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View January 2009 Issue >>
 

Killer Culture: Who is Selling Sex and Rebellion to Your Children?

Is it just me or do children seem to be growing up far too quickly nowadays? Is it something about the clothes they wear, the things they say, or something you can’t quite put your finger on? And it’s not just how they are growing up, but what they are growing up into. As with the Pied Piper of old, it seems so many of today’s youth are being enticed down a very dark path indeed.

No, I don’t think I’m the only one who’s concerned about the situation, but maybe too many are so busy having a good time and ‘partying it up’ that they’re not thinking about what lies at the end of the trip.

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

”They want to be cool. They are impressionable and they have the cash. They are corporate America’s $150 billion dream.”

So begins TV documentary ‘The Merchants of Cool’, a head-turning exposé on the corporate world’s infiltration – and exploitation – of today’s youth market. It’s common strategy in the marketing world to use various techniques to survey and ‘plug in’ to one’s chosen market, to get a feel of what potential buyers want and are willing to pay for. Of course, many such marketing companies operate well within accepted business practice and ethical behaviour.

Sadly, however, there comes a point when marketing strategies clearly overstep ethical boundaries – and sometimes even threaten important social values. Journalist, Patricia Hersch, documented these corporate attempts to crack the youth market in her recent exposé: ‘A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence’. According to Hersch, marketers play on the deepest-felt psychological needs and vulnerabilities of youth to get the ‘low down’ on what’s happening in youth circles, the essence of ‘what’s hot and what’s not’.

The problem is, in order to get the attention of the youth element, the products being marketed – whether music, movies or accessories – have got to be ‘bigger and badder’ than that which has gone before. Some have even compared the ‘cornering of the teen market’ to the great wave of European Imperialism of the 19th Century, where every effort was made at personal financial gain – with little regard for the welfare of the inhabitants of the colonised nations.

One such marketing technique is to send spies into youth clubs and social settings to gather as much information on youth trends and the ‘youth vibe’ as possible. Another is to monitor internet chat forums – with or without the knowledge of those being monitored – something that seriously infringes our right to privacy and also threatens the emerging internet culture.

It’s easy to say that the big corporations are merely plugging into a culture that’s already there and not influencing it in any way. According to editor and author, David Kupelian, however, many of today’s marketers do not merely copy, but actually influence the movement and flow of the often impressionable youth culture. They are not simply following and observing it, but ‘they are leading – downward’.

After a while, the whole ‘chicken or the egg’ concept starts to blur, and it is not clear whether the marketers are merely copying youth culture – or if youth culture is copying what the marketers sell them. According to media critic, Douglas Rushkoff, many times it’s a bit of both: “It’s a giant feedback loop. The media watches kids and then sells them an image of themselves. The kids then act on the media image, exaggerate it in an effort to be ‘more cool’, and the result is a vicious cycle.”

We need only to think of recent Hollywood films like ‘Borat’ or ‘Clerks 2’, where the key element is to ‘dare to dare’ – which in some cases even means pushing rape or bestiality as ‘cool’ or comical concepts.

To be fair, the situation is not perfectly suited to the South African scene. For one thing, South African youth are not as far down the ‘slippery slope’ of the modern entertainment world as their overseas counterparts. And, of course, neither the local marketing scene nor local youth are nearly as affluent or pleasure-driven as in the US. However, the strong influence of Hollywood and MTV culture on SA youth – and all around the world - is undeniable.

 

Where Have All the Children Gone?
New York University professor, Neil Postman, was during his lifetime one of the
premiere authorities on media and entertainment trends. In 1982 he penned the brilliant ‘The Disappearance of Childhood’ regarded as a classic work on the subject. For Postman, thanks to current media and entertainment trends, children today are being literally forced into adulthood before their time.
He gives the example of the Middle Ages; a time of relative barbarism and sexual openness. Because of the prevailing culture, children were privy to acts of sex and violence, whether brutal jousting contests (not as glamorous as cinema would have us believe), or in witnessing sexual acts at home as they were all forced to share the same family bed with their parents.

For Postman, children in these times had no childhood. They saw and took in things on a daily basis that the later West would never allow. For this reason, they had little of what we would call childhood or an ‘innocence period’. This all changed in later years, however, and by 1850 - a more civilised age - the need for a proper ‘childhood’ period became evident, when children could be sheltered from the harsh realities of life until such time as they reached their teens and could be introduced to the more dubious aspects of the world in a mature way, in keeping with their development.

