Expert Commentary

The value of fame: Preadolescent perceptions of popular media and their future aspirations

2011 study by the University of California-Los Angeles in Developmental Psychology on tween values and media engagement.

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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,” 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.”

 Keywords: youth, technology

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