth Culture over the last 50 years, from
when it first began and the term “teenager” was coined, to modern day
2014, has changed dramatically in some ways, and remained perfectly
the same in others.
The Media has certainly grown in its influence, with the increase and
development of technology being a key factor, and portrayals have
certainly become more extreme. However, ultimately, if simplified,
representations haven‟t altered: Teenagers are still the enemy and are
just as demonised by the Media as they were in the 1950‟s.
Rise of Youth Culture
Prior to the 1950's, the term “teenager” didn't exist. Young people began to break away
from the tradition of following in their parents' footsteps and this movement, which has
continued to grow since then, was revolutionary, particularly for the media, who both
feared and revered it.
So, why did Youth refuse to conform nor become 'Adults in training'?
Post-WW2, there was a feeling of restlessness
A need to differentiate themselves from their parents and inhabit a separate identity
Birth of pop-culture
The 1950's was a period of economic prosperity
A climate of change – The idea of change being a necessity
• Culture, from a socio-economic point of view, is spurred by the fundamental human
condition to not be alone
• Youth Culture is defined as “Shared characteristics linked to the younger generation”
Rise of Youth Culture
Describes Youth as “Not simply an age group, but the social organisation of an
He goes on to state that “culture is all learned behaviour which has been socially
acquired”, however in the year 2013, is behaviour more virtually acquired?
How did the Media respond?
As previously stated, the Media both feared and were
fascinated by Youth Culture. New and different, it allowed
them to target an exclusive and wealthy group of people who
were looking to separate themselves from previous
The 1950‟s was a period of economic prosperity, which
meant young people had more disposable income to spend
on ways to entertain and define themselves e.g. Clothes,
music and art.
However, their money and numbers meant influence and
therefore power, which was scary for the older generations.
This wariness of Youth Culture made it easy for the Media to
demonise Youth, shown in the creation of films such as
“Blackboard Jungle” (1955), “Rebel Without A Cause”
(1955), and “Teenage Bad Girl” (1956). These are some of
the oldest examples of demonization of Youth by the Media.
In today‟s climate, some of the presentations are laughable.
The Media‟s representing of Youth as deviant became
popular due to the ease with which the populace accepted it.
The “Generational Gap” played a large role in this,
alienating teenagers from their parents.
The Hypodermic Needle Theory could be applicable in this instance. The majority of films centred around Youth
Culture in the 1950‟s portrayed teenagers negatively, and as a result, the population were bombarded with purely
We cannot know for sure how the audience reacted to the information, however, there would have been a portion of
the audience who were passive, accepting whatever the media provided them with, despite there being little
evidence to prove their claims that teenagers were out-of-control and dangerous.
There was a sense of moral panic within adult audiences regarding their children being out-of-control hooligans,
however, this was largely founded on the portrayals of films like “Teenage Bad Girl” (1956) which depicts a Mother
struggling with her young, delinquent daughter. In 1953, concerns about rising levels of juvenile crime prompted
the appointment of a Senate Subcommittee to investigate the causes of delinquency. Thee Subcommittee‟s findings
however, were inconclusive.
However, to argue against this, Bosley Crowther said of “Rebel Without A Cause”: “There are some excruciating
flashes of accuracy and truth in this film”, not disproving the Hypodermic Needle Theory, but implying that the
negative portrayals of teenagers weren‟t all completely unfounded.
Taglines like this showcases the idea that
the Media, although adamant about
portraying teenagers as out-of-control
delinquents, were sure to save the
The Media‟s main audience was the adults.
Although teenagers did watch and might
have been to some extent influenced by the
portrayals, it was the adults of the
population who were targeted and who
they wanted to incite fear in.
The Media‟s influence was restricted
however, as the lack of technology meant
they couldn‟t reach audiences on quite the
scale they do nowadays. That doesn‟t mean
to say teenagers weren‟t demonised; the
effect just wasn‟t as serious until about a
decade or two later.
