Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 38(4) pp 590-602

This paper explores the responses of nearly 1200 children and young people in Wales who were asked to identify which three famous people they most admired and which three they most disliked. Analysis of these young people’s responses reveals a number of sociological and educational issues. Their selections confirm other research which has highlighted the importance of celebrities in the lives of young people. Their ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ are drawn mostly from the worlds of popular music and sport. Their choices are also highly gendered and ‘raced’. Of particular interest is the finding that someone’s ‘villain’ is more than likely to be someone else’s ‘hero’. Our young people’s selection of heroes and villains reflects the broader landscape of celebrity culture, where female fame is as much about appearance as talent and Black and minority ethnic celebrities are to be found largely in the fields of sport or popular music. The paper concludes by discussing the chasm between our young people’s ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ and those which are ‘officially sanctioned’ within the school curriculum and considers what schools and teachers might do about it.