Merchants of Cool





Merchants of Cool

In your estimation, was what the media executives were saying about teenagers true to your experience?

In PBS Frontline’s Merchants of Cool, media executives explained that the youth was one of the most important demographics for marketers and large corporations. The executives claimed that this poses a difficult situation for them because the youth also happens to be one of the hardest demographics to access through active advertising and strong marketing. This means that the large corporations have been forced to come up with different ways of accessing the youth such as subliminal marketing. As part of this subliminal marketing, the media executives claimed that the large companies understood and recognized what the teens and youth were thinking (Goodman and Rushkoff). From my experience, most of what the media executives were claiming is false. Large corporations and companies do not understand any of the key demographics that they deal with, least of all the youth. The corporations simply find a way to sell their products to their target markets, mainly by convincing people that they need to consume the items being sold. This shows that the companies prefer a strategy where they find out the direction that the youth lean to and then take advantage of this orientation. I also think that media executives have a false understanding of teenagers because most of their companies’ products harm them instead of helping them build their futures. A good example of such a product is the “midriff” stereotype that the documentary mentioned.

Are youth creators of culture or are they consumers of culture?

Even though the youth play a key role in the creation of culture, they primarily consume it. In her interview with the show’s host, market researcher Dee Dee Gordon explained that her company scouts for trendsetters within the youth demographic and then sells these ideas to large companies that use them for their marketing campaigns (Goodman and Rushkoff). This shows that most of the cultural influences and trends that the large corporations sell to the teens are actually created by the youth themselves. However, the people involved in the creation of the culture only make up a small section of the entire demographic. Most of the youth take part in the consumption of culture by participating in the trends and patterns promoted through elements of popular media such as MTV and hip-hop.

The growth of hip-hop culture in the past two decades is a large indicator of the fact that most youths participate in the consumption of culture as opposed to its creation. Hip-hop musicians such as 50 Cent, Dr. Dre and Eminem have played key roles in the spreading of this culture. Their influences have been both overt and subliminal, as they have inspired the youth to think, act and behave in a specific way. For instance, the growth of certain fashion items and styles within the youth has been attributed to hip-hop culture. The media executives in the documentary admit that fashion trends such as baggy jeans and sneakers are core items of hip-hop culture (Goodman and Rushkoff). Using this culture, companies such as Sprite have marketed their products to the youth in a strategy that helps them avoid direct advertisements and promotion campaigns. The fact that such campaigns have been quite successful (at the time the documentary was made, Sprite was the fastest growing soft drink firm in the US) shows that the youth are more likely to consume culture than generate it. 

What are three examples of youth as creators or consumers?

The spread of hip-hop culture among the youth is an example of young people as creators. Fashion styles such as baggy jeans and sneakers typify the culture, and they have both become more popular as hip-hop spreads. This signifies the fact that youth are highly likely to ascribe to cultural trends rather than contribute to them. Another example of the youth as consumers is seen in the growth of the MTV channel, which helps different companies market trends and styles to the youth. The exponential growth of this channel even saw some analysts call the subject demographic, the MTV generation. Lastly, the youth’s role as consumers is seen in the way that many teenagers like to imitate the fashion styles of idolized people such as actors, athletes and musicians. The documentary acknowledges that Britney Spears played a crucial role in developing the “midriff” stereotype, one that has since been adopted by many teenage girls in the US and Europe.

How could youth do a better job of being creators, or how could executives do a better job of having youth consume?

The youth could do a better job of being creators of culture by trying not to follow all of the trends and styles to which different parties expose them. Merchants of Cool showed that large companies and other parties subject the youth to many marketing campaigns in different locations and using varying media. This has led to the growth of a generation that is comfortable with following many of these trends. The best thing for the youth to do is to evaluate some of these trends and only follow the ones that they actually find to be beneficial. For instance, the “midriff” stereotype is one that young people would want to reject because it promotes the sexualization of underage girls and young women in general. Additionally, young people should avoid spending too much of their time consuming different media such as television and music and instead engage themselves in creative activities such as writing, drawing and sculpting. Such activities are more likely to help them come up with something that will contribute to their culture and see them reverse their roles as they become creators instead of consumers.  

Work Cited:

Goodman, Barak, and Douglas Rushkoff. The Merchants of Cool. Alexandira, Va.: PBS Video, 2001. Web. March 5, 2014.

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