Where film was eager to demonise Youth, music seemed to have another effect.
The rise of Pop-Culture, headed by the British acts of Cliff Richard and The Beatles,
incited screaming, boy-crazed fanatical fans which were quickly categorised as the
„norm‟ behaviour for teenage girls. The presentation, while not especially positive or
negative, was realistic, as it was developed by the teenage girls. They weren‟t told to
act that way, but their obsession for theses musicians and subsequent excitement,
bordering on the crazed, defined the way fans behave which continued into the present.
This relates to the Users and Gratification Theory, as the audiences were active in their
consumption of the media, e.g. The musicians, and wanted to engage, whether it was
through listening to their music (Evidenced by The Beatles being the #1 Bestselling
Artists) and behaving obsessively and crazed when at their concerts.
The Media could only report on the representation through the news and
documentaries, which adds to the sense of realism.
The music industry influenced public perceptions of teenagers in a
positive, or at least non-negative, way. Teenagers developed their own
representation, The Fan, on their own terms through listening to Pop
Music and watching their favourites perform live in concerts. This
then transferred onto the Big Screen. One of the few examples of
positive teenage-image promoting by film during this period is The
Beatles‟ film, “A Hard Day‟s Night” (1964).
From this point of view, it could be argued that The Beatles and their
producers/managers/agents, acted as Gatekeepers, key in the
development of Media representations
• The Beatles‟ first film appearance
• Attract teenagers to watch the film by
directly appealing to their market
• Features screaming, hormonal teenage
girls, and cheeky male Pop Stars
Birth of Subcultures
“A group of individuals who are united through a common value system and
tastes (clothes, music, politics, etcetera)”
“A group who are also positioned outside of the mainstream and who
unify as a response to the mainstream”
Unlike the 1950‟s, where Youth Culture was seen as just one group of people, the
„60‟s saw the beginning of its break-up into Sub-Cultures…
Marx was a Communist who believed all cultures are produced
by “social conditions” and that these “social conditions” depend
upon social class and the problems belonging to a social class
provides. Age according to Marx was also a contributor.
The idea that Age is a contributor to the development of culture was certainly true when looking at
how Youth Culture was first formed and what united its members. The movement was comprised of
exclusively Youth, young people who wanted to be separate from their parents and be individual.
Social Class became more of a contributing factor regarding the development of Sub-Cultures.
Youth Sub-Cultures had a distinct individual style. They had certain ways of dressing, speaking,
listening to music and gathering in similar places.
For example, the Mods:
Iconic Parkas were a key
Mod fashion item
Two youth subcultures helped pave
the way for Mod fashion by
breaking new ground:
• The Beatniks, with
their Bohemian image of berets
and black turtlenecks
• The Teddy Boys, from which
mod fashion inherited its
"narcissistic and fastidious
tendencies" and the
immaculate dandy look
Scooters, usually a
Lambretta or Vespa
Paul Jobling and David Crowley called the
mod subculture a "fashion-obsessed and
hedonistic cult of the hyper-cool" young adults
who lived in metropolitan London or the new
towns of the south.
and smart hair cut
Music taste included
Soul, Ska, and R&B
The newspapers were an aspect of the
Media which went a long way in
demonising Youth in the 1960‟s and
onwards. The Mods/Rockers Clash in
1964 at Brighton Beach is one specific
example of how the Media sensationalised
the behaviour of Youth to vilify them on a
Other areas of the Media, such as film,
used the same incident as well as
continued to demonise teenagers by
portraying them as violent delinquents.
“Quadrophenia” on such example which
sees the protagonist, Jimmy, confused and
disillusioned with his life as a Mod and
desperate for an escape. He is a drug and
alcohol user, and is violent, however, the
film develops his character, and is
sympathetic to the betrayal of his love
interest, and loss of faith with his Sub-
It wasn‟t until the 1970‟s, and the rise of Punk, did Youth Culture genuinely start to rebel
and legitimise some of the Media‟s negative portrayals, however, again much of it was
over-sensationalised. Of course, prior to the „70‟s, there were some violent teenagers who
took environmental protests too far, however, there hadn‟t been a movement dead-set
against the Establishment and society quite like Punk had been.
