The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Thursday, March 15, 2001

The Old Man, Part 2

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Remarkable as it may seem, I sometimes discover that an "InsiderOne Daily Report" reader has misconstrued my meaning. It happened with my Friday, March 2 piece, "The Old Man." On the new Glorious Noise site, Phil writes: "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." He's right. I don't mean "all teens," and I do my best in the piece not to make all-encompassing generalizations. Also, I wasn't saying that teens can be manipulated more easily than older generations. My point in the piece was to make fun of the marketing and manipulation perpetrated by Viacom drones. I do think that Wise overestimates the abilities of most teenagers — and for that matter most human beings — to withstand the onslaught of overt and subtle forms of promotion. I focused on teenagers because they represent a huge audience, the one MTV lives off of, programs to — and also programs. (The Frontline show "The Merchants of Cool," which inspired my column, focused on teens as well.) Because of its size, the teen audience has tremendous impact on the music world; based on information from MTV, from friends, from the Net, etc., teens make buying decisions that drive the industry. A simple example: if that audience is buying into boy bands, large record companies start putting their money into boy bands, and groups like Guided By Voices or the Get Up Kids don't get signed to larger labels. Mandy Moore gets the shot that should have gone to a band as good as Nirvana. (And don't think the Get Up Kids wouldn't like to reach millions with their music, instead of thousands.) Of course, there are those who resist the MTV marketing machine. In his column, Phil presents the appearance of hundreds of teenagers at a Get Up Kids concert as some kind of evidence that kids can see through the hype and go for something good and real — and, of course, some can. There's always a group of kids whose taste runs counter to the mainstream, but there is also observable lemming-like behavior by teens (adults too — witness the millions who lost money trying to get a piece of the dot-com bubble.) In my satire, I intended to make fun of Viacom's techniques in creating shows and products the teen audience will consume. MTV absorbs everything it thinks will attract the attention of the largest possible number of kids — Britney, the Backstreet Boys, Rage Against the Machine, it doesn't matter, as long as the kids come. Which is why Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video once got lots of play. But by putting a musical product such as Britney on TV, MTV legitimizes and spreads it far and wide, to teens in every nook and cranny of the world. I was both horrified and amused that this old man, Sumner Redstone, has a goon squad that seeks out "average" teens and puts them under the microscope — after which they make stuff based on the research and sell it back to the teens. Viacom can't impose a new fad, but they can pick up on something and work it. And, yeah, if the Get Up Kids or Spoon or Stephen Malkmus got the kind of exposure that Limp Bizkit has had, I bet they'd have a much larger audience.

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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