Not Too Real

Young Men Find “The Real” in “Unreal” Media

in Boyhood Studies

This article explores stories told by five young men, ages 17-19, about how they conceptualize “reality” through their electronic media choices. In studies on young people and the media, there is a rich and popular conservative tradition of seeing those deemed “deviant” as deeply and negatively influenced by the media. These individuals are assumed to have a fragile conscience that will permit them to be attracted to and act out socially unacceptable behaviors seen in the media. Deviance is understood in terms of social location, including race, gender, social class, and educational attainment. This essay challenges that tradition by asking how these boys understand and make meaning from their media choices. I draw directly from their stories told by youth of color from the inner-city South Bronx, New York. How do they articulate their viewing/listening positions and make meaning of “reality” when it is often people like them who are depicted as criminals and perpetuators of socially unacceptable behaviors in the media? Instead of seeking out or reacting against violent media, they choose and “make meaning” from media that help them conceptualize family, friendship, community, and career choice.