Re: [PBS] What Teens Want

From: Matt Jensen (
Date: Wed Feb 28 2001 - 22:55:05 PST

(First, I claim the ancient right of "old bits" for the documentary
itself... )

Second, please note that all of the kids in the discussion are from Milton
Academy(!) It's not just an "independent" school, it's a 200-year-old
private school focused on classic academics. (How many other high schools
offer Greek?) This may explain why they sat for a discussion with PBS's
web site, and why they sounded articulate for their age.

I expect PBS chose them because WGBH (which produced the Frontline
documentary) in Brighton is a short drive to Milton, and the kids could be
expected to be well-behaved and thoughtful.

Now, if had hosted a second discussion, with kids who go to
public schools and belong to the 75% of kids with a TV in their rooms, it
might have been very informative to compare the discussions side by side.
(Several of the Milton kids say they were raised without a TV.)

-Matt Jensen

On Wed, 28 Feb 2001, Adam Rifkin wrote:

> There's a totally compelling PBS report circulating this month
> on the feedback cycle of how the media companies give teenagers
> what they want (mooks -n- midrifs), which in turn makes the
> teenagers more like the images of what they want, which makes
> the media companies provide even more of it...
> MTV dramatically closed the feedback loop between culture and
> marketing and made it much harder to tell one from the other,
> or which came first:
> 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.
> We are down to just six media giants who control practically
> everything we see, hear, and are marketed with: Viacom, Newscorp,
> Bertlesmann, Disney, Vivendi Universal, and (ahem, the biggest)
> AOL Time Warner:
> The thing is, you can be a savvy teen and realize the Rage Against
> The Machine is *part* of the machine, that Eminem is not shocking
> because he's real but because he's an excellent simulation of what
> would be horrifying if it were actually real, and so on...
> You think Eminem gives a damn about a Grammy? Heck yes...
> Imagine what will happen when these teens start entering the workforce
> in droves...
> Teenagers are not generally viewers of FRONTLINE reports. And that's why we
> wanted to make an effort to get their views about this one, "The Merchants
> of Cool." Because it's about them--how they're the target "demo" for the
> media marketers of popular culture today. So here are the reactions of just
> one small group of teens after watching this FRONTLINE documentary. There
> were about a dozen who viewed it, all high school juniors and seniors at
> Milton Academy, an independent school in the Boston area. We hope their
> views might elicit more comments from their peers about this FRONTLINE
> report, which we will post in our "Join the Discussion" area of this site.
> So what did you think?"
> Tor: I got interested in it. I just got kind of annoyed at the fact that it
> was showing so much of what it was talking about. It felt like I was
> watching commercials.
> Willis: . . . There weren't enough kids in it. We heard all these media
> executives and whatever, but there was only a real response from the
> teenagers at the beginning. . . .
> Laura: I really do feel I was being studied. Like some kind of specimen. And
> that I didn't have any voice as a teenager. That was kind of weird.
> Was what the media executives were saying about teenagers true to your
> experience?
> Laura: I think it was accurate, but it wasn't me telling them. [The problems
> was] it was them telling me.
> Brian: They were talking about the rebelliousness--but it's not rebelling at
> all. And they're talking about how teachers are nerds and authority figures
> are laughable. I mean, they're basically saying, "Everybody sucks except for
> us."
> Adia: Is pop culture trying to help people?
> Laura: No. It's trying to make money. That's the problem, we're a
> money-making culture.
> Tor: It at least pretends that it's trying to help people. Like it offers a
> solution if you just dumb yourself down enough to accept it. . . .
> Willis: Another related topic is that now that things like Napster and
> Gnutella and these computer programs...that's kind of the new wave of
> rebellion. Just to completely rip off electronic media--download your own
> songs for free. Let's see if these media giants are going to be able to
> out-run it in the next decade or two.
> Adia: I completely agree. The Internet is too big to control. . . .
> Willis: I think what the Internet has done. . . . You see a lot of smaller
> [artists and labels] supporting programs like Napster because they can
> really get their stuff out. And I can do whatever I want to, as long as the
> [artists] are willing to put it out there. And the small artists are doing
> that.
> Tor: With things like Napster, you can't tell people, "This is what you
> should be listening to." You can't push it. And because you can't push it
> the bands stay true to what they were writing about originally. If you
> listen to what people say about a lot of bands that have become big--a lot
> say, "You should listen to their old stuff--It's a lot better, before they
> got influenced."
> Davis: Eminem was a different artist before he became mainstream.
> What do you think of the Eminem-Grammy controversy?
> Davis: I didn't even watch it. I think the whole Eminem thing is BS. It
> really is like the [Insane Clown Posse]: "I'm rebelling, I'm taking it to
> the next level," just like media has been doing. They started out with the
> sex years ago and it just keeps escalating. Like the [FRONTLINE program]
> said, the media's looking at the teenage generation, taking that image, and
> I think they're notching it up a step. They're making it that much more
> risqué, and then they're selling it back. And you have Eminem with these
> absurd lyrics, and it's impossible to believe that any of that is really
> true.
> You don't think Eminem's lyrics are actually coming from him?
