Friday, November 06, 2009

Hoodwinked

Hoodies, thugs, yobs, feral youths, louts and scum. That's what many readers of this blog are, if you subscribe to the popular view that all young people (particularly if they're from the inner city and/or black and/or working class) are unruly troublemakers.

Jane Graham writing in today's Guardian, in a piece mainly about the new Michael Caine film, Harry Brown*, points out that the hooded youth or "hoodie" has now become a kind of visual or linguistic shorthand for a new kind of folk devil, a new bogeyman for the twenty first century. As Graham points out, hoodies are "defined by their class (perceived as being bottom of the heap) and their social standing (their relationship to society is always seen as being oppositional). Hoodies aren't "kids" or "youngsters" or even "rebels" – in fact, recent research by Women in Journalism on regional and national newspaper reporting of hoodies shows that the word is most commonly interchanged with (in order of popularity) "yob", "thug", "lout" and "scum"".

And the research by Women in Journalism referred to above makes for some fascinating reading. The headline statistics that they use in the report "Hoodies or Altar Boys?" are as follows:

* 85% of teen boys said newspapers portray them in a bad light
* Reality TV was seen as portraying teen boys most fairly
* Media stories about yobs and hoodies are the main reason why teen
boys are wary of other teenagers
* 80% of teen boys think adults are more wary of them now than they were a year ago.
* Terms used in newspaper stories about teen boys included thugs, yobs, hoodies, feral, evil, lout, monsters, brutes, scum, menace, heartless, sick, menacing and inhuman
* Over the past year, there were more newspaper stories about teens and crime (as victims or offenders) than about teens and all other subjects put together

* Even on subjects other than crime, few newspaper stories show teen boys in a good light: only 24% of stories about teens and sport were positive about teenage boys; only 16% of stories about teens and entertainment were positive.
Fiona Bawdon, the WiJ committee member who will be presenting the research, says: “When a photo of a group of perfectly ordinary lads standing around wearing hooded tops has become visual shorthand for urban menace, or even the breakdown of society, it's clear that teenage boys have a serious image problem. The teen boys' "brand" has become toxic. Media coverage of boys is unrelentingly negative, focusing almost entirely on them as victims or perpetrators of crime - and our research shows that the media is helping make teenage boys fearful of each other.”


So, as students of English Language, particularly if you're doing ENGA2 work on the representation of young people, this is fertile ground to investigate. The links on the Women in Journalism site are really helpful too, as they point us towards some particularly relevant articles such as Suzanne Moore's thoughtful piece in The Daily Mail here and The Labour MP David Lammy's excellent comment column here.

And just to remind you of how very similar students to yourselves are referred to in the national press and by members of the public, why not have a read of this appalling tripe from the Daily Mail and some of the deranged comments of its readers on a recent unpleasant incident linked to Orpington College, a "scum magnet" according to an equally unpleasant article in The Sun.

*set in Elephant and Castle, south London fact fans...and not a lot of people know that

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