Merchants of Cool was an outstanding view of our modern world. It reminds me however of the bumper sticker "kill your television." Why not turn it off? or watch a show now and then? I teach HS social studies in a college town, and if one thing is true, it is young people try different lifestyles, until they find a mix of ideas they feel comfortable with. Calling them "lemmings" as they did in the 70s is as untrue as the suicidal myths about lemmings.
What does dismay me is the media blitz and information overload. But kids have to overcome it all, and they do for the most part, from addictions to credit to the hypocritical example their elders set. I guess it all started with Clara Bow and Rudolph Valentino, or Betty Boop and Mickey Mouse. And there are so many other counter-cultures with young people from good old punk to rodeo to watching clouds in mountain meadows. Keep up the good work.
I'm a 17 year old high school senior . A few things really caught my ears when I watched Frontline:
1. If MTV interviews kids whom they screen to be normal, then who's really deciding what the norm is? One thing I noticed is that all of the teens on there were obviously good-looking and looked like they were well off financially. Do they only interview teens who are the basic commercial for Calvin Klein?
2. According to WB, "Kids want to see sex and violence because that's what's on TV." Whose fault is that?! Then the media has the audacity to be shocked when things like Columbine happen! Where does the fault REALLY lie? The media, which taught these teens to enjoy violence! I think that the media introduced violence into the teenage population because humans thrive on bad news. Life would be repetitive and boring if there wasn't something to be upset about, so the media is exploiting that for all it's worth.
3. The major female idol these days is Brittany Spears. The major male idols are Eminem and/or Tom Green and/or ICP. Does that mean that we want all our males to be bigoted disgusting wife-beaters and all our females to be look-oriented sluts with bad attitudes? That would definitely give the media more to complain about.
From what I saw, I'm abnormal. I don't care much about looks, and I don't really care about the lives of 'teen idols.' I care more about my intelligence, because, eventually, looks fail everybody. Intelligence lasts almost throughout your life. I care about being successful. I plan on double-majoring in electrical engineering and Japanese when I leave for college in the fall. The only trademark clothes I wear is what you can pick up cheap from Wal-Mart. I don't have the money to buy Tommy Hilfiger, and the most trademark you'll get from me is a cheap Winnie the Pooh shirt. I'm pretty much a feminist and I believe in gay rights.
I hate live-action TV violence. I believe that, if you must have sex and violence on TV, animate it like the Japanese do. My favorite TV shows include any Star Trek, 7 Days, and Gillmore Girls. I really don't watch much TV though.
I'm abnormal, but, hey, I gotta be me. Who else COULD I be? James Frank Dobie once said "Conform and be dull." The teens of America are conforming and becoming clones of one another. Sadly, it's too late to do anything about it. Teens and kids who don't conform feel alienated. Those who do are constantly self-conscious. Do kids even HAVE a childhood anymore? It doesn't seem like it.
Park Forest, IL
Thank you for your indepth exposure of the
"cool" conglomerate's shamful exploitation of our youth.
In an age in which we can truly claim "the MEDIA is the MESSAGE", the responsability of those conglomerates is not kept in check.
It's absurd to think that "The Big Five" can "ALLOW" our youth to responsibly redesign itself in a culture of coolness, especially considering that its masterminds are self-consumed, irresposible kids themselves.
this was hands down the best frontline documentary i've ever seen and one of the most subtly disturbing pieces public TV has ever aired.
rushkoff's outstanding deconstruction of the media infrastructure we are enslaved by was masterfully realized. that's a very powerful control system at work and we need more pieces like this to put it into perspective. why not turn this documentary into a series? i've never seen anything like mr. rushkoff's quiet voice of reason on TV before. please at least do a sequel to this show.
east harlem, new york
The people on Madison Ave. have always been profit
driven and that's not going to change anytime soon as
long as there is a dollar to be made.This is "Freedom"
at it's lowest common denominator.
TV is a major source of the problem today-the merchants of programing and advertising are not looking
for content. They have been producing garbage with the exception of Frontline for 60 years why change
their mindset when they have obviously been successful.
I'm a father of 4 daughters and they are all honest
and good citizens in spite of these merchants. What's
the answer to this problem? Hire thought provoking
people at the executive level and stop nepotism and
I found the program to be smug, sanctimonious, and vapid. Much like the pop culture it so enjoys acting superior to, it was endlessly repetitive, again and again making the same circular argument--"marketing groups are looking to make money!"
As if we all thought they were looking to act as benevolent older siblings to teenagers? Obviously, I'm not sympathetic to the basic position of the show, but I have to say that its level of argumentation would have earned a B minus, at best, in my Freshman English class. It never provided a counterargument that could have deepened its own position. The one person who said anything substantial on the 'other side' was Ann Powers of the Times, who made the comparison to the confinement of the two-party system. But the suggestion that any of this was a deeper issue than moralism could deal with was completely passed over.
