Thai celebrity culture and the Bangkok teenage audience
This study explores the media reception patterns and impact of celebrity culture on identity construction of Bangkok teenagers. The hypothesis is that audiences do not necessarily decode identical media messages in the same way as encoded. Bangkok teenagers with different ages and genders are likely to read texts regarding celebrities differently. Celebrities may not influence all teenage audiences to a significant degree and, for affected teenagers, the degree of influence may differ. Celebrities may act as good or as bad role models. This study employs a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods including (1) preliminary survey, (2) analysis of media content from quantitative and qualitative points of view, and (3) focus group discussions with different categories of Bangkok teenagers. These evolved around a selection of media items related to issues of fashion, substance abuse, and sexuality. The findings provided evidence that the meanings the young audiences derived from the celebrity coverage did not always coincide with those encoded by the media and that often alternative readings were generated alongside the preferred reading. Cultural ideologies and social environment were found to be the most significant factors impacting the text decoding. This investigation did not corroborate the popular belief that Bangkok teenagers were uncritical victims of media coverage. Data confirmed that they are critical and active media users and the extent to which their behavior is shaped by the media is relatively limited. Celebrity culture did not seem to influence Bangkok youth to an extent that can be regarded as socially harmful or culturally detrimental. On the contrary, it had certain positive effects in areas such as education, music, sports, and lifestyles. Peer groups were found to be more influential than celebrities in areas such as substance abuse and sexuality. This project makes contributions to the area of mass communication; audience reception and media effects in particular, and celebrity and youth culture studies.