Written By Sherwood Kohn
The amount of money spent by and for teenagers on consumer goods last year, according to the market research organization Packaged Facts, was in excess of $200 billion. That is more than half of all retail sales in the United States, which amounted to $355.55 billion in 2011.
A recent front page article in The New York Times (July 31) reported that marketers look to the so-called social media, much of which is dominated by teenage texting, for clues to consumer interest.
No wonder the nation’s culture, i.e. entertainment, digital communication, fast food and celebrity “news,” caters overwhelmingly to an age group that ranges between 11 and 18.
Language is always an indicator. For instance, digital communication is heavily freighted with names like “Facebook,” “Twitter,” “Tweet,” “Skype,” etc., which argues that those who bestowed those appellations are immature at best; technologically savvy but definitely not culturally developed beyond adolescence.
“Facebook” is a prime example. Isn’t that what high school kids call their year books? What does that say about those who are addicted to it? And what about the current fare dominating television and the movies? Reality shows, gargantuan obstacle courses, vampires, explosive crime dramas, sitcoms, comic book heroes and animated cartoons draw huge audiences, and, of course, advertisers hoping to sell stuff to teenagers.
It follows that our culture is characterized by the adolescent mind. Of course, you would not want a society so square that it demands serious, highly intellectual fare 24/7. That would not only be monotonous but deadly dull.
On the other hand, a good, wide-ranging mix of entertainment and information is highly desirable, i.e., films and television shows that appeal not only to children, but to the mature adult, and that includes literate comedy as well as intellectually challenging drama and informative programing.
I realize that in criticizing our television industry, which depends heavily upon income from commercial sponsors, I am tilting at windmills. TV usually appeals to the lowest common denominator, has done so since its beginnings, and will probably continue to pander for the foreseeable future.
That is what sells. That is why Hollywood churns out sequels to “Planet of the Apes,” television produces “Big Brother” (doesn’t anyone remember Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World?) and why musicals like “Mamma Mia” keep returning to Broadway like a stubborn case of heartburn.
What can be done about it? Rebel. Buy quality. Patronize films, television and theater that stimulate the mind. Change channels when you encounter monotonous, uncreative junk. The power of the purse will soon be felt and the culture will grow up.