The punk subculture, which centres on punk rock music, includes a diverse array
of ideologies, fashions and forms of expression, including visual art, dance, literature and film. The
subculture is largely characterized by anti-establishment views and the promotion of individual
• Punk was entirely British and appealed primarily to working-class people
• “The Frith and the Fury” – The Sun newspaper, is an example of how the Media vilified Punk as
As Youth Culture developed, the Media‟s main aim was to discredit the social group.
Although the information is generalised, we can see from the examples the majority of
representations were designed to induce a moral panic, negative portrayals of teenagers
as dangerous, delinquent and out-of-control. There are some exceptions, regarding the
influence of The Beatles and the escape Sub-Cultures provided for Youth, however, the
Media (in particular, film) largely promotes teenagers as a problem, from “Teenage
Bad Girl” (1956) to “Clockwork Orange” (1971), 1964 Brighton Clash newspaper
coverage to reviewing of music artists and bands such as “The Who”, creating an
accepted hegemony that teenagers are bad. This relates to Strinati‟s Theory that reality
and the imaginary get mixed up so much they are integrated, and audiences find it
difficult to differentiate.
As a result, we end up with pastiche, parody and intertextuality.
In terms of a cause for change, the whole idea of Youth Culture was
inspired by a need for change. Teenagers wanted to change and be
different, separate from their parents, and took change to the
extreme in some cases, such as the institution of the Punk Sub-
Culture. In terms of inspiring change, teenagers impacted heavily on
the Media and its focus, as well as the retail industry who welcomed
the new clientele. Sub-Cultures such as Hippes also promoted issues
such as Environmentalism and Punks championed anti-
Fashion has been subjected to change according to trends decided
by teenagers and films, although influence teenagers, do take
inspiration from them, because to some, realism does
21st Century: Youth Culture
In the present, the Media‟s influence has just
continued to grow. Youth Culture has just
continued to be demonised and although
there are some positive representations of
Youth, ultimately, the negative bombardment
received from the Media works to conform
teenagers. The sexualisation of teenage girls
variants from minimal to extreme, and
although Age is certainly still a contributor,
Social Class has begun to rise, particularly in
relation to Hoodies.
In the present, there are films which present positive and negative
representations of teenagers. “Good Vibrations”, as it happens, presents a fairly
positive portrayal of youth culture. The representations include:
Fighting for something real
When looking at “Good Vibrations” however, there is an element of the Constructionist Approach
about the way audiences receive it. Their interpretations are based on how well they understand
the context, which is primarily historical and fairly key to grasping the point of the film, e.g. The
Troubles in Ireland, and the rise of Punk.
The film “Good Vibrations”, which is set in the 1970 and 1980‟s in Ireland, largely represents youth subculture
through the characterisation of the Undertones, and Punk underbelly of Ulster at the time.
The rise of Punk was all about getting away from the norm, finding something different and taking it to the
extremes. Being different from your parents was key, and during The Troubles the Punk scene thrived.
Teenagers are shown to be individual, different, and rebelling. Mainly through fashion and attitude, the teenagers in
“Good Vibrations” are frustrated with the environment they are forced to survive in, created by the heavy violence
Northern Ireland is experiencing, and rebel the only way they know how, by drinking and listening to music in bars
dressed in funky-coloured sweaters and dying their hair neon shades.
Fighting for something real
In “Good Vibrations”, which is set in the 1970 and 1980‟s
in Ireland, largely represent youth subculture through the
characterisation of the Undertones, and Punk underbelly
of Ulster at the time.
