Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What do I mean by "Adolescence Narrative"?

It might help to clarify the conditions I will use to select titles for study. First a note about media. I'm in the Comparative Media Studies program, so that gives me the special freedom to select narratives from just about anywhere I want. I'll be looking at film, television, literature, and video games, mostly. But I may consider others, especially comic books, music, and fashion.

As I see it, there are three primary overlapping approaches to identifying adolescence narratives, each organized around the types of subjects with a stake in teen consumption.

1. Textual analysis - Author intent.
2. Marketing/distribution analysis - Industry strategy.
3. Ethnography/Market research - Reader response.

First would be a more traditional interpretive approach concerned primarily with the text. Any text with a major teen or young adult character, then, would be relevant. With this approach, it's not particularly important whether the text be marketed to or read by teens. It therefore conveniently sidesteps issues of fidelity to real youth culture. By the same token, though, analysis of such material limits one to questions about the cultural surround of a given text. Not, what does this text teach us about how teens live? But, what does this representation tell us about the author's view of teens? Or, how does this text reflect cultural constructions of adolescence? Important questions, to be sure, but with a limited utility.

The second considers adolescence as a market for cultural producers and the media industry. It interprets marketing strategy and product placement to give a picture of teen consumption patterns and industry expectations. For example, one would look at the books classified in the Young Adult section of the bookstore. This is a notoriously slippery methodology for several reasons. Teens may be unusually resistant to corporate marketing strategy. So what if NBC markets a show to the youth of America if teens see through it and its audience turns out to be younger children? Furthermore, the industry may not be advertising to the obvious demographic. Knowing teens to be skeptical to media representations of teen life, they may ostensibly target a media product to a higher age range, but really be aiming at the lower range. A show marketed to teens may really be a show made for children.

The third approach attempts to document, through accurate market research or close ethnographic studies with teen participants, what teens are really watching, reading, playing, etc. Any such study must be aspirational, with a recognition that the total complexity and diversity of teen media consumption habits, and how individual use and transform what they consume, may be ultimately unknowable. Such studies must be rigorously developed and carefully controlled, but the resulting data could be extremely powerful.

A possible fourth approach would be a personal archaeology: to think back to what media I was consuming as a teen. This would be subjective as a rule, and I can't say how accurate my memory would be about what I really consumed during that period vs. what I remember consuming. But, the limited data I could produce from this methodology may well prove insightful.

For my thesis, I'll likely be aiming for a kind of sweet spot between these approaches. I want to find texts that meet several of these conditions at once: texts about teen life that teens actually watch. I'm also going to pay particular attention to texts that explicity concern the relationship between adolescence and adulthood. For this blog, however, I intend to record my thoughts about texts that fit any one of the conditions mentioned above.


Blogger Akesha said...

Did you compile a list of narratives?

9:33 AM  

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