Excerpts from interviews with cultural/media analysts discussing the intense
relationship between the media marketers and youth culture.
a writer for The New Yorker and author of Nobrow:
The Culture of Marketing--The Marketing of Culture
You have written: "MTV dramatically closed the feedback loop between culture
and marketing and made it much harder to tell one from the other, or which came
I think the important thing about MTV is the way in which it's broken down
the notion that there is culture of programming, on the one side, and marketing
and advertising, on the other side. And if you reflect on what the gist of MTV
is composed of--which are the videos--and ask yourself, "Well, what are videos?
Are they culture?" Well, in one sense they are, because they're sort of very
avant garde surrealist filmmaking that had you seen them 40 years ago...would have
stood out and would have been hailed as sort of artistic break-throughs, and
still do delight and astound on a regular basis. So on that level, it is what
I would call culture.
But on the other side, these videos are advertisements for music. The record
companies pay for them or they're paid for out of the band's budget. They're
given to MTV for free and they're put on in order to move product. And so you
can't say whether they're culture on the one side, or marketing on the other
And I think if you take that as the kind of ground zero for the MTV experience
and widen it out, it gets more consistent the further you go. And then if you
look at the world we live in today and talk about how people seem to use
advertisements--for example, the Budweiser advertisement, the "What'sup" thing.
Now you hear a lot of people saying "What'sup" to each other, which they're
not saying because they're trying to market anything. They're saying "What's
up," but they're referencing that Budweiser commercial because that's something
that they have in common and that's their little shared piece of culture in
that community moment. So you can't really draw the line clearly the way you
used to be able to draw the line clearly.
So what? It's not that important in terms of how we interact with each
other, I don't think. But, it is important in that it represents further
inroads of sort of commercialism and consumerism into our community, into our
culture, into the space that was not commercialized. It's all of this. MTV
culture is commercial culture and to the extent to which kids internalize it
and make sort of a fundamental value in their own lives, they're bringing
commercialism into their lives. It's reaching them on a fairly
profound, and also at a very formative age that those of us who are a little
bit older, I think, were a bit more sheltered from. And it follows that I
think it's somewhat of a harsher reality because it is all about commerce
ultimately. It is all about selling and buying and there's a kind of a
harshness to that, as a way of relating to other people.
a media critic and author of Rich Media, Poor
Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times
We've talked to people who have done research for MTV about kids--it's
research done with kids in their own bedrooms.... And there's this sense of
this intense feedback loop, where the teen audience seems to sort of suck in
everything that's put before them.
I think we're in a really interesting phase culturally where the notion that
there's something distinct from commercial culture comes into question when
everything's commercialized.... I think it's a troubling notion, the idea that
our references are so commercialized now that all our dissidents, all our
autonomous voices are getting their cues from MTV on how to revolt. And I
think that's a real tension that's going on among young people today.
I think we've seen really for the first time in a decade or two, from my
experience among young people--not just college students--a real concern that
their entire culture is this commercial laboratory and that being cool is like
buying the commercially sanctioned cool clothes.
And it's a real tension that's going on right now and it'll be very
interesting to see how it plays itself out, because I think there's a sense
that the sort of MTV-VH1 infomercial view of life where everything is sort of
part of the sales process and being cool is something you buy and an act you
sort of pose in--ultimately that's not a very satisfying or nourishing way to
live or to look at the world. And trying to create an alternative I think is
imperative for a lot of young people. But it's very hard to do when all the
markers around you are commercial.
a media critic and the author of Boxed In: The
Culture of TV
The MTV machine does listen very carefully to children. In rather the same
way--if I can put it controversially--as Dr. Goebbels, [Hitler's] ministry of
propaganda, listened to the German people. Propagandists have to listen to
their audience very, very closely. When corporate revenues depend on being
ahead of the curve, you have to listen, you have to know exactly what they want
and exactly what they're thinking so that you can give them what you want them
to have. Now that's an important distinction.
The MTV machine doesn't listen to the young so that it can make the young
happier. It doesn't listen to the young so it can come up with startling new
kinds of music, for example. The MTV machine tunes in so it can figure out how
to pitch what Viacom has to sell to those kids.
Now the young tend to be presented always and everywhere with what is in a way
the most seductive thing there is, and that's a mirror. There's a mirror held
up to them all the time. It's the mirror as constructed by advertising and TV,
but it's the mirror that tells you that you are all there is to be, or you
could be, if you bought what we have to sell.
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