Friday, 18 March 2011

Collective identity: Youth 2- School and online

In the last post, we looked mainly at demonisation and a little at how subculture might lead to self-representation. In this post, we will consider the latter issue further with a look at how people represent themselves online. we will also look at some examples of more complex representation, where the stereotypes are played with in the way that characters are portrayed more sympathetically and developed so that the audience can understand them better. We will end by taking a look at different representations of school and the impact that these might have.

This great little video sums up quite neatly the way that people try to express an identity online. Apart from your photos, how else do you try to construct your own identity online, or indeed multiple identities in different places? In what ways does that identity become part of a collective group when you join say, facebook groups or forums or participate in sites like World of Warcraft?

Back in the 1960s, Erving Goffman wrote this book. The ideas in it are summed up in the first speech the second is how it might still be seen to apply today.

Two good contemporary examples of how fiction can change our first impressions of characters are Fish Tank and Misfits. Both are worth exploring much further. In Fish Tank Mia is presented to us at the start as an angry 'chav' girl, but by letting us into her story she is given great depth and we can come to understand her feelings and her relationships with the adult world.

In Misfits, Kelly is represented in a similar way at the start, but she emerges from the series as a much more complex character.

I will be writing a lot more about Misfits in an upcoming blog, but suffice to say that I think it is one of the best British dramas of recent years.

I just got sent a link to this video, which I hadn't seen before. It is made by three students doing Video production at Essex University and is meant to be an affectionate send-up of their home town. If you go to their channel profile, you can hear an amusing radio interview with them about the project.

School is a rich area for analysis, since its fictional screen representation and its coverage in the news is so frequent and can always be measured against our own experience. From Harry Potter and St.Trinians to Grange Hill and Inbetweeners, fictional schools always provoke debate.

In this extract from Grange Hill, we see the community gang up to take action against the school bully, Gripper. It feels very old fashioned and static now, forming an interesting contrast with programmes like Waterloo Road.

Non-fictional representations are equally interesting for the assumptions they lead to on the part of audiences. Jamie Oliver's Dream School has provoked lots of opinions about how young people behave and what schools should be doing. It is a preposterous idea- sending a bunch of celebrities in as untrained teachers and dressing up over-aged youth in school uniform again. If you watch the Tv episodes, they are tightly edited so that we gete the programme makers version of events- often with lots of shouting and confrontations. Watch them on youtube and you get a slightly different view. The kids aren't quite so antagonistic, for starters.

Ex-teacher Katherine Berbalsingh became famous overnight when she gave a speech at the Conservative Party conference in the autumn about how bad our schools are and how they let the kids down. Her views on solutions fit very closely with those of the education secretary, Michael Gove. Since that speech, she has left teaching, the school she taught at has been closed down and she has published a book which is a supposed diary of a year in her life as a teacher. She has also been in the media quite a lot, especially on the BBC as a spokesperson for education. She is a good example of the opposite of demonisation- someone whose views are picked up as somehow having status and value because of her experience and because they chime with a kind of 'commonsense' that is around at that time. In her book she changes the names of her ex-students to words which supposedly 'represent' their personalities. It's worth thinking about how news coverage of someone like her affects audience views of young people and how they should be treated.

Our final 'critic' for this post is de Zengotita, who wrote a book caled 'Mediated', which argues that most of what we know about the world comes through the media, so it is bound to influence our thinking about it and even the way in which define ourselves.
How far do we think this is true and what evidence would we use to back it up?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Collective Identity: Youth- demonisation

This is the most popular topic for the A2 OCR exam, with case studies of all kinds of social groups being possible to undertake. I did an event at Rich Mix in London this week for 170 students which focussed on Youth as a group for study, so I decided to share the material with other readers of the blog here. I made a lot of use of material featured in my friend Dave Harrison's blog here at

I started with some quotations about young people and asked the audience when they thought these things might have been said:

'Kids are out of control... They're roaming the streets. They're out late at night.'

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

You can probably tell by the language that the second one is much older, but it surprised everyone to find out just how old. The first was from Gordon Brown in 2008 and the second from Plato in the 4th century BC. So as we can see, complaining about the behaviour of young people is nothing new!

We looked at this shocking video, from a Barnardo's campaign, all dialogue coming from what adults had written on national newspaper websites in response to stories about teens

We went on to look at other press coverage, but bearing in mind the five structuring points for this topic from the Specification:

how media today represent youth in different ways
how these representations differ from those in the past
what effect these representations have
how young people use the media to form a collective identity
how far identity is increasingly constructed by, through or in response to the media

In January's exam, these were the two optional questions:

analyse the ways in which the media represent groups of people
what is collective identity and how is it mediated?

So we were looking at examples and arguments in order to try to see how we might use them to answer such questions.

