So are teenagers and young 20-somethings really that stupid? Submit yourself to an hour of MTV and it's hard to believe otherwise. Granted, I'm teetering on the very edge of the MTV demographic, so I'm no longer a typical audience member. Plus, one generation being out of touch with the tastes and interests of the next one is nothing new -- and that's as it should be. Youth are supposed to drive innovation and create unique new movements that are dangerous and challenging -- and some jackass lighting his crotch on fire doesn't count. In fact, it's the complete lack of innovation or creativity that makes MTV so repulsive. It's all so hopelessly homogenized and manufactured. The sameness -- and the noxious level of inanity and pettiness that permeates it -- is numbing.
Of course MTV doesn't have a monopoly on drivel. E! Entertainment, the network that takes you to exotic, culturally rich destinations all over the world where they show drunk, half-naked people going "Wooo!" is another example of brain-dead programming. Even supposedly serious news channels like CNBC have devolved into nothing more than panelists shouting over each other in 30-second zingers. And The Simpsons is the only thing saving the Fox Network -- birthplace of Temptation Island and Married By America -- from going straight to hell.
Still, nothing encapsulates the dreary, trivial nonsense that makes up so much of our current media and "official" popular culture as effectively as MTV. Add in the relentlessly obnoxious commercials for useless products and the huge money machine that fuels the channel's ubiquity, and you've got a media force whose influence, and manipulative prowess, can't be overstated. That's why, for the purposes of this article, we're using MTV to represent "mainstream" pop culture.
After even a small dose of the drivel that makes up what used to be optimistically called "youth culture," you can't help but wonder: do kids really swallow this crap? Are they aware of how ruthlessly programmers and advertisers are trying to manipulate them? Do at least some of them feel their intelligence insulted?
We contacted several local high schools, and put together a diverse group of teenagers to get their take on the state of pop culture and their place within it. All the students we interviewed have a keen interest in pop culture and the media, and felt they had something constructive to say about the subject. The discussions have given us new hope. As many parents of high school kids will tell you, most teenagers are far smarter than the creators and sellers of pop culture give them credit for.The Players Adrienne Rosado, 16, junior, West Mecklenburg High School
Danielle Webb, 16, junior, West Mecklenburg High School
Cordaro Rodriguez, 16, junior, West Mecklenburg High School
Fred Pfeiffer, 17, senior, Northwest School of the Arts
Zach Sigmon, 18, senior, Northwest School of the Arts
Alex Doyne, 17, senior, East Mecklenburg High School
Leslie Wilhoit, 18, senior, East Mecklenburg High School
Mallory Cash, 17, junior, East Mecklenburg High School
Katie Henderson, 16, junior, Myers Park High SchoolDo You Want What They Want You To Want? CL:Do the creators and sellers of pop culture reflect your tastes and desires, or do they manufacture those desires in an effort to capture the lucrative market that you represent?
ROSADO: It can work both ways, but I think it leans more toward them indicating what should be a fad or the popular thing to do. They target teenagers by finding out what interests them -- everything from cars to clothing. They know we're at an age when these things are a priority.