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Gen Z Prefers Real-World Issues Over Aspirational TV Like ‘Gossip Girl,’ Study Finds

UCLA found that teenagers today contradict early 2000s TV preferences for unrealistic stories on the "Gossip Girl" level.

Gossip Girl

“Gossip Girl”


It’s a new generation of TV tastes.

A new study conducted by the Center for Scholars & Storytellers at UCLA confirmed that modern teenagers prefer to watch content that covers real-world issues like tense family dynamics or social justice, as opposed to aspirational content about being rich or famous a la “Gossip Girl.”

In a July study, 662 teenagers aged 13 through 18 from across the United States participated in the UCLA project. The study, called “CSS Teens and Screens 2022, #Authenticity,” found that 4.4 percent of Gen Zers sought “aspirational content” whereas 21 percent preferred to “see real-life issues that impact society (e.g. systemic injustice, climate change, etc.).” The top choice for teens was to “have fun and escape while watching content” at 37.8 percent of responses.

The recent findings directly contrast the early to mid-2000s research that fame and financial success were the top-ranked preferences for adolescents. Today, teens now want stories about “hope, lives unlike their own, family, and friendships.” Superhero stories ranked as a third choice. Stories about mental health placed fourth.

“Hollywood has built its young adult content on the belief that teens want to see glamorous lifestyles and rich and famous characters, but our research suggests the opposite is true,” psychologist Yalda Uhls, PhD, director of the Center for Scholars & Storytellers, who conducted the research, said. “We know from this and our Race and Class in Teen TV study, the majority of teens feel isolated and upset when media lack accurate identity representations. This is an important change that Hollywood needs to take note of. American adolescents value media that reflects what they know about the real world, even while they prefer to see people that are different from themselves. Teens want their media to show a world characterized by genuine diversity, relatable characters and heartwarming experiences.”

And the popularity of HBO’s “Euphoria” proves that teens want to see more relatable stories onscreen. “Euphoria” star Hunter Schafer weighed in on the darker dramas of TV like HBO’s “Succession,” saying that bleaker TV is more difficult to consume.

“In the past couple of years, I’ve noticed I don’t want to watch things about good people,” Schafer told The Cut in conversation with “The Acolyte” actress Amandla Stenberg. “I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this. I think that’s why ‘Succession’ did such a number on us — because everyone is just fucking nasty.”

The full study can be read here.

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