Writing and performing their own music, they are eager
to become the next “Big Thing”. They get signed by Terri
Hooley, and eventually have their song “Teenage Kicks”
played on the radio, becoming a HUGE hit. There are a
variety of scenes, with them working on the song,
recording it and performing.
This idea is felt primarily in the watching of the Undertones
rise to fame. The film‟s backdrop is The Troubles, which
engulfed Ireland for decades, creating a sense of
hopelessness and endless violence, that nothing positive
could come from it. However, the release, and subsequent
popularity of the song “Teenage Kicks”, proves the idea that
the youth of that time were aiming to create something
meaningful and fight for something real, not a petty war of
One of the most moving moments of the film was when
“Teenage Kicks” first gets played on the radio, and then
played a second time (Never before happened). The film
ends with a farewell concert, which has Terri Hooley saying
“Money couldn‟t buy what we‟ve just done.”
Regarding Baudrillard‟s theory, the film challenges the simulacrum that teenagers are delinquent,
dangerous and irresponsible, generally dismissing conventional negative portrayal film‟s give.
However, the film is Historical, and so might be difficult to manipulate positive representations of
teenagers. The film is also representing youth culture through one specific group, the Undertones,
who happened to succeed where many didn‟t – only showing one side of the spectrum.
It compares quite interestingly to films such as “Scum”, set in
roughly the same period but providing an entirely different
perspective of teenagers. This could suggest that the Media are
prepared to concede that teenagers during that period weren‟t
as dangerous or out-of-control as they are now and show more
realistic, positive representations of teenagers from a Nostalgic
point of view, to oppose the Topical film.
“The Inbetweeners‟ Movie”
Horny (Both boys and girls)
Typical Male Representations
School boy wedgy
Richard Dyer argues that these re-presentations create “types” of people, part of the process of naturalising.
“The Inbetweeners Movie” opening sees Will, a nerd with glasses and a briefcase, wedgied by the school bully, a
hardly original plotline. This shows that although “The Inbetweeners Movie” challenges generic conventions
regarding the stoic British edge the film has, it plays up to the natural “type” of teenage male group which includes a
nerd who is bullied.
Both the film and the TV programme promote the idea that teenage Boys
are purely motivated by sex.
The TV Programme regularly features scenes in which females are
objectified and perceived as sex objects by the 4 male protagonists in one
way or another. In the “Caravan Club” episode, Jay and Neil are in the
petrol station shop, reading a porn magazine, a blatant example of the
teenage males being portrayed as purely sexually motivated
This is also seen in “The Inbetweeners Movie”, where the representation
becomes a physicality, shown graphically, e.g. the opening scene where
Jay, one of the foursome, masturbates to porn on the internet.
The characterisation of Jay goes a long way in promoting this representation. Obsessed with
sex and women, he lies compulsively about the various sexual encounters he has had, but
also develops his own iconic, vulgar language when referring to women e.g.:
“The gash isn't going to fuck itself, y'know”
Jay is a prominent example of boys being motivated by sex, his character's creation centred
entirely around the idea that women are there to be exploited sexually, through porn, his
language and own imagination.
Laura Mulvey‟s Look theory can be applied to “The
Inbetweeners Movie” in the sense that the film is very much
about teenage boys objectifying and sexualising women. Not
only do the boys LOOK at women, but the camera does
similar, particularly when the boys walk down the strip, which
allows the audience to partake in the viewing as well.
However, Mulvey‟s theory is flipped from one perspective,
when examining the opening scene. Jay‟s masturbating over a
Porn actress might showcase the Look theory but in reverse,
where ultimately, the female is the one in control, taking
advantage of him who, in the end is naked and embarrassed
when his Mum walks in on him.
Obviously there are varying degrees of this representation e.g:
Perverted = Jay Sexually
motivatived = Simon
“Oh, not talking”“… booze, minge, fanny and sex”
Similarly, Dyer‟s theory comes into play here too. Whereby a process of naturalising creates a “type” of boy we, as an
audience, are familiar with and will less likely challenge e.g. Horny teenage boy.
