chapter  5
The plastic adolescent: classification and minority
Pages 15

This essay is part of an ongoing project on media classification systems – those ubiquitous systems that apply ratings, usually age-based ratings, to media objects. That project takes an international view and focuses on how different nationally-based systems refer to and interact with one another. This essay is principally concerned with ‘minority’ as a regulating principle and conceptual foundation for media classification. Minority itself is an insufficiently discussed critical foundation for modern governance, defined by discourses on capacity, impressionability, protection and guidance, which together underpin media classification as a public good. While our focus here is on classification, this essay situates the muchdiscussed concept of ‘the public’ within government through media classification systems in order to stress the importance of a figure of adolescent plasticity to both. This figure is, we will suggest, a model for how all cultural pedagogy works, and the explicit and implicit limits, tests, and reviews that make media classification a model of civil governance underscore why age-based minority is more generally a model for how subjects learn from culture. Media classification systems depend on both a concept of minority and a developmental model of adolescence. They typically depend on a notion of minoritised adolescence characterised as mutable and susceptible and restricted to the subordinate side of a majority-minority distinction, which is also a distinction between citizens and citizens-in-training. Minoritised adolescence always implies a concomitant figure – the stable adult citizen – and this stable adult is a discriminating figure, both in terms of its apparent capacity to ward-off unfortunate influence and its capacity to discern changing states in the minor. Stressing this point foregrounds the ongoing importance of a pedagogical model of adolescence to modern conceptions of subjectivity, politics and the law, and the significance of classification practices for managing relations between ‘youth’ and ‘culture’ as a pedagogy of citizenship. Media classification systems are technologies historically instituted to govern not only the access minors have to cultural forms and practices but the relationship between culture and minority more generally. They focus

on what pleasures, knowledge and experiences are deemed appropriate for minors and, more broadly, on the question of what should be consumed by whom. We argue that alongside, for example, the universalisation of high schools and the expansion of developmental psychology, media classification systems have become a significant pedagogical technology. Classification in this respect takes as its object both culture – that is, cultural products including both the popular and art (asking what is justified by these terms) – and adolescence (distributing permissible knowledges and experiences in an age-based hierarchy). It is crucial to understanding the consequences of media classification as a pedagogical technology that it depends on a notion of the public good to which minors are also central. The health of the population as construed by the modern democratic state depends on the protection of the minor who will eventually ‘consent’ to government, and this minority establishes the significance of media classification to consensus on the proper governance of minority. Indeed, the idea that a discriminating majority should govern the relationship between culture and minoritised adolescence seems now common sense on an international scale, involving agreements between states as much as popular consensus. This is the case despite inevitable disputes over the specific functioning of such technologies, relative to questions such as ‘at what age?’ and, especially, ‘what content?’ Such distinctions matter, but focusing on them risks ignoring the significance of a consensus invoked by all governance over minority as a pivotal mode of acting in the public interest. This essay expands on each of these points about the relationship between the public (or publics) and minority for understanding media classification systems and their pedagogical significance. Our examples of the processes by which attitudes and modes of conduct are acquired through pedagogical relations and practices will be the development and ongoing refinement of the film certificate system in India and debates around videogame classification in Australia, but our focus here is primarily conceptual.