> Davis: I doubt it. I think that's an example of someone who's trying to
> market the next level. No one else is doing that, so he's ahead of the game.
> Dan: One of the [media] executives was talking about how they are trying to
> take things to the next level. The person who made "Cruel Intentions" wants
> to do something that nobody else has done. And in that sense, that is sort
> of the way to go. People want to see new things. But to do that, it's just
> going to escalate. Sexual activity on TV is just getting more explicit.
> Vocabulary that's allowed on the radio is getting more and more explicit.
> But do you feel you're getting fed more explicit stuff by the media? Or do
> you feel that you, as a generation, are asking for the more explicit
> material?
> Adia: It's both. . . . And society as a whole, because of this downward
> spiral in teenagers, is kind of going downward. Let's take sex and violence,
> which is what you see everywhere. I am inevitably polluted with it all the
> time. But once I turn 18, I'm not just going to forget about it. It's still
> going to be there. And I'm going to take that pollution (that's what I'll
> call it for now) and I'm just going to take that with me for the rest of my
> life. And that's just going to affect everything from then on. I think it's
> a downward spiral not just for the teenagers and the media, but for US
> culture. . . .
> Brian: I think one of the main problems is that with all of this constant
> influx of information and also collapse of morals, it ends up creating an
> apathy. I don't think people are as happy as they would be if they were able
> to do things of their own--as opposed to being told what to do and having,
> in a lot of ways, no minds of their own because they have no way of
> expressing themselves. Everything is forced into them.
> Willis: Tuning it out is a way of expressing yourself. I've pretty much
> stopped watching MTV. I live in the dorm. Sometimes it's going to be
> playing. Then I don't really have a choice. But mainly I watch what I'm
> interested in which is basketball. . . . .
> Dan: I don't really understand how advertising can make that much effect on
> the population. When I'm listening to the radio, I'll listen to a song I
> like and as soon as that song goes off and an ad comes on, I change the
> channel, trying to find something else. . . . [Ads] don't make me buy
> something. It seems like it's more just about name recognition. And we
> talked about this in our film class. It doesn't sell me a product, but it
> sells me the name. And whether I go out and buy that, at least I feel like
> it's my own choice still.
> Do you ever think that maybe it's not your choice? That you're just being
> programmed in some way?
> Dan: I honestly don't. One example is, I wear Nike shoes. Yes, it is a big
> huge name brand and there's tons of advertising on it. And I've gone out and
> I've worn Reeboks or whatever. And honestly, the one pair of Reeboks I ever
> had fell apart in a month. So to me, I found something that I like, that's
> comfortable, and that stays in one piece, and so that's why I buy Nike.
> Why don't you buy some no-name?
> Sara: You can't even get a no-name brand.
> Adia: . . . That's kind of what was so depressing about the documentary. It
> really is like a spiral. And it seems as though right now we're way too far
> into it to get out of it. Nike has way more money than beginning shoe
> companies could have. For example, Converse. I love Converse. . . . But then
> it sold out. It sold out to the same company that has New Balance and
> Skechers. The film mentioned the five conglomerates. They're so big, they're
> so huge, that you really stand no chance going against them. . . .
> Davis: I have a question--for anyone--which is: I do disagree with the AOL
> Time-Warner--the big five. But is it wrong for Time Warner, or is it wrong
> for Viacom to own MTV and to own all of this--is it wrong to buy smaller
> companies out in a capitalistic society?
> Adia: No, but it's disgusting. [laughter]
> Brian: I think it is wrong. I think that it depends on what their motive is.
> And their motive is not to help anyone. It's to make money for themselves.
> And they talk about, "We give money to charity." They want you to know they
> give money to charity. It's all about making money for themselves.
> Jonathan: What's wrong with that?
> Willis: Well, for better or for worse, that's capitalism. And that's the
> system we have. If we want to switch to socialism, then let's become
> politically active and do that. . . .
> Laura: There was one comment in the documentary that it's a really limited
> pool, like our political system--only a certain number of people could run
> for president because they're rich white males. And I think that we can't
> ever say that we're buying what we want, when the choices are so limited.
> Dan: I agree with you that our selection is really limited. But at the same
> time, I think that if I found that I hated Nikes, I would switch to another
> brand. And I think that if you want to, you can search and you can find
> variety. . . .
> Laura: What worries me is that in the future there will be no companies out
> there who have earned that position of prominence. Like they showed that
> band that they just promoted and promoted and they wouldn't necessarily have
> become famous if they hadn't been promoted. And if all the companies are
> like that, then there could be a time when none of them are good and it will
> be impossible to find something else. That's what worries me.
> Adia: And when you look at the progression of that, that means that when we
> grow up and want to start a company--let's say I want to start a band, or
> let's say you want to make shoes when you get older--that means that you're
> going to be eaten up by a conglomerate, basically. And you're going to have
> to be a part of that culture. Because that's really what it's leading.
> Brian: . . . . I don't know what the answer is. One of my teachers said--and