The contemporary rise of sex and pornography in society, particularly in males, has naturalised our perception of
teenage boys as sexually motivated, so that films like “The Inbetweeners Movie” ultimately comes across as simply
realistic rather than malicious.
The realistic aspect of the re-presentation begs the question: Good or Bad?
To continue, is the representation realistic? Could this be just another case of Baudrillard‟s theory where the media
has portrayed young men as sex-obsessed so many times that it has in fact become a reality? A simulacrum? Designed
to reinforce the hegemony (Charles Acland Theory)?
Shallow: “I better not be stuck with the fat one”
Excessive drinking, shaving and spraying the
groin and waking up in an ants nests all
showcase youths as irresponsible. However,
when put in context (e.g. On holiday), it is
much harder to be critical and consider the
representation as something 24/7
Contradicts Mulvey‟s theory of the Male Gaze
One really popular representation of Youth currently is the rehash of the
delinquent teenager we saw in the 1950‟s “Blackboard Jungle” and “Rebel
Without A Cause”. Films like “Kidulthood” go a long way in promoting these
types of films that it has developed into a genre.
Teenage boys are presented as violent, delinquent and having little respect for
authority. This could relate to the Strinati‟s Theory, that reality and imaginary
have become so interlinked that and that it is too difficult to tell one from the
other, meaning the representation of teenage boys in this film are seen as
ultimately true. This reinforces the Hegemony that teenage males are dangerous,
possibly created and promoted by, according to The Guardian‟s Jane Graham,
“traces our attitudes to hoodies back to the middle classes‟ long-held fear of
those who might undermine their security”.
Some teenage males have modelled their behaviour on
representations these films promote, leading to the rise
of gang culture, in particular, middle and lower class
areas. It becomes a cycle, and no one quite knows
which one first began, the reality or the Media
Hoodies have become a symbol of this representation,
and the wearing of them and constant reinforcement of
the representation by the Media has created a climate
of fear surrounding one item of clothing.
Sexualisation of teenage girls
Another representation which has been there since the begin, but has just
continued to grow and manifest over the period is the sexualisation of
females. From one extreme to another e.g. “Angus, Thongs and Perfect
Snogging” versus “Transformers”. Girls still portrayed as sex/boy-obsessed
and concerned with appearances, one is just directed towards a younger
Mulvey‟s “Look” Theory explains how this is
achieved. THe Phallic Camera treats women as
objects to be looked at, and sexualises an actress by
performing close-ups of her breasts, lips, eyes, legs
and butt. Simply: The Men look and the Women are
looked at. Berger summarised by saying: "Men act
and women appear. Men look at women. Women
watch themselves being looked at."
Dyer argues stereotypes are a way of reinforcing
differences between people, and representing
these differences as a natural, which is what the
sexualising of teenage girls does. Constantly
bombarded with images of how should look, girls
perceptions continue to alter, and the stereotype that
girls are supposed to attractive and this-is-how-you-
achieve-it becomes natural.
The Reality becomes the Construction and the
Construction becomes the Reality
E.g. People assume that how they are living their
lives, the Reality, is wrong and boring, and when
watching films or TV programmes ("90210",
"Kidulthood"), the Construction, is in fact what they
should adopt and be like.
In the Media:
"Kidulthood" = Represents British, urban, teenage
females as highly sexualised, as sluts. This is
presented as the reality, the norm, rather than
simply a construction, and is endorsed by audiences
Lily Allen‟s “Hard Out Here” discusses the Media‟s
treatment of females.
Baudrillard‟s Theory discusses the idea of the Simulacrum, where the
world is made up of copies and actual reality has been distorted as a
result of the continuous copying e.g. The idea of beauty
Hunting for Cool
Midriff is a coin termed by Douglass Rushkoff of PBS's
"Frontline" on an episode entitled "Merchants of Cool."
