CGG Weekly, February 6, 2004

"What it is children become, that will the community become."
Suzanne LaFollette

Laughable. That is what I would call the "apologies" tendered earlier this week following the lewd Super Bowl halftime peep show. Do these "performers" and media organizations really believe that the public is so dense that it would accept such drivel as sincere?

Justin Timberlake's "wardrobe malfunction" and Janet Jackson's "not my intention that it go as far as it did" excuses just do not wash. MTV and CBS also made less-than-genuine apologies, making it very clear to any perceptive observer that the whole bra-ha-ha—as one news anchor put it—had been staged to take place just as it did. Timberlake, Jackson, Nelly, P. Diddy, and Kid Rock, along with MTV at the very least, all took a calculated risk that the controversy would actually boost their careers and bottom lines over the long term.

It is all marketing, and there is no bad publicity.

Three years ago, PBS aired "Merchants of Cool" on Frontline, a sober probe into the research and marketing of what teens consider "cool." Knowing the way big business and big media push-the-envelope today, the results should not be shocking, but they are anyway. The conclusion of the documentary is that every new teen fashion, music, movie, television, and language trend is marketed and sold to the teen—and pre-teen—set by the media in cahoots with major advertisers. Our kids are being manipulated to absorb and reflect a deviant culture.

The show's narrator, Douglas Rushkoff, provides this tidbit: "Today [2001], five enormous companies are responsible for selling nearly all of youth culture. These are the true merchants of cool: Rupert Murdoch's Newscorp, Disney, Viacom, Universal Vivendi, and AOL/Time Warner." Communications Professor Robert McChesney of the University of Illinois adds:

The entertainment companies, which are a handful of massive conglomerates that own four of the five music companies that sell 90 percent of the music in the United States—those same companies also own all the film studios, all the major TV networks, all the TV stations pretty much in the 10 largest markets. They own all or part of every single commercial cable channel. They look at the teen market as part of this massive empire that they're colonizing. . . . Teens are like Africa . . . that they're going to take over, and their weaponry are films, music, books, CDs, Internet access, clothing, amusement parks, sports teams. That's all this weaponry they have to make money off of this market.

MTV, producer of the Super Bowl fiasco, is perhaps the biggest offender. Though it claims to be the defender of teen culture, it is hardly looking out for their best interests. In reality, MTV is more than taking advantage of teens and their billions of dollars; it is constantly molding teens' views to fatten its own purse. McChesney explains:

Everything on MTV is a commercial. . . . Sometimes it's an explicit advertisement paid for by a company to sell a product. Sometimes it's going to be a video for a music company there to sell music. Sometimes it's going to be the set that's filled with trendy clothes and stuff there to sell a look that will include products on that set. Sometimes it will be a show about an upcoming movie paid for by the studio, though you don't know it, to hype a movie that's coming out from Hollywood. But everything's an infomercial. There is no non-commercial part of MTV.

Because teens' interests are so fickle, what was cool yesterday is lame today. This forces advertisers and media outlets, not only to figure out what is "in," but actually to create new and often more outrageous expressions of youth culture to sell their products. "Merchants of Cool" intimates that both Howard Stern and Britney Spears are creations of this merchandizing/cultural machine, as are hip-hop, rage rock, teen screen stars and their movies, and even low-rise jeans and backward baseball caps.

How can we fight the massive cultural machine when it is backed by all the billions of the entertainment industry? How can we counter the estimated 3,000 advertisements teens see or hear each day?

First, never give up. If parents surrender to the onslaught of cultural dictators, the purveyors of all that is rotten will have won without a fight.

Second, become involved in your teen's life. Find out what he is watching, listening to, talking about, and involved in. As his guardian, guard him and his mind from as much of the mainstream culture as possible. This may mean getting involved with him in wholesome, family-oriented activities, and it will certainly mean listening and talking to him more.

Third, set limits on TV and movie viewing, as well as Internet surfing. The one-eyed monster is the main vehicle in the culture war, but the Internet is not far behind. If you can limit the input, you have greatly reduced the enemy's effectiveness. However, do not stoop to being a dictator yourself (Colossians 3:21)—emphasize your teen's freedom within the boundaries you set (Proverbs 22:6; Ecclesiastes 11:9-10).

Fourth, show them you love him, and let him know that God loves him too and wants the best for him (Malachi 2:15; I John 4:9-11). Teen rebellion is often a cry for attention and a stab at individuality. As parents, we have to make it clear to him that he does not have to go to extremes to get us to notice him and his looming adulthood. Make him realize that he is special just the way he is.

Wordsworth wrote, "The world is too much with us," and how true that is! Though we live in it, we must struggle for all we are worth not to allow it to manipulate us and our children—especially as the crisis at the close of this age draws ever nearer.