This post focuses on some of the ways in which the mainstream media represent children, youth and the elderly.
Media representations of children
Children are often represented as vulnerable and as being in need of adult protection, which ties in with the way in which childhood is socially constructed in contemporary society.
The advertising industry represents children as consumers, possibly deliberately to socialise them into becoming consumers in later life, and to increase peer-pressure demand for their products.
Youth and Children’s Work has suggested that there are five major types of youth stereotype
- Irritating/ annoying
- Binge drinking/ drug addicted
- The drain on society
- The entrepreneurial go-getter
- The exceptional super achiever.
Media representations of youth
Young people are largely represented in terms of lifestyle and identity, with much of the music and fashion industries aiming their products at young people.
Young people (teenagers especially) are also disproportionately likely to be represented as a problem – with a considerable amount of news coverage being devoted to youth gangs, crime and antisocial behaviour, rather than the challenges facing teenagers or the positive things young people do.
Historically, youth subcultures have been the focus of media led moral panics, which have tended to exaggerate the deviance of young people and sometimes increased public panic about youth subcultures, as Stan Cohen found in his classic study of the Mods and Rockers.
Charlotte Kelly (2018) has conducted research on the language used by journalists to describe young people who come into contact with the law and found there are three major types of representation:
- Young people are dangerous
- Young people are in need of protection
- Young people are immature.
However, some documentaries do portray the complex issues young people face today, such as the recent spate of schools documentaries such as ‘Educating Essex’ etc, and in contemporary sitcoms such as Derry Girls.
Media representations of old age
Age Concern (2000) identified three key media stereotypes of the elderly. Old people were disproportionately represented as:
- A burden
- Mentally challenged
Lee et al (2007) conducted a study of adverts and found that old people were underrepresented, appearing in only 15% of ads, but of those 15%, more than 90% of representations were positive – portraying elderly people as ‘golden agers’ enjoying healthy, active lifestyles.
There are also significant gender differences in the way old people are represented in the media: older men are much more visible in the media than older women, and older men are much more likely to be associated with high status and work while older women are generally associated with the family and poverty.
This is very much a simplified post on this topic, more detailed investigative posts to follow!
Chapman et al (2016) Sociology AQA A-level Year 2 Student Book