An educational study has found that young people believe that to get on in life they should work hard, while many admire celebrities who they think have earned their prosperity and behave respectably.
The researchers, Heather Mendick from Brunel University London, Kim Allen from Manchester Metropolitan University and Laura Harvey from the University of Surrey, conducted group and individual interviews with 148 girls and boys aged 14-17 from different ethnic and social backgrounds from six schools in England.
They found the school students valued hard work and were unimpressed by celebrities who they thought had not done anything to become famous. The team asked the teenagers who they most liked and disliked and to describe their ‘ideal celebrity.’
“Of the celebrity names mentioned, we found that some young people
disapproved of Kim Kardashian’s success because they thought she did not deserve to famous, but they admired Usain Bolt who had talent and was extremely disciplined,” said Dr Mendick.
“Beyoncé was also praised as an ‘ideal’ celebrity who made it against the odds, as was Ed Sheeran, while Justin Bieber was the only male celebrity who was regularly regarded as ‘undeserving’.”
But views were always mixed and Katie Price was particularly controversial: most of the conversations centred on her perceived qualities as a mother, with some young people disapproving of her glamour modelling career and her domestic life, and others arguing that she was doing the best for her children.
Dr Mendick added: “The participants’ views on ‘deserving’ and ‘underserving’ celebrities partly reflected their own social class, gender and aspirations. White working class women were more sympathetic to Katie Price, Kim Kardashian and Kerry Katona, and middle-class young women less likely to have high opinions of them.”
American rapper Nicki Minaj “attracted particular disgust” for although she had struggled to become successful, her “artificial and excessive look and body” meant that she was not viewed as a role model.
The interviewees were all affected by celebrity culture all around them but did not accept that every famous person was someone to be admired or emulated.
‘Deserving’ famous people highlighted by the school students included American billionaire, technology entrepreneur and philanthropist, Bill Gates, US President Barack Obama, Usain Bolt, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, Emma Watson, Tom Daley and Will Smith.
No women, black, or working class role models on a par with Bill Gates emerged. “These were successful people whose fame and wealth was seen as a by-product of their skill and talent, rather than their fame being an aim in and of itself,” said Dr Mendick.
“Despite the lack of ‘ideal’ role models from their own backgrounds, young people from diverse social groups believed that if they tried hard they could succeed in life.
“The value that young people place on hard work should be welcomed and positively valued,” Dr Mendick remarked. “But this shouldn’t mean that we ignore the ongoing impact of racism, sexism and poverty. Politicians must make sure that the possibilities for all school students reaching their potential and can be achieved in the real world.”
“We can Get Everything We Want if We Try Hard’: Young People, Celebrity, Hard Work” is published in the British Journal of Educational Studies