Youth is hardly a new concept in the media. Advertizing agencies have long been trying to sell it to us, and the angsty teen is a favorite subject for many a “gritty” TV program or film. These depictions are often exaggerated and two-dimensional – “caricatures,” as Ramaa Mosley, Executive Creative Director of Adolescent Content, argues.
Adolescent Content is a global youth media company that focuses on high quality advertizing and entertainment content. Founded in 2013 by Executive Creative Director Ramaa Mosley and Executive Producer Hope Farley, it represents and nurtures young directing talent creating content for other young people; functioning as a traditional production company as well as think tank for brands and advertizing agencies, its aim is to help each young director fulfill the full potential of their skill and creativity.
Several years ago, Mosley, who herself started directing at the tender age of 16, was inspired by an encounter with two young creators who she was mentoring. After decades of seeing the way in which youth content has been produced by adults, creating a clichéd image of teenagers as “full of drama and either not mature or too mature,” she realized how powerful it would be if the media could work with the generation they were depicting – working with youth, for youth.
Ramaa is right: recently, the media has been criticized for wildly inaccurate depictions of young people in all areas. From the controversial UK series Skins to Netflix’s recent release 13 Reasons Why (which inexplicably featured 15-year-old characters with neck tattoos, and played by adults), to ads for skin products marketed at teens featuring models in their twenties with impossibly clear skin, depictions of adolescents are distinctly lacking in nuance. The representations that teens see of themselves exist in unrecognizable spheres filled with chaos and depression; alternatively, they are skipping through meadows with not a care in the world.
In the UK and US, the number one career that millenials wish for is “YouTuber,” and while some might argue that this is a sign of laziness, entitlement, wanting an easy way – and any one of the other novel insults directed at young people – Ramaa sees it as a sign that “millions of youth want to create video work,” and importantly, offer an alternative vision of their generation. The organization’s intention is to find and nurture the best of this new crop of visual creators, selected for their passion and portfolio to be placed on a tailor-made mentorship program that allows them to let their talent flourish. Meanwhile, the initiative is spurring on a revolution in the way that youth is depicted in the media and advertizing.
The teenagers accepted onto the program are varied – some self-taught, some coming out of school art programs; some create work samples every week, allowing them to develop their bodies of work more quickly, while others are given more time. Whatever the path taken by mentees of Adolescent, the goal is the same: to ultimately create high-quality media and commercial products.
Working as a think-tank for media and advertizing agencies, Adolescent is also in a position to encourage collaboration with, and take advice from the young people on their roster. That’s to say – the mainstream media is finally looking to a group they so often portray in tired and predictable terms to consider an alternative.
Adolescent Content is driving to push media over the tipping point, moving away from traditional formats whereby “older people come up with the ideas, shoot the ideas, distribute the ideas,” towards a place where young people can control the way they are depicted in the media. The more this happens, the more true the representations of youth can be – in the same way that women are increasingly able to determine the way they are presented; even more marginalized groups are starting to be able to tell their own stories, and are being recognized for it – see the massive success of Barry Jenkins’ 2016 film Moonlight, the story of a young black gay man.
It makes so much sense for any group – youth, women, people of color – to tell their own stories in the media, not just in more hard-hitting films, but also in the mainstream media, television, and advertizing. It’s great, then, to see steps treading in the right direction.
Creators wishing to apply to the Adolescent Content program can send their portfolios and links to adolescent.net and via email. They can also tag Adolescent Content on Instagram at @adolescentcontent.