> I hope that in some way she's right--she believes this is a regular cycle.
> It's a moral collapse that happens. And it happens in societies every once
> in a while. And eventually it will burn out. People will get tired of having
> no morals. Tired of being told what to do, and things will change.
> Tor: I think already it's becoming more and more popular for parents to
> raise their kids without TV. I personally was raised in a house without TV.
> I read all the time.
> Laura: Me, too.
> Tor: I still have approximately no connection with the media. I don't have
> time for TV, don't have time for the radio, really. I don't have time for
> the newspaper. I have time to notice things like as I'm walking around. I
> think, people are realizing that things like TV (just as an example) are
> becoming faulty, and that people are rebelling against that just by blocking
> it out.
> Adia: I don't think people are realizing that. One of the first statistics
> that they said [in the documentary] is that 75% of American teens have a TV
> in their room. And boy that's kind of scary. I mean, if 75% have that, then
> clearly we're totally in the minority. . . .
> Dan: I know that I come from a fairly wealthy, well-off family. And the idea
> of having a TV in my room, to my parents and to me, is kind of ridiculous. .
> . . I don't know many of my friends who have a TV in their room. And that
> number seems really, really high to me.
> Adia: . . . . We may not watch it, but I'm convinced we're the minority.
> Because everyone else does.
> Davis: I think all this talk of how we're the minority has brought the idea
> in my head that it's interesting, as we're sitting here seeing this
> FRONTLINE thing, we obviously share a lot of these ideas about how we hate
> the big five and all this marketing. I think it would be interesting to hear
> what your "Abercrombie kids" or your "American Eagle kids" would think about
> all this after they saw it, and they saw that a lot of what they do is
> marketed and planned. And also I wonder why none of those kids are here.
> Sara: I'm wearing an American Eagle shirt and Skechers, and I am a media
> addict. I watch probably way more TV than all of you guys put together. I
> read Entertainment Weekly . [laughter] I am not the Abercrombie
> representative here, but I don't feel like the problem is that there's a
> breakdown of morals, or that the culture is evil, or that there's some kind
> of encroachment. I feel the problem is that we're not represented in our
> culture. We don't create it and it's not born of anything of us. It's born
> of what they're trying to give to us, which is really what worries me. . . .
> Jonathan: In reference to creating, I think the FRONTLINE documentary
> pointed out that it is created at the level of the independent,
> forward-minded kids. But where it goes astray is when media companies pick
> it up and they try to market it. That's when it turns into something big and
> something possibly even evil. And perhaps I think the Internet is one outlet
> of independent-minded people. I mean, it's an opportunity for anybody to be
> as big as one of those big five.
> What about the gender images and the stereotypes being marketed? Any
> thoughts on the boy "mook" idea or the girl sexpot idea as sketched in the
> FRONTLINE film? Did that ring true to you?
> Davis: I think that the mook stuff and all that does ring true. I could name
> a few kids in my class that are mooks, or are whatever the other term was.
> It does ring true. . . .There are kids who respond to [that sort of thing],
> who are really "in your face" and who are assholes. Some kids respond to
> that activity. And obviously MTV's caught onto it, and it's too bad.
> Personally I think the people like Tom Green and shows like Jackass are
> responsible for some of the moral decline we're seeing, because they're
> putting it on MTV, one of the most popular TV stations, and it's kind of a
> cliché but they're giving people these idols or role models.
> Tor: One thing that gets to me about Tom Green is that he is talented; he's
> just talented at being a tool. [laughter] It really gets to me. If he wasn't
> on TV, would he be doing the exact same things? What would he be doing if he
> wasn't on TV? Doesn't that scare you?
> Willis: He would be arrested a lot more often because he wouldn't be in the
> protection of MTV on an MTV spring break cruise.
> Tor: The media has been telling us that money will make us happy. Everyone's
> trying to get to be happy, and the media is telling us, "If you just have
> enough money, you can buy it." And so people who buy into that are looking
> for money, to the exclusion of just about anything else--which is where Tom
> Green comes in. Tom Green is a great way for them to get little boys to
> watch that show, to watch their advertising, for them to influence the minds
> of little boys, then to make more money off the kids. . . .
> Willis: I want to say on another note, we keep speaking about "us" and
> "them" and "we" and "they." And you know, we're becoming the trend setters
> here. You realize that our little debate here is being recorded and it's
> going to go on a website. And that website will be advertised on TV to a
> national audience. And we in turn will be posting the ideas that our peers
> and those younger than us can feed off of. [laughter] Isn't it strange how
> we've been rebelling against it, and we [are still part of it?]
> ----
> Adam@KnowNow.Com
> We don't call it Detroit, we call it Amityville;
> You can get capped after just havin a cavity filled.
> Ahahahaha, that's why we're crowned the murder capital still;
> This ain't Detroit, this is motherFoRKin Hamburger Hill!
> We don't do drivebys, we park in front of houses and shoot,
> and when the police come we FoRKin shoot it out with them too!
> That's the mentality here, that's the reality here...
> -- Eminem, "Amityville"

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