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  • Frontline: The Merchants of Cool
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Frontline: The Merchants of Cool

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Product Details

  • Actors: Douglas Rushkoff, Shaggy 2 Dope, Christina Aguilera, Greg Berlanti, Bob Bibb
  • Directors: Barak Goodman
  • Writers: Rachel Dretzin
  • Producers: Douglas Rushkoff, Barak Goodman, David Fanning, Kimberly Tabor, Lisel Banker
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: PBS
  • DVD Release Date: October 4, 2005
  • Run Time: 55 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000B0WO44
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,289 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Frontline: The Merchants of Cool" on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

Today's teenagers have money and independence, their lives the object of obsessive focus by corporate America. FRONTLINE explores the culture of today's teenagers and how they view themselves and their parents. Teenage tastes, attitudes, and aspirations are endlessly sampled by marketers to determine exactly what they want, while Hollywood and Madison Avenue tell a carefully tailored version of teenage life in movies, TV, music and advertising.

Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By lighten_up_already2 VINE VOICE on February 28, 2006
If you are a parent of a teenager, a teacher, or a youth minister, or anyone else who works with teens, somehow get them to watch this. I found it downright chilling and I watched it again right before I wrote this review.

This documentary isn't about bashing teens. It's about exposing a very small number of huge media corporate conglomerates (just seeing who ownes who is fascinating) who work around the clock to determine the next "cool" trend among teens. They study the teens who are on the cutting edge to determine what the next cool thing is and then they package whatever it is and mass market it to the general teen audience. Of course, once whatever-it-is goes mainstream, it isn't cool anymore.

They also study the strictly average teen, not the super gifted or the overachievers, to determine how to reach this population with their marketing. Teens then conform to what they've been sold. They buy products with money often given to them by their parents. The media moguls pocket the money, and then try to figure out the next "cool" thing, and the never ending cycle continues.

I could go on, but I can't really do justice to what is my favorite episode of Frontline. I've leant my copy to several friends and they've all been enlightened to things that they never suspected were happening. Truth is often stranger than fiction. This might have been sci-fi fifty years ago.

The take home lesson to me is that being cool sucks. It sucks your brain out of your head and your money out of your wallet. This is true particularly if you're trying to buy coolness. It's best to be who you are and let others decide how cool that is.

If you are a parent of teens, pull the TV cable out of the wall and stop giving teens money. Make them earn it.

Finally, be sure to get the movie "Josie and the Pussycats" to see the same subject dealt with in a fun and satirical way.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Preston C. Enright on June 14, 2008
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This film exposes some of the marketing techniques used on young people.
I'm glad to read that another reviewer shows it to his students each year.
Another teacher who showed it to her class was less impressed with the response it received from some students who thought it was dated. There are some more recent documentaries on this issue from the Media Education Foundation, but this Frontline presentation is a good place to start.

I learned in the film The Corporation that some psychologists hired by the corporate world work to achieve a high "nag factor," that is an intense pressuring from kids on parents to purchase particular items for them. The techniques are many, and are constantly used on adults as well. Another related field to marketing is public relations. PR's founder, Edward Bernays, wrote a book called Propaganda, that was utilized by Joseph Goebbels during the rise of fascism. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, boasted that "If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it."

To counter all of this propaganda, I'd suggest the following resources:
Adbusters - Adbusters also offers items for teachers to use in the classroom.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By WinterWalker95 on April 18, 2011
Since I was a teen in the 90's, I found this a pretty interesting documentary, if dated. However, I feel it did not go in-depth enough on covering certain events, and should have provided more historical context. Marketing to young people was going on long before this, so was co-opting and commodifying what is "cool" and edgy. Rock and Rollers of the 50's and 60's, once considered subversive and even dangerous, have found their songs eventually being used to hawk some cheap product at grocery stores. The sexual revolution became the porno industry. Even denim jeans, once worn by college student activists to show solidarity with the struggles of union-workers, became hip, then became trendy, until we have designer jeans costings thousands of dollars. This got me thinking about the entire concept of "youth culture" as a side-effect of cultural homogenization that erases other forms identity. Unfortunately, this episode of Frontline doesn't really leave room for that discussion, but it could be a jumping off point.

Anyways, this episode mostly consists of interviews with people in the marketing industry or those who were very successful at selling to young people. There is a lot of emphasis on MTV, particularly, TRL and also people like Tom Green and Spring Break. The parts about the sexualization of teens and the "mooks" could have easily been mistaken as conservative moral panic. The parts about the focus groups or the market researchers dropping by a kids house and asking to see his wardrobe were more interesting. Although they mentioned the Sprite hip-hop show with the paid concert goers, they barely addressed the overall commercialization of concerts that had been going on.
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