Michael Goldberg’s Insider One March 2 opening article talks about media marketing and the manipulation of youth culture. Am I being optimistic or naïve, or are the kids smarter than that? Actually, isn’t the piece really just talking bout the zombies of the teenage population who are no more programmable than their Gen X and now Gen Y counterparts? Surely he doesn’t mean all teens.
The piece is a fictional account of how Viacom honcho, Sumner Redstone, pays consultants to observe “typical” teenagers and then makes programming recommendations based on their behavior. Goldberg cites MTV’s Jackass as a prime example of this kind of research’s output. He also mentions groups like Backtsreet Boys and Incubus as examples of “product” that can be marketed to different demographics within the teenage ranks: BSB for the mall-walking, cutie pies and Incubus for the aggressive, angst-ridden tough guys. But this is no different than the type of marketing directed at older age groups. I mean, since when is it OK for 30-year-old men to wear orange cords and ride scooters? Since Gen-Xers hit the wall, Old Navy opened up and the Razor scooter became the dotcom-preferred mode of transportation in the city. Believe me, it’s all about the marketing.
But, are the kids really more susceptible to marketing ploys than anyone else? Can their opinions be that easily molded? Last fall I was outside the Metro in Chicago as an all-ages early show let out. Hundreds of youngsters streamed into the street. As I was there to hand fliers for a friend’s band, I ended up talking to some of the kids and asked them who it was they were there to see. Surely it was one of the groups I’ve seen on MTV. Judging by the staple punk wardrobe (docs, safety pins, plaid, pants cut off just below the knees, etc.) I knew it wasn’t J-Lo or any of the other unlistenable “R&B” groups that dominate the 3:00 to 7:00pm slots on MTV. The place was devoid of neon or high-soled platform shoes, so it was a good bet that Carson Daley and his ilk were not to be found. Who were they there to see? It must have been one of the ultra-marketed major label touring acts that pitch for Burger King or Sprite? Right? It was the Get Up Kids, a melodic EMO band who’s signed to Indie stalwart Vagrant Records. As far as I can tell, the only exposure this group has had is the occasional mention in SPIN and a one-time appearance on MTV’s never-watched (anymore) 120 Minutes.
Now, the Get Up Kids have a substantial following and certainly have the pop sensibilities to become MTV darlings, but they’re not yet. And the kids love ’em. Why? Perhaps it’s because the tunes are catchy and the energy from their live shows will sweep up the coolest of punks into a bona fide ass shakin’.
So, it seems the kids aren’t as dopey as Sumner and Goldberg think. Maybe they actually just like the music they like and that’s that. Maybe it’s all about good music getting to kids and shaking them to their scuffed docs. Maybe I’m just remembering how much my dad hated NWA and I want to stand up for the kids as not being so easily manipulated by marketing. But then again, NWA was marketed to the suburbs and white kids and there are even allegations that the heated disputes on wax and in the videos between NWA members was all a ruse to drum up sales for solo products (See the Feb. 28th posting by Jake Brown regarding NWA). After all, four top 10 albums are better than one and I started drinking malt liquor because I wanted to be like Cube. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to pop in my copy of Straight Outta Compton and run down to the Gap to get some baggy Khakis.
You can see the Get Up Kids touring with Weezer now. Check out their website www.thegetupkids.net.