To integrate the content of "The Merchants of Cool" into a literature or social studies class, have students assume the role of "cool hunter" and focus their attention on literary characters or historical figures they have studied. Who would they choose as "cool" and why? Have them design a marketing campaign to appeal to that person. De-brief the activity by asking them to justify the techniques used in their campaign and what kinds of information they needed to know about their target audience to design an effective campaign. You might also have students assess whether the campaign(s) developed by the class were ever misleading or unethical. Wrap up by asking students to look for present day examples of "spin" that mirror the techniques they used.
Before viewing "The Merchants of Cool", ask students to choose a favorite ad or music video and write a brief analysis or description. After viewing the film, have them re-write their analysis. Discuss what changed. You might use the "General Media Literacy Questions" at the end of the "Teaching Media Literacy" section to prompt analysis, or pose this trio:
What are the messages? Are the messages the same as the product(s)?
Have students define the word "authentic" and assign them to create a visual representation of the various facets their "authentic" selves. Facets of their identity might include things like cultural, religious, or racial heritage; family, neighborhood, or community; song lyrics, magazines, clothing; favorite TV shows, hobbies, or sports, etc. To practice public speaking or writing you might ask each student to explain their choices. Then have them look at the sources of the items they chose. Use the "Connecting the Dots" section to help students determine whether there are any corporate interests represented in their self-portraits. For example, who profits from the logo on their favorite pants? Who owns the label that their favorite band records on? Let the class generate a list of corporations connected to their expressions of authenticity and talk about what they see as the distinction between their actual selves and corporate reflections of their identity. Then discuss Douglas Rushkoff"s question about his own youth culture in "The Merchants of Cool": Was it just something being sold to us, or was it something that came from us? An act of expression not of consumption? Has that boundary been completely erased?