CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 7 . . . . November 26, 1999
I'm not your typical kid, but I'm not weird either. I like the mall whether I'm alone or with friends; whether I'm buying anything or not. I always have a good time. Lots of teenagers hang out at the mall. It's like walking around a big TV set. Different stores are different programs. Signs are the commercials - some you like; others you don't.
Brendan Moffit, the 13-year-old narrator, has $200 of birthday money to spend and, like many of his peers, his "income is 100% disposable," and so he plans to spend most of his "money on music, clothes, and video games." The video takes the viewer along on Brendan's shopping excursion from the point of his being dropped off at the mall to his being picked up hours later.
Comments from a variety of teenagers, from members of Halifax Band, "Hermit Thrush," from a youthful female shop person, from a middle-aged salesman, and from James Cote, co-author of Generation on Hold: Coming of Age in the Late Twentieth Century, are interspersed with Brendan's discussion of his consumerism. Commentary and music from Thrush Hermit and Hip Club Groove emphasize the importance of music, "a huge part of youth culture." The video shows teens hanging out, romancing, playing video games, shopping, working, smoking, eating, socializing - doing what teenagers do.
Brendan admits that advertising influences buying choices and that media images suggest "what we're supposed to be." As he wanders through the mall, media images surround him - logos for products, sale signs, brand names, store names - "the best reward is money,""all the time in the world to pay," "sale 40% off,""it's up to you." Although "I'm not as gullible as people seem to think I am," Brendan insists, he admits that "young people like to think we're being original and yet we also want to fit in with the right crowd."
Advertisers take advantage, they "mess with your mind."A shop keeper explains marketing can change buying habits just by changing the window dressing every couple of months and setting new trends to generate more dollars. Logos are important and determine whether a teen is "in or out." "Fashion is a moving target," Brendan says, "and kids get attracted to what the media puts out. Just when you think you got it down it changes again. You gotta keep on buying more and more stuff just to stay in the game." He complains, "Advertising is all around me - everywhere I go I'm surrounded by images. I wouldn't mind it so much if I thought I had control over it. But I guess I'm just a kid."
Watching Brendan pay $65 for a Tommy shirt and $18 for boxers, the male salesperson observes, "the advertising sector is obviously a large degree shaping culture." The younger generation will pay the outrageous prices attached to "being cool." What others are wearing, billboards, magazines, advertising, and "stuff" that catches the eye combine to shape young consumer choices. Yet some of the teens interviewed worry that there are no good jobs - only the McDonalds, KFC low level jobs to support their consumerism. "In five years' time," one young man laments, "there ain't gonna be no jobs for us." Yet buying "is kind of a sub-conscious thing where, yeah, yeah, I need this. The TV told me I needed it when, in fact, you don't really need it but essentially you do need it because they tell you you need it." One girl admits to applying enormous pressure on her family to get what she wants.
Satisfied with his shopping trip, Brendan concludes, "I could live without the mall, but not for long." The video focuses on the role youth play in today's economy showing them to be avid consumers willing to spend their "100% disposable" income on what's trendy and cool. Using a narrator of Brendan's age and obvious skateboarder role tends to date the video and limit its appeal to young adolescents even though older teens and adults provide commentary and observations. Senior high media literacy classes discuss the themes presented in the video; unfortunately senior high students may be turned off by the choice of narrator. The message and themes are current and pertinent - the method of delivery may present problems.
Recommended with reservations.
Darleen Golke is the teacher librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, MB.
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