We looked at the way the meaning of the hood has changed over the years, with examples from fiction and non-fiction, including some of these:

From these and others, we were able to identify the use of the hood as a sign of comfort, protection, religious and academic status but also of disguise, transformation, concealment and violence. Most recently in relation to youth it has often become almost synonymous with criminal behaviour. News coverage of the student protests culminated in these front covers the next day, a moment captured which once again involves a hooded youth in an act of criminality, standing in for the whole story.

This demonisation of youth can be taken to absurd extremes perhaps having the effect that the Barnardos video illustrates, as in this Sunday Express campaign and more humorously this story reported in The Cambridge News.

A survey of the content of national and regional newspapers found that out of 6500 stories about teenage boys, over half were about crime and only in one in ten allowed the voice of a young person to be heard in a quote. The language used to describe teenage boys was quite harsh: nearly 600 references to 'yobs', 250 to 'thug' and over 100 to 'sick', with 'feral' and 'hoodie' close behind. There were some positive terms used, such as 'angel', 'altar boy'. 'model student' and 'every mother's perfect son' but these only appeared in relation to boys who had died, either murdered or in accidents. There is more detail on this and some other surveys on Dave Harrison's blog here.

A useful critic in relation to this is Stanley Cohen, who wrote about the media coverage of mods and rockers from the 1960s, in his book 'Folk Devils and Moral panics'. His ideas still apply today.

Although Cohen points to the ways in which the media amplify anxieties and events and create a moral panic, the demonisation of youth in this way can only come about if there is some kind of collective identity to which to point. Dick Hebdige's study 'Subculture, the meaning of style' examines how young people construct their identity through fashion and musical influence. His arguments still apply today even if subcultures do not neatly divide in quite the way they did in the 70s, given the way music has tended to hybridise. Two current subcultures are shown below- Emo and Goth. can you identify others?

Nick Barham's interesting book 'Disconnected' was based on research he did talking to teenagers about their lives today. Given the absence of young voices in news coverage, it makes for an interesting contrast, one that is taken up by Nathan in Misfits.

Misfits - Nathan on Youth by LRCMediaPractical

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Alan Partridge

LAST EPISODE Friday 11 March!

It crept out with very little publicity and in a completely new form- a webseries sponsored by Fosters lager- but nevertheless he's here; Alan Partridge, one of the great comic creations of the last twenty years, is back with some new material.

I follow Armando Iannucci on Twitter- he's the man who created Steve Coogan's character, - and it was through one of his tweets that I first heard about the return of the character. Alan first appeared on radio as a sports journalist on 'On the Hour', a spoof news programme on Radio 4, a role he reprised in 'The Day Today' which ran for two series on BBC2 in 1994. He was given his own spoof chat show, which ran first on the radio and then on TV, 'Knowing me, Knowing You' and after a lot of cameos for events like Comic Relief and on stage for Coogan's stand-up shows, he returned to TV in 'I'm Alan Partridge' which also ran for two series in 1997 and 2002.

Partridge is a tragi-comic creation, probably based upon an amalgam of various TV and radio 'personalities'. In many ways, the character grew in depth with 'I'm Alan Partridge' which shows him trying to resurrect his career on Radio Norwich, having been dumped by BBC TV following his disastrous chat show. In the new 12 part webseries, which started last friday and by monday had nearly 200,000 hits, he has fallen even further, now appearing on the fictitious North Norfolk Digital radio, with the whole programme done as if filmed on webcams in the studio.

The Daily Telegraph's reviewer describes it as "If anything, this first film is even darker in hue than the last Partridge series, I’m Alan Partridge, which concluded in 2002. Our anti-hero’s hair is more lank, his clothes more appalling and his demeanour more obviously desperate. There’s an audacious passage in which Alan tries to recall what he has for lunch the previous Sunday, and can’t; the result is an excruciating 30 seconds of dead air. And, of course, he hasn’t located his sensitivity gene – he can be relied upon to spray around tasteless comments about, say, Jonestown and the child protection register."

The Guardian had an article on Monday all about the background to Fosters sponsoring the webseries and the kinds of budget involved. It is a really interesting case study of media in the online age and the changing distribution models that this has brought about.

Apparently, Fosters paid the production costs, which were still similar to those for making a TV show, even though it has more limited camera use and the single set of the radio studio.

The first episode has over half a million hits on YouTube with later episodes currently on around 150,000 and even though a new comedy on Channel 4 would expect to be seen by 1.5m to 2m viewers, this is still seen as a success. The aim is to resell the programme to a conventional broadcaster after the internet airing is complete and then to sell it overseas and put it out on DVD.

