In Rushkoff’s film, The Merchants of Cool, he rhetorically questions if “teenagers even have a culture to call distinctly their own.” In the late 1990’s when the documentary was made, the implication was that they do not. However, with the internet’s advancements and the accessibility of communication with massive amounts of people, teenagers today can form authentic cultures that are not contaminated by the corporate media.
When the documentary was produced, media exposure was limited to private and expensive mediums such as television, movies and radio. These outlets were plagued with marketing agendas designed to sell products under the guise of authentic music and entertainment. Formerly non-existent cultural archetypes such as the boy band, pop diva, and gothic artist were created and promoted by corporations with the intent to profit from their fame. This systematic fabrication of teenage culture was achieved through the monopolization of popular media by people and companies with money. This created a narrow and one-dimensional mainstream cultural media, limiting the preferences of society to music and images carefully constructed by corporations and advertisement. Despite the high level of superficiality present in media created with the sole purpose of increasing profits, the majority of teenagers bought into the artificial culture because of its appeal to deeper human needs and instincts.
The media chooses to portray and sell sex, violence, drama and role models because it appeals to teenagers’ biological and evolutionary instincts. The excessive amounts of sex hormones being produced in teenagers boosts libido causing displays of eroticism to be very alluring. Scenes of action or violence release adrenaline and endorphins for emotional stimulation and teen idols like NSYNC and Edward Cullen portray the ideal mate for many girls. The music presented is mostly homogenous and simple to promote familiarity and emotional response. Had these businesses tried to sell celibacy, indifference and pariahs, their profits would have declined.
In The Merchants of Cool, Rushkoff goes to a teenage party to survey...