Academic Writing

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Be Careful or You'll Turn into Your Father!

During the 1950s and 1960s youth rebellion and counter culture flourished in this country. Throngs of young people were revolting against their parents and other adults during the post-war economic boom. They hated the older generations focus on material wealth. From universities to communes young people were turning on, tuning in and dropping out. And guess, what? It’s happening again today. The youth are rebelling against the adults, but doing it in an entirely different way. And the irony of the whole thing? They are rebelling against the same people who were of the generation who rebelled against their elders half a century ago. Its just human nature, or youth nature I should say, to revolt against conventional wisdom and practices.

It must be noted that their revolution is slightly different. The implicit irony with the YouTube culture is that the people posting their videos are all hoping to get rich, and quick, banking on the reliability of our celebrity obsessed culture. So, while in the 1960s youths rebelled against material wealth, today’s youth are striving to achieve it. Their rebellion lies in the way in which it is obtained. It’s a well-known adage that if you rebel too much against your parents you’re going to turn into your grandparents. That holds true, to a certain extent, here. Just like their grandparents, the stuffy adults in the 1950s, today’s youths want money. However, unlike their elders, they really aren’t willing to work for it. They look to this new technology to gain instant popularity and immediate fame.

Nevertheless, there are blatant similarities between this generation and their parents. The parallels are in the need for individual expression of self versus the abhorrence of big corporations with strong material values. With YouTube, On-Demand television, and blogging, young people of today are reclaiming social media and making it their own. They insist on instant gratification with content, as they want to see it, not as someone else dictates. Nontraditional platforms are becoming more popular than conventional arenas for displaying content while "old-media" moguls struggle to catch up. Jeff Zucker, the recently appointed head of NBC Universal, has placed conquering the digital world at the top of his "To Do" list. Mr. Zucker probably has a strong understanding of television content and its cultural implications given his close relationship with television production. I hope he understands this youth-centric rebellious trend. The thing with trends, though, is that they are fleeting. Once big corporate America takes over, the youth will find another way to create their own counter culture. It is not a coincidence that people’s first stop on their digital viewing tour is going to be YouTube before or any other network’s website. YouTube is a place for the younger generation to express their individuality; it is the new commune, if you will. Void of adult influence, concern over FCC regulations and advertising needs, it is a place where individuals can express what they wish without external repercussions. It is the lack of corporate influence which makes it such a popular haven for youth identity.

Young people want to rebel; they want to feel like they are getting away with something. Mr. Zucker, in a company-wide town hall after his promotion to CEO (jacketless, in a very non-old world CEO manner), announced that he wanted to find a way to make money off of the NBC clips that become popular in digital formats. There is also constant talk of removing licensed material from the sight. That in it of itself might not be such a problem because it is their property to begin with. Furthermore, given its popularity with original programming, I’m sure the site doesn’t need licensed material to stay afloat. However I worry about the larger cultural implications of co-opting a medium such as YouTube. Yes, it is owned by Google, but Google is about as youth-centric and non-traditional as big business comes. And given the abundant supply of "alternative" programming, it remains untainted by "Big Business." During the 1950s and the 1960s when the youth were forging a new cultural identity, they did so independent of adult influence, and when the adults tried to come in and co-opt their ideas that pushed the rebellion even further. In universities when administrations attempted to negotiate with students, students refused and more often than not law enforcement was brought in to ease the tension. This of course sparked violence rather than subduing the uprising.

It must be mentioned that NBC does have its own, in house "rogue" digital studio which have come up with a number of "subversive" popular clips such as "The Easter Bunny Hates You." For the most part their "viral" videos for external sites (YouTube, MySpace and the like) don’t need a stamp of approval other than from the senior producer. Their funding does not come from NBC, which gives them a little freer reign than if their money did come from the company.

Individuals going to these alternative viewing sites don’t want their creativity and hard work to be moneymakers for big business. People have realized that they can take control of their viewing habits. DVR and TiVo allow people to avoid commercials, when they watch movies On Demand they don’t have previews to sit through, and when they watch the latest SNL clip on YouTube they can avoid all the non-funny content that the show provides at weekly at 11:30 PM.

All in all, history does repeat itself and any given generation’s youth will rebel against those who came before them. That rebellion generally comes in the form of gaining independence from an older generation they see as old-fashion and out of touch with their reality. Given that technology has become such a fundamental part of popular culture it is now a conduit for that rebellion. That being the case, it is imperative that that connection remains in the forefront of the minds of those in charge if they want to see their content continue to be a central part of pop-culture.

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