|An unhealthy obsession with celebrity culture is damaging the academic success of British students, a survey of teachers has found, with celebrity couple the Beckhams the favourite inspiration.
Many students are ignoring career aspirations to pursue the chance of fame instead, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) survey found.
Almost two-thirds of teachers said sports stars were the type of celebrity most pupils wanted to emulate while more than half of students wanted to be pop stars.
The celebrities students aspired to be most like, the survey said, were Los Angeles-based David and Victoria Beckham, arguably Britain's most famous couple.
Soccer player "Becks" topped the poll, with more than half the teachers saying their students modelled themselves on the 32 year-old. In second place, with almost a third of the poll's vote, was his 33 year-old wife and pop star "Posh".
In an era of reality television "stars" and a media fixation with celebrities, a majority of teachers sd ceailebrity culture negatively impacted the aspirations of their pupils.
Many bemoaned students who "wanted to be famous for being famous".
Almost half of the 300 teachers polled said pupils tried to look like and/or behave like celebrities they most admired, fuelling fears that girls particularly dressed in "unsuitable", or provocative styles.
"We are not surprised about infiltration of celebrity culture in schools - it reflects the current media obsession with celebrity and the effect of celebrity culture on society as a whole," Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary Mary Bousted said in a statement.
"Celebrities can have a positive effect on pupils. They can raise pupils' aspirations and ambitions for the future.
"However ... celebrity culture can perpetuate the notion that celebrity status is the greatest achievement and reinforces the belief that other career options are not valuable."
Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard ranked third on the favourites list with 26 percent, actress Keira Knightley fourth (25 percent) and "Doctor Who" star David Tennant fifth (23 percent).
Other celebrities on the list included US heiress and socialite Paris Hilton (sixth) and Leona Lewis, a winner of Britain's "The X Factor" television talent show (ninth).
One primary school teacher from Scunthorpe, in the country's northeast, Elizabeth Farrar, said: "Too many of the pupils believe that academic success is unnecessary, because they will be able to access fame and fortune quite easily through a reality TV show."
Hungry for the spotlight
Is the cult of celebrity a trivial distraction in everyday life or a harmful obsession? Judith Kneen looks at how students can examine it to understand more about citizenship and society's values.
Tuesday December 2, 2003
"Celebrity is as celebrity does" croons the gloriously cheesy and glitzy celebrity wizard, Gilderoy Lockhart, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, so deftly played by Kenneth Branagh. And if you do ask what, exactly, celebrity does, the answer seems to be-in the words of another magical has-been-not a lot.
Celebrity seems to refer to tabloid pages overflowing with indiscreet photos, "it" girls perched on chat show sofas and television schedules overrun with reality shows that draw hordes of talentless unknowns on to our screens. The public craves celebrity, and will fete people for no other reason than that they are famous.
It's a candyfloss diet consumed by young and old alike, but one that young people indulge in. Is celebrity worship just harmless escapism - a trivial distraction from the mundane reality of life? Or is it an unhealthy obsession which leads to dysfunctional individuals - symptomatic of a disturbed society?
The good, the bad and the talentless
Whatever your feelings, celebrity is a fascinating and fruitful area for study at key stage 3 - for English and citizenship, in particular. A good starting point would be for students to investigate the types of people we regard as celebrities. As well as the current trend for the talentless, the roll call includes film stars, pop stars, sporting stars, royals, models, etc. Invite them to identify the reasons for celebrity and the qualities possessed by celebrities. Discuss whether all of these qualities are laudable and worthy of celebration. If they could define the right qualities and attributes for a celebrity, what would they be? After giving them a written model, ask your students to create a job specification for a particular celebrity - for instance a royal, or film star - giving the responsibilities, tasks and qualities required.
Encourage students to consider the people we value in society. Do we give too much attention to the rich and famous? Are we also celebrating the leading lights in the fields of science, technology or the arts? How many of our students will know, for example, that we had three UK Nobel prize winners in 2003? Ask them to compile a list of candidates who have not achieved celebrity status, but who perhaps should have done so.
Students will also require an under standing of the three-way relationship that supports celebrity. After all, the public may hanker after celebrity, and the celebrities themselves promote it, but the media manages it. Follow a current celebrity story, such as the Michael Jackson case, to see how this is done. View different types of report - television news, tabloids, broadsheets - and explore the headlines, the language, the photographs, the angle of the story, etc. Discuss how fair and balanced the reporting is and how the story is manipulated.
Students can also consider whether celebrities (and their families) should have the same rights as other people, such as the right to privacy. Ask them to create a set of rules for journalists and photographers, then compare these with the code of practice and guidelines currently in practice (see weblinks below).
The ladder to success
Of course there are degrees of celebrity - the A list, B list and so on - and the committed celebrity is always striving to go up, for to remain still is ultimately to go down the list. Celebrity can and must be cultivated and nurtured, as the Beckhams have so ably shown.
The A-list celebrity has a rarefied existence compared with the lowly D-lister, as can be gleaned from their increasingly outrageous and petulant behaviour that many exhibit. Make this idea of progression clear by asking your pupils to create their own celebrity lists, from A to D. They might be set out in tabular form, creating columns for name, occupation, an explanation of position and an arrow indicating whether they are heading up or down.
The only way is down?
A glimpse of hope for the lost, misguided or simply desperate celeb, is the latest lifeline to be thrown to them: the celebrity TV reality show. Programmes, such as I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and Celebrity Big Brother, thrust them into the spotlight, encouraging us to ogle at their failings, their strengths and, ironically, their ordinariness. But it's all a little fleeting and the best they can hope for seems to be a passport to one more quiz show or and advertising deal.
Even the loss of celebrity, so cruel and damning, can be used to titillate our celebrity obsession, with programmes that poke around in the cinders of celebrity, raking up the has-beens, examining how diminished they now are and giving them apathetic, brief hope that they can reinvent themselves and rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
The celebrity game
After they have examined all these different facets of celebrity, challenge your students to create their own board game: the celebrity game. Set it as a speaking and listening task for English, in which groups brainstorm, plan and construct a prototype of a game. It could be based on established models such as snakes and ladders or Monopoly. They will need to decide on the aim of the game and the advantages and pitfalls the players will encounter.
Direct students to write clear game instructions as well as promotional material, so that they are also exploring different types of text. Finally, invite them to present their ideas to the class and have the enjoyment of trying out the games which show a little of what celebrity is and does.