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Drivel, Sex and Marketing! 

Teenagers Discuss Pop Cultures Influence On Their Lives

Ellen, the bitchy drama queen, tearfully shrieks to Dan, the flamboyant gay guy, that Puck, the crazy white boy, threatened to kick her ass, as Aneesa, the angry black chick, strolls in topless. It's just one moment among so many others that illustrates the big ol' crap factory that is MTV. The particular gem described above is from an episode of MTV's RealWorld/Road Rules Challenge. Not that it took a lot of research to find a moment of such pure, pristine stupidity. MTV serves up a steaming pile of dung programming just about anytime. There's the mean-spirited and forced sexuality of the dating elimination show Dismissed. ("Hey, how are ya? What's your favorite sexual position?" is a typical exchange.) Or the mindless yammering of Total Request Live (TRL), where vapid VJs introduce videos before a howling studio audience, while kids out in Times Square give unintelligible "shout-outs." Sorority Life and Fraternity Life , two of the channel's newest programs, are simply Real World In College so instead of a bunch of shallow, self-absorbed kids lounging in a penthouse, we now see a bunch of shallow, self-involved college students pledging fraternities and sororities. Although there's a plethora of other equally bad shows, critiquing the channel any further becomes redundant, not to mention depressing. Suffice it to say, never before has garbage been so reliable, consistent -- and popular.

So are teenagers and young 20-somethings really that stupid? Submit yourself to an hour of MTV and it's hard to believe otherwise. Granted, I'm teetering on the very edge of the MTV demographic, so I'm no longer a typical audience member. Plus, one generation being out of touch with the tastes and interests of the next one is nothing new -- and that's as it should be. Youth are supposed to drive innovation and create unique new movements that are dangerous and challenging -- and some jackass lighting his crotch on fire doesn't count. In fact, it's the complete lack of innovation or creativity that makes MTV so repulsive. It's all so hopelessly homogenized and manufactured. The sameness -- and the noxious level of inanity and pettiness that permeates it -- is numbing.

Of course MTV doesn't have a monopoly on drivel. E! Entertainment, the network that takes you to exotic, culturally rich destinations all over the world where they show drunk, half-naked people going "Wooo!" is another example of brain-dead programming. Even supposedly serious news channels like CNBC have devolved into nothing more than panelists shouting over each other in 30-second zingers. And The Simpsons is the only thing saving the Fox Network -- birthplace of Temptation Island and Married By America -- from going straight to hell.

Still, nothing encapsulates the dreary, trivial nonsense that makes up so much of our current media and "official" popular culture as effectively as MTV. Add in the relentlessly obnoxious commercials for useless products and the huge money machine that fuels the channel's ubiquity, and you've got a media force whose influence, and manipulative prowess, can't be overstated. That's why, for the purposes of this article, we're using MTV to represent "mainstream" pop culture.

After even a small dose of the drivel that makes up what used to be optimistically called "youth culture," you can't help but wonder: do kids really swallow this crap? Are they aware of how ruthlessly programmers and advertisers are trying to manipulate them? Do at least some of them feel their intelligence insulted?

We contacted several local high schools, and put together a diverse group of teenagers to get their take on the state of pop culture and their place within it. All the students we interviewed have a keen interest in pop culture and the media, and felt they had something constructive to say about the subject. The discussions have given us new hope. As many parents of high school kids will tell you, most teenagers are far smarter than the creators and sellers of pop culture give them credit for.The Players Adrienne Rosado, 16, junior, West Mecklenburg High School

Danielle Webb, 16, junior, West Mecklenburg High School

Cordaro Rodriguez, 16, junior, West Mecklenburg High School

Fred Pfeiffer, 17, senior, Northwest School of the Arts

Zach Sigmon, 18, senior, Northwest School of the Arts

Alex Doyne, 17, senior, East Mecklenburg High School

Leslie Wilhoit, 18, senior, East Mecklenburg High School

Mallory Cash, 17, junior, East Mecklenburg High School

Katie Henderson, 16, junior, Myers Park High SchoolDo You Want What They Want You To Want? CL:Do the creators and sellers of pop culture reflect your tastes and desires, or do they manufacture those desires in an effort to capture the lucrative market that you represent?

ROSADO: It can work both ways, but I think it leans more toward them indicating what should be a fad or the popular thing to do. They target teenagers by finding out what interests them -- everything from cars to clothing. They know we're at an age when these things are a priority.

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