What Postman calls the “disappearance of childhood” began in 1950, when current trends in media and communication changed the way we see the world. Today children get all the violence and sexual content they could ‘want’ from the entertainment media, much of it through TV sets in the privacy of our own lounges. The old censorship categories are gradually being eroded, as children are allowed access to more and more programming a civilised society would have either banned or regulated a long time ago. According to Postman, then, because of current trends in media and communication, we as a civilisation are returning to a Dark Age – i.e. we are going backwards, not forwards.

True, we cannot lay all the blame for the state of the world at the feet of the media industry. We are living in an age where single-parent families are a fact of everyday life and where divorce, crime and HIV have shaken the family structure to the point where, in some cases, an older sister or brother is forced to become the new ‘head of the family’. As a result, many children do not have the opportunity to explore their childhood fully and are pushed into adulthood before their little systems are ready for it.

Add to the problem that if one has never been a child, has never allowed childhood development its natural course, one cannot properly reach emotional maturity. This means that when such children grow up, something will be lacking in their development. There will always be something missing from their adulthood.

  What this means is that you will eventually have a generation where you have, on the one hand, children acting (or trying to act) like adults and, on the other, adults who are in many respects children who have never grown up. The damage to such a society is incalculable. Perhaps we are already seeing this, what with irresponsible attitudes to marriage, marital fidelity and a bad work ethic that so permeate Western society.

 

Children of the Revolution

Often overlooked is that many of today’s adults emerged from the Sixties – an era characterised by rebellion, opposition to traditional morality and the family structure, and general anti-West sentiment. A lot of these ‘free and easy’ 60’s attitudes filtered down to the next generation i.e. to those who are currently leaders of the present generation. For many parents today, then, much of modern youth culture may not seem all that much out of place because “we did it too”.

But rebellion breeds rebellion and we often don’t realise how much the rebellious and morally lax ways of the Sixties – which we may carry around as baggage and not even realise it – carry across to the present generation of youth, breeding even greater rebel attitudes. So once again it is indeed the ‘children of the revolution’ who are the real victims.

It is such trends that influence our day-to-day living. Therefore, we have TV shows where overly-mature kids talk back to their parents and where kids look, talk and act like adults. And kids, influenced by what they see on TV (among the many other bad influences in our topsy-turvy society) soon learn to act like their teen icons – learning adult ways before they are ready for them. So we have kids looking, dressing and acting like adults, at times so eerily reminiscent of an adult trapped in a child’s body.

In our local SA, reports of teen troubles abound on a daily basis. Children as young as 13 or 14 engage in sex acts, sometimes with much older partners. Restaurants frequently sell alcohol to under-18’s, resulting in fights and vandalism – sometimes aimed at security guards. Some teens, ever-bored in a fast-gratification culture, are given as much as R500 by their parents and dropped off at shopping malls for the evening, with little or no supervision.

So What Do We Do About It?

Perhaps one problem is apathy, a sort of helplessness that “Everybody lets their kids do what they want, so what else can I do?” – a sort of peer pressure for parents. Or perhaps there’s even that self-conviction (and in some cases self-deception) that, “my kids would never do drugs”.

The fact is, if parents don’t take a firm stand in solving the problem, no one else is going to. This means, among other things, the strict enforcing of boundaries. A visitor from another society may, for example, find it odd that so many allow their fifteen-year-old daughters (and younger) to go into places that have to employ bouncers to ensure violence doesn’t break out. Perhaps we have been moving down this path for so many years that it is hard to see the situation objectively. Very simply, however, it is not the sign of a healthy society. If more parents took a stand – even boycotting many of the favourite ‘night spots’ – we might begin to see a resolution of the many problems of our age.

We have also got to be discerning about the sort of films and TV shows we let our children watch. In too many households TV becomes a sort of ‘substitute maid’. If left solely to the media entertainment world and its ‘gospel’, however, it is doubtful our children are going to grow up with a balanced view of morality, ethics or the world.

What it boils down to is that the family is the building block of society. Once disintegration sets into the family structure, this inevitably has a ripple-effect on society as a whole.

For nearly half a century now, Western youth have been drawn further and further away from the solid moorings of parental and Biblical teaching. We are told that the Messianic age will see a turning of “the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous” Luke 1:17 – i.e. a time of strengthening of those family bonds for so long attacked by the enemy.

In our crumbling Western society, perhaps the Pied Piper has been calling the tune for far too long. As he leads the sheep further and further away, who will go out and bring them back into the fold? We know from the Word of God that there is a solution -  “If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chron 7:14

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