Celebrity, youth culture and the question of role models

Whether real or staged, the hurling of insults and aggressive behaviour dominated mainstream press coverage of the ceremony surely much to the delight of MTV.


Both Minaj and Cyrus are known for courting controversy and have been criticised for being “bad” role models for young people, particularly girls and young women. But what if the mainstream media considered that young people actually use incidents such as this and celebrity culture in a wider sense in a whole host of complex ways to negotiate their identities?


A well-publicised survey of UK parents with children under ten years old voted both Cyrus and Minaj as the worst role models for their daughters. This came even before the recent spat.


The dislike of Minaj and Cyrus appears to be centred on their penchant for dressing provocatively and being outspoken about their sexuality. In predictable contrast, the Duchess of Cambridge was considered the most positive influence on young girls. The worst male offenders were musicians and performers Kanye West, Justin Bieber and former One Direction band member Zayn Malik.


Obsessed with celebrity


Discourse in this vein is not a new phenomenon. Musicians and performers have long been considered to influence young people in negative ways. In the 21st century, the impact of celebrity culture on society, especially on young people, has come under scrutiny.


Are today’s youth obsessed with celebrity? Is this detrimental to society? Can celebrities ever have a positive influence on young people? Does celebrity culture really matter? These are complex and plural questions to which there are few, if any, concrete answers. However, what is routinely ignored in mainstream media is young people’s sense of agency.


Much of the research and commentary surrounding such questions is centred on how celebrity culture may impact upon health and well being in terms of eating disorders or mental health issues.


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