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Young people making their own media

Updated Thursday, 22 February 2018
The internet and social media have brought new opportunities for young people to tell their own stories, creating and sharing their own material with the world.

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Traditional media - like TV and film - often profits from young people: adults write stories about them, often without their involvement.  These are, quite often, sensationalised portraits of youth, which may focus on the risky or exciting. Young people may or may not find these good reflections of their own lives, or the lives they would like to have. The internet and social media, though, have brought new opportunities for young people to tell their own stories, creating and sharing their own material with the world.

One way young people interact with traditional media is through fandom. Being a fan of a TV programme, comic series, or film may involve not just watching or reading, but creating transformative works: for instance, writing stories based in their world, or creating short fan films. Contrary to a certain perception of teenagers which sees them as naive and straightforwardly (badly) influenced by the media they watch, fandom is an illustration of how young people negotiate media in critical and complicated ways. This can involve exploration of themes or relationships that the original media will not cover, such as sexuality, including speculation and narrative around queer relationships. They may focus on expanding overlooked aspects, or find a place for themselves (for instance, writing female characters or characters of colour in white male-dominated worlds).

Fandom is at its heart not just a response to or appreciation of media, but a form of community (which often continues beyond youth). Young people discuss source material, comment on each others' stories, videos and images, and make friendships. Such communities generally begin online, shifting across different spaces (currently, the blogging site Tumblr is probably the main place). But relationships born in fandom often move offline too, as young people meet up either spontaneously or at conventions and events focussed around the things they are interested in. Of course, as with any community - particularly one built around passion - there are also rifts and schisms, personal and intellectual debates and clashes.


Three young women dressed in Teen Titan costumes for cosplay. Teen Titans cosplayers at the 2014 Amazing Arizona Comic Con at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

Another form of youth-driven media has developed through video-sharing sites. In the last few years, YouTube has seen an explosion of "personalities" become famous through video blogging, or vlogging. Their fans are almost all young. Many of these personalities are teenagers; they often broadcast from their homes, using a webcam, and can gather millions of fans. Their videos cover all kinds of topics - make-up tutorials, video games, anti-bullying, social justice. For instance, 16-year-old Brendan Jordan, who became famous after dancing to a Lady Gaga track in the background of a live newscast, speaks on his YouTube channel about his everyday life as a gender-fluid young person.

Brendan Jordan posing with the words Drag Queen next to him - taken from YouTube. Many adults find the appeal and popularity of YouTube celebrities mystifying - as youth culture throughout history has always been. For instance, young female fans of the Beatles were seen as hysterical. But young people say they appreciate a more honest, direct relationship with people they see as ordinary. Research has indicated that YouTubers are now more influential among young people than "traditional" celebrities, like actors or musicians: young people see them as closer to their own lives, fostering a more intimate connection.

Of course, this perception is, to a certain extent, an illusion - particularly as YouTubers become more popular. Some have made considerable amounts of money, through brand endorsements or book deals -such as the fashion and beauty vlogger Zoella. Success like this can be a double-edged sword - the more popular and successful a YouTube personality becomes, the further away they move from the relatable status that their brand is built on. They - and the publicists and agents who profit from their identities - must maintain an image of authenticity while simultaneously navigating a new world of celebrity.  

The worlds of both fandom and YouTube celebrity are ones in which there is a sometimes uneasy relation between commercial interests, and young people's creativity and activity. Young fans may  use source material in ways that the makers did not intend and do not sanction: for instance, in making fan films. Some makers of media try to clamp down on fandom because of this, arguing that their intellectual property rights are being violated. But at the same time, young fans invest a significant amount of money in their fandom, through buying merchandise, tickets to events, and so on. Adult media makers continually try to find ways to profit from (and sometimes control) their young fans, and the young people making their own media - and young people continue both to support and to subvert the culture industries. 


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