Questions Related to
The Merchants of Cool



Think of the worst thing you know. Maybe it’s the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews of Europe. Now imagine yourself sitting in a room of thirty people, and the other twenty-nine people are all talking very favorably about Adolf Hitler. “He restored Germany’s economy and gave full employment. He defeated Communism and made Germany strong again. He brought law and order out of chaos."


It’s now your turn to say something. Will you be silent? How hard would it be for you to speak your mind? Now imagine that you are away from home for six weeks, and every night this same group of thirty people meets after supper to talk. What begins to happen to you as you sit and listen to your peers? Imagine that you are a pre or early adolescent, how might this peer group affect you?

What is television? How does it function? What is the impact of a film? While you are in the process of watching a screen and listening to the sounds, don’t the people on the screen become your peer group, dominating you, not unlike those twenty-nine people? When they look at something favorably, are you not subtly influenced to think of it favorably? When their faces light up as the look at something, don’t you find yourself being influenced to find that thing beautiful or desirable?

In a world where the role of traditional community and family are declining and people spend hours a day in front of screens, whether a personal computer or a television, do we find ourselves looking to a screen for our peer group?


1.   “Today five enormous companies are responsible for selling nearly all of youth culture. These are the true merchants of cool: Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp, Disney, Viacom, Universal Vivendi, and AOL/Time Warner.”


a.   How does this make you feel?


b.   How possible is it for someone to hold political office in America who would go against the leaders of these global corporations?


2.   Companies spend millions of dollars to discover where youth culture is going:  “What is cool?”  Then they work to get ahead of the curve so as to become the avant-garde of “cool.”  If popular youth culture appears to be taking a three degree turn to the left, the merchants of cool want to locate their product a few degrees to the left of that, always being ahead of where things appear to be headed.


a.   “And that’s when it hit me: It’s a giant feedback loop. The media watches kids and then sells them an image of themselves. Then kids watch those images and aspire to be that mook or midriff in the TV set. And the media is there watching them do that in order to craft new images for them, and so on.”


b.   “Everything on MTV is a commercial. That’s all that MTV is. Sometimes it’s an explicit advertisement paid for by a company to sell a product. Sometimes it’s going to be a video for a music company there to sell music. Sometimes it’s going to be the set that’s filled with trendy clothes and stuff there to sell a look that will include products on that set. Sometimes it will be a show about an upcoming movie paid for by the studio, though you don’t know it, to hype a movie that’s coming out from Hollywood.  But everything’s an infomercial. There is no non-commercial part of MTV.”


c.   Given the level of scientific sophistication of modern advertising, could we compare it to “brain-washing”?


d.   How should the realization that MTV is nothing but marketing impact how we view this channel?


3.   Think about these two merchandising models for youth:


a.   ‘His critics call him “the mook.” That’s right, M-O-O-K, mook. And you can find him almost any hour of the day or night somewhere on MTV. He’s not real. He’s a character- crude, loud, obnoxious, and in-your-face.’


b.   ‘The media machine has spit out a second caricature. Perhaps we can call this stereotype “the midriff.” The midriff is no more true to life than the mook. If he is arrested in adolescence, she is prematurely adult. If he doesn’t care what people think of him, she is consumed by appearances. If his thing is crudeness, hers is sex. The midriff is really just a collection of the same old sexual clichés, but repackaged as a new kind of female empowerment. “I am midriff, hear me roar. I am a sexual object, but I’m proud of it.”’



4.   Britney Spears was born in 1981 and raised in a Southern Baptist Church in Kentwood, Louisiana.  Her father was a building contractor, and her mother was a grade school teacher.  In 1999, ‘She hit the scene at 16 with “Baby, One More Time,” as a naughty Catholic schoolgirl bursting out of her uniform.’


a.   Why do you think that Britney Spears’ “most loyal fans are teenage girls”?


b.   How does Britney represent the “midriff archetype”?


c.   Do you think that the midriff could be a factor in youthful female depression, suicide, promiscuity, anorexia or bulimia?  If so, how?


d.   What is the male reaction to the “midriff”? 


e.   What is the male reaction to the “mook”? 


f.    Do you think that there is a connection between these archetypical marketing images and the degradation of women expressed in forms of pornography?


g.   Do you think there is a connection between these archetypical marketing images and the popularity of alternative musical groups such as the “Insane Clown Posse”?


5.   Culture was largely transmitted by parents, extended family, church and school in a unified and complementary way up until the last half of the twentieth century, and cultural change was very slow.


a.   What genealogical line led the way in most cultural development, that of Seth or that of Cain (Genesis 4:17-22), that of Ham, Shem or Japheth (Genesis 10:6 ff.)?


b.   Which ancient culture developed drama?


c.   How has television impacted cultural transmission?


d.   What are other factors contributing to the disruption of cultural transmission?


e.   How do the modern media prepare the way for the coming of the Man of Sin?


f.    How do images affect the brain (Cf. Exodus 20:4; Revelation 13:13-18)? 


6.   What do the following passages of Scripture say to us in about human evil and culture?


a.   Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom and in the end lost family (Genesis  13, 19).


b.   Dinah went to see “the daughters of the land” of Canaan, was raped, and her brothers avenged her death in a most dangerous way (Genesis 34).


c.   The “home-schooled, home-churched” Cain never watched MTV, never played a video game and never went to the movies, yet he committed one of the worst sins in history (Genesis 4).


d.   Jesus prayed that we would not be “of the world,” yet he also prayed that we not be taken out of the world (John 17:14-16).


e.   The root of sin is within the human heart and not in material things (Mark 7:20-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-5).


7.   The relationship of Christians to their own countries and cultures is profoundly parallel to that of the relationship of Jewish exiles to Babylon and Babylonian culture.  How should that biblical idea impact our thinking and the thinking of our children?  If you and your family were serving as missionaries in Saudi Arabia, how would you teach your children to respond to its television, films, educational system and friends?


8.   How do we best prepare children to deal with the world’s attack?  “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).


a.   What three things most concern you about your own children?


b.   On a scale of 1-10, how well do you know your children, their friends, and their friends’ parents?  What do they do with their free time activities?


c.   What efforts have you tried or could try to counteract the influence of popular American culture on your child?


d.   How can you prepare your child to be “in” this world and minister to it, but not be “of” it?  How can we be salt without being consumed by the putrefaction and light without being overwhelmed by the darkness?