Boo! Hiss! It's Justin Bieber (and Adolf Hitler)

3rd October 2014 at 01:00
Pop star tops poll of pupils' most hated figures in public life

What do David Cameron, Justin Bieber and Luis Suarez have in common? The answer, according to a new study, is that they are all among schoolchildren's most reviled villains.

Researchers from Cardiff University asked almost 1,200 pupils between the ages of 10 and 15 to name the three famous people they most admired and the three they most disliked.

Fallen teen idol Justin Bieber draws the greatest proportion of pubescent opprobrium: nearly half those surveyed said they disliked him. However, teenagers are not known for their consistency, and many pupils named him as one of their heroes.

The alphabetical listing of heroes and villains makes for some unusual juxtapositions. Heroes include US president Barack Obama, followed by adventurer Bear Grylls and Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Similarly, singer Beyonc is listed next to Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Other student heroes include Marilyn Monroe, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and glamorous actor Megan Fox. Olympic medal-winners Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and Tom Daley also appear.

In a paper delivered at the annual British Educational Research Association conference in London last week, Cardiff University academic Kevin Smith writes that pupils' admiration can vary from "a temporary fancy" to "feeling a deeply profound, personal connection".

The list of pupils' villains, meanwhile, includes Adele, Adolf Hitler and television presenter Alan Carr. Film star Angelina Jolie also features, as do David Beckham, David Cameron and fashion guru Gok Wan.

The roll call of villainy also includes the vertiginously haired pop duo Jedward, professional antagonist Jeremy Kyle, veteran singer Madonna and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. Jimmy Savile, Margaret Thatcher and Osama Bin Laden also make the villainous cut, as do the pop triumvirate of Bieber, Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry.

Famous men were far more likely to be admired - or reviled - than their female counterparts: more than 70 per cent of the heroes and villains were men. No female academic, activist or entrepreneur was named as a hero, although authors J K Rowling and Jacqueline Wilson both earned heroic mentions.

Cat Shepherd, head of English at Aldersley High School in Wolverhampton, was slightly disheartened by the results.

"A lot of it seems to be to do with looks, and how they're portrayed in the media," she said. "If you've got booty, clearly you're bootilicious. Maybe the only reason they said Hitler was a villain was because he ain't rocking that moustache. It's not a good look."

Amy Newsham, an English teacher at Cardinal Allen Catholic High School in the North West of England, also felt that the media played a significant role in pupils' choices. She pointed out that the research was conducted during the summer of 2013, when Thatcher had just died. Revelations about Savile's paedophilia were also in the news during those months.

"The media villainises certain characters," Ms Newsham said. "The media has a perception of somebody, and it fuels what we think as a nation. Teenagers aren't necessarily aware of the impact that the media has."

Ms Shepherd agreed. "Teaching English, we do a lot of work about heroes and villains," she said. "Because, obviously, they're the people who make our books. The fact that kids are able to bend that to an everyday setting is good, I think.

"But a single act can turn somebody into a hero or a villain in the eyes of a child. Kids don't seem to recognise that it's not black or white."

Nonetheless, Ms Newsham is encouraged by pupils' choice of villains. "If you asked me that question when I was younger, I'd probably have said Lord Voldemort," she says.

"Teenagers get criticised all the time for not having a handle on politics. But of all the people they could have suggested as villains, some chose David Cameron and Nick Clegg. That goes against the stereotype."

Top ten heroes

Jessie J - 13 per cent

Taylor Swift - 11.4 per cent

Beyonc - 10.6 per cent

One Direction - 10.6 per cent

Lionel Messi - 9.9 per cent

Leigh Halfpenny - 9.7 per cent

Cristiano Ronaldo - 9.2 per cent

Jessica Ennis - 9.2 per cent

George North - 8.2 per cent

Rihanna - 8.2 per cent

Top ten villains

Justin Bieber - 46.6 per cent

One Direction - 11.1 per cent

Nicki Minaj - 7.4 per cent

Lady Gaga - 6.7 per cent

Simon Cowell - 6.0 per cent

Harry Styles - 5.0 per cent

Katie Price - 4.8 per cent

Wayne Rooney - 4.6 per cent

Luis Suarez - 4.2 per cent

David Cameron - 3.7 per cent

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