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“The Usual Suspects” – Politics, Social Change & Media Representations of Youth

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Professor Bill Osgerby of London Metropolitan University

Professor Bill Osgerby of London Metropolitan University

By Dan J Broadley

Riots. Gangs. Violence. As tabloid newspapers referred to it, ‘Broken Britain’ – the vision of a nation dominated by organised gangs of hooded, knife wielding youths! Is this reality? Or media sensation?  Author and cultural historian, Professor Bill Osgerby, was at Manchester Metropolitan University this week to shed some light on these issues and more as the Humanities in Public Festival’s ‘Contesting Youth‘ strand continued.

Youth, according to Bill, who is Professor of Media, Culture and Communications at London Metropolitan University,  is taken for granted. He says it has become a culturally constructed concept. Aside from the biological aspect, the term ‘youth’ has come to have an awful lot of connotations, not all of them positive.bo2

The main point of Bill’s lecture was that the media play a key role in these perceptions of youth. Cinema, television and press outlets have consistently churned out stereotypes that do not accurately reflect reality, but instead show an over-simplistic interpretation of young people’s lives.

He used the 2011 riots as an example of such media representations. According to most newspapers and TV News reports, the riots were caused by gangs of young hoodlums looking for nothing but crime and violence. Bill demonstrated how the media’s simplistic take on the events took the riots largely out of context.

Highlighting the 2004 media crusade against ‘hoodies,’ as well as Ryan Florence’s now infamous 2010 gun gesture behind David Cameron’s back in Wythenshawe, he then went on to point out how, interestingly, such representations of youth have been repeated over the decades, tracing instances of moral panic and fear mongering in the media back as far as the Victorian period

Bill Osgerby with Professor Melanie Tebbutt (left) and Dr Hannah Smithson (right) of The Manchester Centre for Youth Studies

Bill Osgerby with Professor Melanie Tebbutt (left) and Dr Hannah Smithson (right) of The Manchester Centre for Youth Studies

Questions were taken from the audience which provoked a lively debate about the purpose and agenda of the media in being so negative about youth, and the importance of class in its representations. Bill pointed to the TV series Benefits Street as an example arguing that there would never be an such an exploitative TV show made about bankers’ bonuses or corporate tax avoidance.

We caught up with Bill after his lecture and asked his opinion on the causes, and possible solutions to, the problems associated with young people and antisocial behaviour today. He told us,

“It’s a process of scapegoating to take attention away from the real causes of the problems. I’m definitely more of a rehabilitation man rather than a prison punishment man. You need a bit of both, but the welfare cuts and austerity really don’t help in that area. The fake idea of these villainous young people being a product of criminality takes attention away from the structural causes of the problems.”

For more information about the Humanities in Public Festival, including future events, please visit

Dan is an English and Creative Writing student at Manchester Metropolitan University. His interests include music, festivals, bass guitar, writing poetry, having ideas for novels and meditation. Follow him on Twitter @DanJBroadley. Dan’s personal blog is odd


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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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