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The Merchants of Cool

Curricular Connections

navigation Just as you might add to your students' knowledge of a piece of literature by providing historical context and profiling the author, "The Merchants of Cool," which first aired February 27, 2001, provides vital background information about key media "storytellers." Because it exposes motives and techniques, the film is an invaluable tool for teaching media literacy. And because it is about their world, "The Merchants of Cool" is sure to hold students' attention and provide you with an excellent opportunity to engage them in discussions of culture, history, business, economics, ethics, mathematics, health, performing arts, gender stereotypes, ethnography, literature, social studies, and civics.

GRADE LEVEL: 9-adult

NOTE: In showing examples from the media it analyzes, "The Merchants of Cool" includes some adult language and sexual content. Educators are advised to preview the film prior to showing it to students.


Traditional literacy is the ability to understand, analyze, and use print to communicate. Media literacy adds the ability to apply these skills to images, sound, and multimedia formats.


  • There are 31.6 million 12-19 year-olds in the U.S. - the largest generation ever. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000)
  • Teens are exposed to an estimated 3,000 ads a day. (Adbusters)
  • 65% of U.S. teens have TV sets in their own rooms. (Kaiser Family Foundation)
  • 83% of U.S. teens reported going online last year. (Teen Research Unlimited)
  • Last year, U.S. teens spent an estimated $105 billion and influenced their parents to spend an additional $48 billion. (Teen Research Unlimited)
  • In 1998, U.S. companies spent nearly $200 billion on advertising. Worldwide ad spending is estimated at $435 billion. (Advertising Age and the United Nations Human Development Report, cited in Klein)


  • Britney Spears
  • Cruel Intentions
  • Dawson's Creek
  • Limp Bizkit
  • MTV
  • rage rock
  • Sprite

Credits, Acknowledgments

This guide was developed by Simone Bloom Nathan, EdM and Anne Kaplan, MA, Media Education Consultants and written by Faith Rogow, PhD, with input from Jim Bracciale, Erin Martin Kane, and Jessica Smith of FRONTLINE and "The Merchants of Cool" teacher's guide advisory panel. Advisors include Ellen Greenblatt, educator, University High School, San Francisco; LaTanya Bailey Jones, Vice President of the Alliance for a Media Literate America; Annie Rogers, PhD, Associate Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education; and Ann Sunwall, Manager of Community Relations, KTCA St. Paul, Minnesota.

FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS Viewers. National corporate funding provided by EarthLink®.

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