The shots of Rushkoff looking on disapprovingly as wrestling and hip hop swirled around him provided some light comedy relief, though. I will however point out to him--because in his line of work he uses the word so much--that "media" is a plural word. Your grammar is incorrect when you say "The media *is* such-and-such." Maybe Rushkoff should read more, go to less wrestling, and watch less mtv--then he'll stop influencing our teenagers in such a way that they misuse the English language.
new york, ny
As a recovering journalist who once penned a college tretise on the subject at hand entitled "The Great Scene Scam", I found the overall content of the program a breath of fresh air.
However, the tone was entirely too dire for my tastes, taking the stance that youth are to be pitied for their position in today's market culture. I too worry for my young nephew and cousins, and my own future offspring, but also have enough faith in the power of one truth: You still don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Bob Dylan has been with the same record label - Columbia - his entire career, and even after the Sony buyout of the company. Even after, much to my chagrin, I saw the Band song "The Weight" which Dylan owns the rights to used in a Diet Coke ad a few years back, I had to temper my disallusionment. In spite of his loyalty to a huge corporation and ill-gotten revenues, I am convinced that never once has anyone told Bob Dylan what to write, sing, or say. The reason? If you do quality work, the market will bend to you.
My distaste for Rupert Murdoch does not lessen my enjoyment of The Simpsons.
Richard F. Restaino
As the documentary illustrated, when marketers observe teen behavior, the act of observation may change that behavior. They already know this and so much as admit they kill "cool" as fast as possible, albeit as a side-effect.
The "feedback loop" analogy is really interesting here as the source teens is unaware that it the feedback advertising is an amplified and distorted copy of itself. I don't see the problem as having so much to do with choice or a lack thereof or morals. It's repitition, plain and simple. If you looked at yourself in a fun-house mirror 10 times a day, do you think you'll still have a clear mental picture of your true appearance?
Is that bad? I can't tell, and this show wisely avoids trying to make a judgement. As a follow-up, I'd love to see Frontline cover teen marketing in Western Europe and China for comparison points to this show.
Anyways, another fine job and I look forward to your next show :
East Palo Alto, CA
...it's no wonder so many of our teens are on prozac and paxil.
With thousands of messages coming their direction, reinforcing their lack of this item or another, coupled with the message the without them they are somehow lessened, it's no wonder teens today are depressed.
In one hour, it's impossible to tell the whole story. Frontline did a fantastic job of sketching the landscape and suggesting the consequences of today's computer based, highly funded marketing engines targeting today's impressionable youth.
I would have been one who said that it advertising did not affect me, I could see through it. Advertising today is so subtle and morphs so quickly that perhaps most if not all are taken in at some level.
I am a 17 year old high school senior, and I myself try to educate fellow peers about how the media influences how we are seen and how we see each other.
I enjoyed the program immensely and was glad to learn that many media executives feel the same way i do about how sex is portrayed to young viewers. I would also like to see this program on during prime time programing.
Two thoughts occur to me as I reflect on your recent documentary:
1 How do stockholders in the five major conglomerates view the products and services of these companies after viewing this documentary, and
2 How many products or services of these five major conglomerates was the recent school shooter in California familar with?
The one thing that bothers me is that some people expressed that they think it's all happening because of some sort of "moral breakdown."
But it's not a breakdown in families or among youth, the moral breakdown is in big corporations who have no compunction about trying to sell people things they don't need or want. Until we the people reign in these corporations making corporations illegal would be a great start we can't fix the problem.
People seem to be responding to this report with a sense of doom; as though there's nothing they can do about the relentless onslaught of targeted marketing aimed at them... But it's only temporary. All it will take will be the number of people who see through it and are fed up by it to reach critical mass, and then start voting with their money and their opinions. No one can make you buy something if you're aware of their methods and you resist them.
The only way to rebel against commercial culture, without being part of another target market, is stop buying things. If one has to buy something in order to be a rebel against the prevailing culture, such as all black cloths, multiple piercings, face paint, etc. one has not succeeded in one's rebelling.
The same can be said for environmentalists who have to buy hiking boots, plaid pendletons, SUVs and landrovers, etc. to save the environment from commercial interests that would destroy it.
The documentary was excellent. ... The statement having to do with whether or not TV shows are portraying teens of today, or if teens of today are portraying TV shows, was an interesting statement. The teens of today are one big group of conformists, so both aspects of the statement are true. We all have a tiny speck of individuality in us, but we all like to be liked and be with the "in crowd."
I thought it was funny that the market researchers claimed they were trying, and succeeding, at understanding the modern teen. We change so much even we don't understand ourselves. But, nice try. Overall though, the documentary was well researched and educational. Thanx.
What a good show! What I found most interesting was the fact that the president of MTV referred to his audience as "young consumers" rather than "young people." At least he's honest about his intentions.
Saint Louis, MO
I enjoyed your show. However...as someone else mentioned, your show merely reflects ideas that Tom and the folks at The Baffler have been spouting about for the last 12 or so years. Most of the stories within the show were adapted from articles in The Baffler.
Perhaps Frontline is trying to get some of that "cool" as an "early adaptor" from The Baffler. Ironic as it sounds, but the frumpy middle-aged show "Frontline" is perhaps trying to wear new clothes to gain a better market share from a younger audience.
Shame on you for not crediting Tom Frank or The Baffler. Appropriation of cool, you gotta love it.
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