So Partridge for the web- of course there are loads of clips from all the old series and all kinds of one-offs on youtube and the Alan Partridge app is one of the most popular on the iPhone, even though it just consists of a whole load of his banal catchphrases. I quite like the sporting mashups various people have done using his lines from 'The Day Today':

Alan on music:

Alan meets his namesake

Alan's story on the spoof 'Anglian lives'

I shall be looking forward to every episode of the new webseries as it seems once again that the team who created him have produced something which hits the zeitgeist.

Footnote: the series is not available to US viewers, so a protest movement has broken out, starting with this mashup protest video

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Media in the online age presentation

Here are the main slides and images from a presentation I did recently at both Rich Mix in East London and Reigate college. Some bits are missing, such as the videos , though many of these are linked on earlier blogposts.

Online Age Short
View more presentations from petefrasers.

In this presentation, I refer back to several previous posts, such as the online series. I also ask students to think about their own media technology use and that of younger children today to consider the pace of change. In case studies of news and music I seek to consider how hardware, software and shifts in audience behaviour might raise issues about the online age. This presentation needs both Michael Wesch's video on Youtube and David Gauntlett's on Understanding everyday media to set up the debates.

The presentation ends with a look at the difference between online drama and Tv drama before considering how you might use the examples in the presentation for the january exam questions.

Dub Plate Drama

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Luke Hyams, the creator of ‘Dub Plate Drama’ and listening to an excellent talk he gave about his work. It is interesting that everyone I have mentioned the programme to has simply looked at me quizzically as they’ve never heard of it, yet at its peak it attracted an extraordinary 450,000 viewers on Channel 4, after midnight, with many more catching it on PSP, MTV Base and MySpace. The programme has slipped under the radar of older viewers yet at the session where I heard Luke speak, there were dozens of students asking him questions about it who clearly knew the series well. I had only heard of it previously when one of my students chose to use it as the focus for their Critical research project in the old A level; I felt quite guilty having to ask the boy, Moses, to repeat the title several times as I thought he must be mistaken. It was only on looking further that I realised what an interesting media text he had selected.

Luke talking about his work

link to to buy it

Dub Plate Drama is an example of ‘transmedia’, a cross-platform/multiplatform text, delivered through a number of different ways. It was originally shown three times a week on Channel 4 and seven times a week on E4 and MTV base and available throughout the week via MySpace. The programme is based around the lives of characters trying to break into the music industry and the ways in which violence, drugs and other issues impinge upon them. It featured many up and coming young artist from the black music scene, notably Shystie, who was the star of the first series. Luke told us that the series set out to be socially relevant and responsible, with a ‘do the right thing’ character at its centre. Episodes had an interactive element with the audience offered the opportunity to decide between two alternative endings each week. As I noted earlier, at its peak, one episode drew 450,000 viewers after midnight on Channel 4, though this was perhaps as a result of the audience for a comedy film preceding it staying watching, but even on an average week it picked up 150,000 viewers for this slot, which was more than healthy. Adding the viewers from other platforms, the regular audience was in excess of half a million.

The two choices each episode tended to be ‘Most dramatic option’ v ‘What would you personally probably do?’, so for example in an episode where a character’s disabled mum sees her son being attacked by a gang outside the house, the choice was whether to go out and try to help but risk getting battered herself or wait for the police to arrive. The audience often tended to vote for the more cautious option, which as luke explained, was a shame as in this instance, seeing the mother go out brandishing her walking stick and whacking the attackers was more dramatically exciting!

One of the challenges the programme faced was attracting sponsors for something that dealt with issues and characters which generally had a bad image in the press- hooded black youth, knife and gun crime were seen by many potential sponsors as something they would not want to touch. This was compounded when one of the actors who played a leading character from series 1 was convicted for murder in real life. However, sponsorship for the third series arrived in an unexpected form, with Childline. The charity coincidentally was trying to shift its image and predominant user base to connect with hard to reach groups; it was seen as white and middle class and also there for females. By careful association with the programme using idents and mini- ads featuring the characters, they managed to shift this image and from almost 100% of phone calls being from females, they moved to 50% from males seeking help- a remarkable change. Scripts were pitched to Childline before each episode and they particularly liked the audience involvement in deciding the dilemma.

Lots of black music artists have appeared on the programme, including N-Dubz and Ms Dynamite, as well as others who were more up and coming and have since gone on to greater fame. Though there is interest in franchising the programme with a US version, there are no plans to run it again in the UK. You can buy both series one and two on DVD online (very cheaply!) at or Amazon and still see episodes on MySpace. Though it is no longer possible to influence the outcome of episodes, Luke did explain that they would shoot several minutes of each of the two possible outcomes for the next episode each time and that certain features from the edit thereafter would be different according to the choice the audience made. In at least one instance, the choice made resulted in a chain of events which led to the death of a key character- though the audience did not know this would happen when they made their decision.

Dub Plate Drama would be a really useful case study for both the Collective Identity topic and for Media in the Online Age.