Mooks & Midriffs

Do you have a "mook" living under your roof? Or do you have a "midriff" among your family members? You may, but if these expressions are unfamiliar to you, you're not alone. The expressions, and the characters they describe, are the creation of what a recent Frontline documentary on PBS called "the Merchants of Cool." The merchants include the media, soft drink, and apparel companies that vie for the business of America's teenagers. Teenage consumers represent a "$150 billion dream" to such companies -- a staggering number. As one person interviewed said, "teens run today's economy." Even if that's an exaggeration, it is an indication of how eager advertisers and media companies are to capture the attention and business of our kids. How do they do it? One MTV executive told PBS, "[We need to know] more about them; know more about their lives; know more about . . . what they want . . . [and] what they don't want." Well, one thing kids seem to want is an "adult-free universe." So much so that depicting adults -- or at least adults in charge -- is considered incompatible with creating proper consumers. This competition is not only affecting these companies' bottom line, but it's shaping our kids, and our culture as well. As Mark Crispin-Miller of New York University told Frontline, "[Advertisers and programmers] are going to do whatever they think works fastest and with the most people, which means that they will drag standards down." Which brings us back to mooks and midriffs. The "mook" is a character created to appeal to adolescent males. He's characterized by "infantile, boorish behavior," and is trapped in a state of "perpetual adolescence." Mooks are a staple on MTV and shows like South Park. The "midriff" is a "highly-sexualized, world-weary sophisticate" who manages to retain a bit of the little girl. She's a central character on virtually every show on the WB Network and, especially, music videos. Kids, especially girls, are emulating these characters. And that, in turn, encourages producers to give us more mooks and midriffs that more and more kids will want to imitate. Arresting this trend, if not reversing it, requires understanding that the main problem is the fact that our kids have become targets. When advertisers treat thirten-year-olds like autonomous consumers, chances are the kids are going to feel autonomous in other ways as well. Giving them "what they want" invariably means validating their opinions and impulses -- whether or not those impulses are good for them. But it's not enough to complain about the objectionable content of television programming directed at teens. We have to get in between the advertisers and the kids -- and talk directly to kids. You see, if advertisers can bypass parents, this junk is going to continue. And to get our kids' attention, the "merchants of cool" will go for an ever-lower lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, the main reason the "merchants of cool" get away with this is because of the "hands- off" approach of many parents today. But in light of the recent school shootings, our culture knows it needs something better. And we Christians, who know that parenting is a "hands-on" activity, ought to be in a great position to show them how it's done -- and to make every home a "mook-free" environment.


Chuck Colson



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