The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Friday, March 2, 2001

The Old Man

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Don't know if you caught the "Frontlines" piece "The Merchants of Cool" — it ran on PBS stations the other night. To oversimplify, it was about how a few megacorporations (including my favorite, Viacom) do anthropological studies of the youth audience to learn what is "cool" at the moment. They go hang with kids in their homes and suck all the cool data out of them. Then they go back to the factory and, using the data, create programs reflecting what they've unearthed. "Jackass" (a show on MTV) is just one example of the fine programming derived from their expeditions. Writer Douglas Rushkoff, as correspondent and consulting producer for the "Frontlines" show, put it rather succinctly: "The media watches kids and then sells them an image of themselves." I was wondering what those millions of kids would think, if the puppet master — the old man himself, Sumner Redstone — were to do some hands-on market research. What if he decided, just for a day, to toss Carson or Tom Green aside, and communicate directly with the kids? Just imagine.... Which is just what I did. Using one of those unobtrusive fly-on-the-wall cams, we first observe the "Old Man" and his new sidekick, the "Melster," in the role of market-research duo. They are sitting on a mattress in the bedroom of 12-year-old Tim "Mooky" Rodgers.

Old Man: [pushing aside some dirty socks] I see you're wearing a Limp Bizkit "I'll break yr ass" T-shirt.

Mooky: [standing in front of his closet] Yeah? So what?

Old Man: [picking through a pile of empty CD cases, making a couple of notes] I made you want that T-shirt.

Mooky: [looking in a mirror and straightening his backward baseball cap and loosening his belt a notch so his baggy jeans hang a little lower] Go fuct yrself.

Old Man: No, really. I got this guy I pay a fortune, millions, Tom — oh, never mind — to run this TV channel I got, MTV. I pay him to pick out musical groups the major labels have signed and put them on the air. And he finds young, sparkling, trendy show hosts and has a whole bunch of people evaluating show concepts that you'll relate to, like "Real World" and "Jackass" and "TRL." What about that Incubus poster on your wall?

Mooky: [lighting a cigarette, blowing smoke in the old man's face] I stole that just last week. I saw it in this shop at the mall. That's my new favorite band. They rock.

Old Man: I bet your parents don't relate to Incubus. Speaking of your parents, they don't allow you to smoke, do they?

Mooky: [warming up] Fuct my parents. My parents hate Incubus. My dad's always telling at me to turn that shit off. Then he puts on his old B-52's shit. "Planet Claire" my ass.

Old Man: [notes the copies of Hustler and Penthouse and Maxim next to the mattress] Yeah, we identified Incubus as a band your demo — uh, you kids — would go for in a big way, almost a year ago. We're in what we call a "marketing partnership" with the label that signed them. Got anything to drink? All this talking makes me thirsty. Melster, you got the cooler?

Mooky: [picks up an open soft drink can] Wanna Sprite? I only had one or two sips.

Old Man: Took the words right out of my mouth, son. I think we did $10 million hawking Sprite last year. It's the favored drink of the hip-hoppers, you know.

The scene now shifts to the set of "TRL." The Old Man is sitting in a chair.

Old Man to audience: I see you're all wearing Backstreet Boys T-shirts. That's because of me.

In unison, the audience lets out a loud boo. Then chants: "Where's Carson?! Where's Carson?!"

Old Man: How does it feel to be manipulated by old men like me? I could be your grandfather's father.

Audience members look at each other with bewildered expressions. One 13-year-old girl lifts her hand, outstretches her index finger and moves it in a circle near her right ear, indicating that she thinks this old codger is crazy.

Old Man: I pay a whole lot of people to find stuff like Mandy Moore and baggy jeans and devil tattoos on the ass and put it on my TV channels. I made the WWF the big deal that it is. If not for me, most of you would still think wrestling was the stupid "sport" that it is.

Audience members start chanting "Get out of town! We want Carson! Get out of town! We want Carson!"

Old man gets up and walks slowly off the set, humming "Money for Nothing."

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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