And I Thought “Supersize Me” Was Scary: How the “Merchants of Cool” Control Teens’ Lives

October 20, 2009

My goodness.  I heard about the 2001 PBS documentary “The Merchants of Cool” a few years ago, but hadn’t watched it until today.  I urge each of you (especially parents) to watch this.  Follow the link and click on the first segment (“Hunting for Cool”):

The Merchants of Cool

[Update: While I recommend you watch the whole program, I found the following clip, which shows a significant part of the problem.  The link above will also lead you to a higher-quality version of the movie, but you’ll get the idea.  Warning: Rated R language!]

This disturbing video actually made me grateful that I was never “cool,” at least as that term is used in the video.  “Coolness” is a corporate creation, even for teens that think they hate corporations.  The true teen rebels are the ones who shun the MTV archetypes–the “uncool” ones. 

I recall a relevant incident in high school.  An especially introverted friend of mine (you couldn’t pay him to speak loudly in public) was teased by the tight end on our high school football team (he later went to play at a Pac-10 university that had recruited him).  The football player sarcastically said to him, “I bet you don’t like MTV.  That stuff is just trash, isn’t it? [snicker]”  My friend responded rather quietly (perhaps so quietly that the football player couldn’t hear him), “well, yeah…”  I bet the big tough popular football player would be surprised to learn that he was an unwitting corporate shill while my friend was actually the rebel against society.  My friend rebelled against the ultimate modern authority figure, the media companies, and the football player called him out on it. 

If you don’t conform to what the media companies sell, you don’t get to be “cool” (unless your behavior is even edgier than the current trends, in which case the corporations will market your look next).  If your style is unacceptable or behind schedule, you may even be considered an outcast.  If you are partially obedient, you are a “poser.”  The media portray religion as stuffy rule-following, claiming that you should be true to yourself, but then they tell you how to be true to yourself by setting rules for what is acceptable and what is not, changing the rules as necessary.  The rules just so happen to always align with the companies’ economic interests.  The companies don’t need to enforce their rules, they enlist an army of teenagers to do it for them.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that social misfits are better than or immune to the corporate machines.  They still (in large part) go to movies or watch TV or read magazines or look at billboards, and they still (in large part) buy the products they are told to buy, whether pre-packaged food or clothing or cars. 

I’ve never been especially concerned about corporate conspiracies because I’m a Christian.  Satan is the Prince of this World, the Father of Lies, and probably the king of all media.  It should be expected.  But it should not escape our attention.

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