The Value of Fame: Preadolescent Perceptions of Popular Media and Their Relationship to Future Aspirations
Humans have long been fascinated with celebrities — the face of Helen of Troy is said to have launched a thousand ships, after all — but the Internet has greatly increased both the amount of information available and sped its distribution. This in turn has elevated the place of fame in many people’s worlds. A 2011 study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, “The Value of Fame: Preadolescent Perceptions of Popular Media and Their Relationship to Future Aspirations” (PDF), investigated how adolescents interpret popular media content and how this content may shape future goals. The study was published in the journal Developmental Psychology.
The researchers conducted five focus groups with nine females and eleven males from 10 to 12 years old; 80% owned cellphones and all reported going online daily. Participants were asked to rank seven different values — community feeling, image, benevolence, fame, self-acceptance, financial success and achievement — as well as watch a brief clip from a popular preteen television show and discuss its themes and characters.
Key findings included:
- For 40% of the participants (eight out of 20), fame was their top choice for what they wanted in the future. Between 25% and 50% listed fame as their most important value. This held true for both boys and girls and for all ages.
- The next most cited value was benevolence, defined as “being really kind.” The least-cited values were self-acceptance (“loving and accepting yourself”) and image (“caring about what you look like”).
- Participants wanted to be famous because they understood it to be linked to both money and attention. “Many of the children believed that fame would mean that people liked them and knew who they were.”
- Participants “expressed both explicit and implicit awareness of messages about fame and public recognition on different platforms and in a variety of content: in fictional TV, reality TV and online.”
- Fame, particularly cultivated through online platforms, was seen as being possible for any teen who wanted it. “The path to Internet success may seem particularly achievable at a young age, given nearly anyone’s easy access to YouTube.”
- Regardless of what they stated as top choice for their future, “the majority of participants had either posted their own videos online or knew of others, an adult or a peer, who had posted a video to attract an online audience.”
The researchers conclude that there has been a profound shift in societal values over the last five decades. “Watching fame narratives with young protagonists in popular TV programming, both fictional and real, playing in or posting videos online, and developing an audience of ‘friends’ on social network sites make the concept of fame highly accessible to children between 10 and 12 years of age, transforming fame into a key value and goal for children in this age group.”
Tags: youth, technology
Read the issue-related Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article titled "In Shows For Tweens and Teens, Fame is Now a Kids' Game."
- What key insights from the journal article should reporters be aware of as they cover issues relating to tweens, teens, life goals and media use?
Read the study titled “The Value of Fame: Preadolescent Perceptions of Popular Media and Their Relationship to Future Aspirations" (PDF).
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?