THE MERCHANTS OF COOL
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MTV's Undressed

undressed
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Given the teen sexual content of WB's "Dawson's Creek" what could teens come to expect from TV programs in the future? Who would top "Dawson's Creek?"

MTV would. They launched a new nighttime soap unambiguously entitled "Undressed." Dispensing with plot almost completely, its quick-cut, channel-surf-resistant vignettes draw their characters so thinly they nearly disappear. The show takes for granted a world of sexually active teens, and then ratchets it up another notch. "Undressed's" web site advertises future episodes with the tagline: "Want a little foreplay?" MTV executive Brian Graden emphasizes that by airing after 11:00 pm, "Undressed" is kid safe. Moreover, all the creators of teen TV that offers a high sexual content maintain that they're only reflecting the real world. Sex is a part of teens' lives, so it better be in their media, too.

MTV's Spring Break

spring break
This is another sexually charged MTV program. For the past 15 years MTV has packaged "Spring Break" into a staged tv performance, and then repackaged it throughout the year on show after show. It's a racy fusion of sand, live music, and bikini-clad bodies. Kids are invited to participate in sexual contests on stage or are followed by MTV cameras through their week of debauchery.

Neil Moritz

Neil Moritz
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Moritz is one of the most successful of Hollywood's teen impresarios. And he's one of a crop of recent filmmakers who are turning out ever more sexually sophisticated movies aimed squarely at the teen demographic. His highly popular films include "Cruel Intentions", and "I Know What You Did Last Summer". One of the biggest hits of 1999, "Cruel Intentions" is the story of two spoiled step-siblings; she promises to sleep with him if he will sexually humiliate her rival.

Moritz uses focus group testing to ask teen audiences what they want. Using that feedback to tune and tweak basic plots of sex and desire, Moritz creates a film with guaranteed appeal within the teen demographic.

Insane Clown Posse

Insane Clown Posse
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Has this music group escaped the giant 'feedback loop' which is explored in "The Merchants of Cool?" As Douglas Rushkoff notes in the program, "The media watches kids and then sells them an image of themselves. Then kids watch those images and aspire to be what they see in the TV set. And the media is there watching them do that in order to craft new images for them, and so on."

In the late 1990s, media weary teens flocked to the Detroit band, Insane Clown Posse. ICP helped found a musical genre called rap metal or rage rock, which has created a stir for its shock lyrics and ridicule of women and gays. ICP fans feel loyalty to their band and its music because they experience it as their own. It hasn't been processed by corporations, digested into popular culture, and sold back to them at the mall. For the fans, it's an authentic culture they own. But subcultures like ICP seem increasingly rare in the U.S.

Interscope Records

Interscope Records
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Interscope is the hugely successful record label of Eminem, Limp Bizkit, Marilyn Manson and several other high profile gansta rap and rage artists. Interscope's head Jimmy Iovine has been called an entrepreneur of rage, always on the lookout for the rawest of raw material. By signing talent outside of the mainstream, and alllowing the artists to have unusual creative control, Interscope developed a reputation as a dynamic, in your face music label, that proved wildly popular.

In his interview with FRONTLINE, Iovine says musical movements happen of their own accord, and no one can stop them once they start. But, they can run into trouble. In 1992--two years after Iovine and billionaire Ted Field had founded Interscope records in a partnership with Time Warner--several of its gangsta rap artists were being denounced for promoting violence and denigrating women. Criticism peaked in 1995 when Bob Dole, Willam Bennett and others spoke out against media violence and cited Interscope. Time Warner decided to cut its share in Interscope at the end of 1995.

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