Midriffs are young girls and women (Teenagers – Early
adults) whose behaviour is a curious oxymoronic
mixture of "innocent" and "slutty." Midriff culture is
fairly standardized and conformist. Their behaviour is
centred around sexuality, narcissism, and a complete
lack of intelligence.
Rushkoff argued that mass-media replaces teenage
individuality with a glorified archetype; Midriffs, when
referring to females.
Hypersexuality and shallowness are often attributed to
teenage girls (And a concern for parents of each
generation), so although the behaviour isn't necessarily
new, nonetheless, the notion of Midriff culture
showcases how the Media is exaggerating those traits as
the most important, standardising the pattern and
encouraging conform, which more and more teenage
girls are responding to.
A term coined by Douglas Rushkoff in an episode of
PBS's "Frontline" entitled "The Merchants of Cool."
Mooks are archetypal young males (Teenagers – Early
adults) who act like moronic boneheads. They are self
centred simpletons who live a drunken frat-boy lifestyle.
Examples can be found anytime when watching a TV
Programme like "Jackass."
Rushkoff claims that the media glorifies this ideal and
stifles natural self expression, which to some extent may
be true, however, it could be argued that teenage boys
have always acted this, in one way or another, that it is
actually a long-standing stereotype. Regardless, the
bombardment and focus of the Media on promoting the
archetype alone does work to reduce originality and
"Most buyable creation"
No longer trying to understand teenagers to make them
happier and design products for them… Rather
studying them to learn how best to pitch their products
to the market
The impact of “mediation” on young people
Body image, insecurities
Have representations of British Youth Culture changed?
Ultimately, if we actually look closely at
representations of teenagers in the 1950‟s and 1069‟s,
compared to modern material we are subjected to,
then we will find there is very little difference.
Natalie‟s Woods character is highy sexualised. She
appeares overly sexual, and flirtatious, staring and
smiling at James Dean‟s character despite having her
boyfriend beside her.
She also is posed leaning black on
the car, which thrusts her breasts
upwards and showcases her waist
in the tight skirt she is wearing.
The ascot of her costume has
connotations of being tied up and
tamed, adding that dimension to
She also has a darker side, where she is seen to
be aroused by the show of violence between
Dean‟s character and his rival, and has a slightly
sadistic nature. Similarly, the character of Becky
is sexually active and prostitutes herself. She also
likes watching violent engages between males,
and when turned down for sex by one, pursues
his friend as the alternative.
In conclusion, have Media representations of British Youth Culture changed over the years? Not really.
In broad terms, the Media still maintains a rivalry with Youth Culture, and does what it can to portray them as
negatively as possible. From the 1950‟s “Rebel Without A Cause” to “Kidulthood”, the idea of teenage
boys as dangerous, and delinquent still registers, as does the female characters being purely sexually
motivated. Modern day representations are just more bold and crude. Rather than implying the sexual
experience of a character, we as a audience have it made glaringly obvious to us through amorous love
scene or snippets of sexual violence.
Granted, there are exceptions and the Media nowadays has attempted to utilise Youth in terms of consumerism,
bombarding female teenagers, in particular, with advertising, film and music video all sexualising women,
and sending the message that “This is how you should look, and if you don‟t, change it”. This is in order to
promote their products onto the teenage market, and its not necessarily negative, designed so that
teenagers don‟t quickly dismiss it.
The main difference is that the Media is just more powerful. With developments made in technology and the
industry, the Media has more power and its interpretations and representations are just felt that much more
strongly. Whether their representations are true or realistic is another matter, but if they are, can the
teenagers be blamed? With the Media screaming at them that they are dangerous or slutty, can they really
be expected to avoid conform? Ultimately, teenagers are subjected to demonization by the Media.
Although it has progressed and grown more gritty and sensationalised over the past 50 years, the essence
is still the same: Teenagers = The Enemy, and unfortunately, the likelihood is, it is about to get worse
before it gets better.