Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Divide and Commodify

If you don't know who Zoella is, then I don't blame you, but in the upward osmosis of teenage trends, it surprises me that any teacher doesn't.

Zoella is the internet moniker of a girl (nee woman) named Zoe Sugg, and she is the most successful debut author of all time in terms of first week sales. She is an internet phenomenon, and what is most interesting to me, is that she is a brand. The 24 year old Sugg began her public life as a video-blogger, peddling videos on such diverse topics as fashion and fashion.She became the au fait sounding board for teenagers. She also became an embodiment of a type of wonderfully short-sighted aspiration culture.

The current teenage zeitgeist is obsessed, even more so than ever, with the ordinary becoming extraordinary. From the sabbath-borne diurnal faux-splendour of X-Factor through to the flash-fame of the vinetastic, the whole of youth culture is rooted in the magic of the non-famous becoming famous, and, then, sadly, infamous. It is the latter part of this that triad that is oft-ignored by those wishing to, even vicariously, live the fame.Our students, are most of the demographic of the products that our made out of these quick-fix fames.

And so, from the realms of verbosity to internet video logs (and what a chasm that is). The issue is not with Zoella's vlog, it's with her book; A novel that has been slammed this week for using a ghostwriter. Many are suggesting that it is not that she used a ghost writer, but that she failed to admit it, that is the heinous crime, and I sort of agree there, but I also see why there was no upfront honesty: because Zoella and her fast-famed ilk are brands. They masquerade as real people, yes, but in the end they are a sell-able item. Companies now commodify reality and integrity. They appropriate its integrity and rehash it into something with a little more sheen on its bonnet. And the sad part, the reason why I, an amateur education blogger, am writing this? Because the demographic that small town heroism sells to is teens. And vulnerable teens at that. Those that cannot be cynical enough to see that they are being sold to are those that are often in most need of integrity to sell themselves to in order to remove themselves from difficult lives.

The sad thing about this is there is not much we can really do about it. Most advertising targeted at teenagers is already more ethically dubious that a KKK debutante ball. We can't change the media (at least not quickly), and equally we can't change the pervasive lust for money amongst a vast swathe of the community (and I use the word community more loosely than McDonalds use the term 'Healthy Choices'). What we can do, however, is to make sure that students know the reality of advertising and how it aims to manipulate them. Zoella is a victim of a corporate desire to consistently gauge out the sterling that line the pockets of teens. They identified that Sugg is not a novelist and so, probably, filled in the gap with someone who was, and who didn't have the prerequisite fame needed to top the book charts.

So there is something else at stake here; the faith in talent. All this presents to students is that even if they are the most stunningly talented novelist in the world, they need a public, famous, media-trained face to get themselves heard. The old adage of hard work paying off is false. If you don't want, or cant work hard then you can buy the shortcut and 'forget' to credit. Fairy tales are only accessible to those who are sponsored by big business. Every character in this tale has sold out. Every character has taken on an facade. Every character has lost their self on the alter of the commodified daydream. Nothing on screen is real.

So there you go, kids, want to be successful? Be ready to sell out at every turn. Oh. Wait. Screw that. Tell your students to question everything and be themselves. No surrender.

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