We set out on this In Focus section with the general intent of bringing together scholars working in contemporary youth media studies. This is our own background, as Louisa has written extensively on teen television shows and the youth fan cultures that surround them, and Tim has examined youth in American movies going back to early Hollywood.1 As we began considering established scholars in the field to solicit for contributions, we soon found evidence of the increasing attention to youth concerns beyond traditional film and television texts, as much recent scholarship has focused on children and young adults using and creating social media.
This increased attention to youth digital cultures should not have been a surprise given the state of the academy and, more so, the preoccupations of young people today. The youth population is indeed spending less time watching TV and going to movies and more time doing something—anything—on the Internet. When they are watching films and TV programs, they're often consuming that media online and then transforming their media engagement into authorship in digital venues, creating fan art and fan fiction, or offering reviews and critiques through social media networks. Increasingly, youth media engagement is also becoming more mobile because, for a variety of [End Page 117] reasons, including the economics of access, young people depend on portable devices for media engagement. Nonetheless, the lessons learned by decades of film and television studies in terms of youth representation and media effects remain germane to any questions raised about the use of these smaller-screen media. We still care about what access youth have to media and how it is affecting them (as the Payne Fund studies did more than eighty years ago); we still care about how youth are portrayed and what those images tell us about both the young population and the older producers (as various academic studies have done since the 1980s); and we are still captivated by youth media at large, which continues to evolve in progressively creative, political, and profitable ways. In today's ideological climate, young people, who are denied the right to vote until their late teens, nonetheless persist as change agents, working beyond their common interpellation as media consumers to become more engaged as cultural citizens through their own media authorship. These conditions raise the stakes of youth representation and media effect.
As the two of us evaluated our possibilities for contributors to this section, we realized that, although the media landscape has changed since we started our own studies of youth in the late twentieth century, many approaches to the subject have remained consistent. Yet at the same time, new questions arise as young people increasingly become authors of their own public media representations, building active cultures of sharing and of critique. As we research and engage with these evolving communities of young media consumers and authors, we must ask ourselves to reconsider our positions as scholars of contemporary youth media culture and history. What narratives about young people are we telling through our research, and how are we implicated in our own studies of the expansive and amorphous topic of youth media culture? We were very happy to find contributors who address film and television in their essays, while we also appreciated that any understanding of contemporary youth and their media (whether made about them or by them) must necessarily consider the high-speed nonlinear digital domain in which most youth now experience media. We hope that these essays continue the evolution of youth media studies, which have endeavored to understand the young populations vital to media industries, populations who are now becoming more empowered to use media for their own interest.] [End Page 118]
Timothy Shary publishes on the representational politics of age, most recently coauthoring with Nancy McVittie Fade to Gray: Aging in American Cinema (University of Texas Press, 2016). He continues to study younger roles as well, having written Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema (University of Texas Press, 2002, 2014) and Teen Movies: American Youth on Screen (Wallflower Press, 2005), and coedited Youth Culture in Global Cinema...