Do you know what your teenagers are watching?

Do you know what your teenagers are watching? Do you comprehend just how sophisticated and manipulative are the ads and videos they watch online or on their smart phones? You should. Wendy Chen (left) and Liz Schultze of Vancouver's Pacific Cinemateque talk to parents in the RSS library Monday evening about the new media, marketing and youth. David F. Rooney photo

By David F. Rooney

Do you know what your teenagers are watching? Do you comprehend just how sophisticated and manipulative are the ads and videos they watch online or on their smart phones? You should.

The new media landscape described for parents by Liz Schultze and Wendy Chen of Vancouver’s Pacific Cinemateque are a very far cry from the relatively clumsy attempts to influence consumers on TV during the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

The videos and ads aimed at youths cruising the Internet are slick, often better produced than most TV shows and carefully crafted to make even aberrant behaviours seem normal.

“Media is a huge component of youth culture,” said RSS student Taryn Walker as she introduced Chen and Schultze to a disappointingly small audience of about 16 people. “Since media is to accessible all the time it can have… some negative impacts.”

Schultze said there is a “rapidly changing media landscape” that is being created by corporations, advertisers and entertainment superstars. Sex and violence are often used to help sell everything from music to film. The use of violence and graphic sexual content in film has become commonplace over the last two decades to the point that it seems almost normal. The same can be said about music videos by performers such as Lady Gaga who has been known to use imagery implying violence and and sexual coercion, she said.

“The Lady Gaga thing is interesting,” Schultze said. “She’s practically a deity and a lot of kids simply won’t discuss why they watch her videos. It’s like they’re saying I just like them and I’m not going to discuss it.”

If you don’t know who Lady Gaga is you’re really out of the loop. She is a pop phenomenon that goes way beyond simple superstardom. And her use of this kind of imagery is entirely intentional. “She’s not a puppet,” Schultze said, adding that she has complete control over the way she is marketed.

Youth of every generation feel invincible and impervious to manipulation and control by others — but they’re not and the people behind new media and marketing understand this completely. They have spent vast amounts of money studying people and finding out how they tick — what turns them on or off, what they find funny, what they find alluring, how they perceive themselves and how they would like to be perceived by others.

Lady Gaga’s use of sex and violence is not unusual. Gangsta rappers have been using violence, sex and the objectification of women for years. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that it almost seems be a staple of music videos. Not all certainly, but enough that few people are surprised or horrified.

That normalization of behaviours that are really not normal is a worrisome trend. And it’s not limited to ads or products aimed at youths.

Ashley Madison is a Canadian dating site with a twist: it hooks up men and women who want to have an affair. A well known ad  called The Morning After shows a guy who looks like your average Joe Six Pack waking up in bed. Beside him is a woman who can be described as little other than a cow. As the narrator says “most of us can recover from a one-night stand with the wrong woman” Joe tiptoes out of bed and down the stairs. At first you think he’s doing a midnight flit, then you see a wedding photo. Him and the cow as the narrator says, “… but not when it’s every night for the rest of our lives. Isn’t it time for” The commercial cuts to the company logo and its cutesy logo: Life is short. Have an affair. It’s actually an amusing commercial and that helps, in a way, make it seem acceptable and normal to sell people on the idea of adultery.

That normalization can have bizarre and potentially tragic consequences. Take Heidi Montag, for instance. An actress on an MTV series called The Hills, she is really famous for being famous and for her history of plastic surgery. She had breast augmentation, rhinoplasty and collagen lip injections in 2007. Then in 2010 she had 10 plastic surgery procedures. In a TV news interview about her history of plastic surgery in 2010 she told the interviewer she believes young women should just be themselves.

The irony is stunning, yet as anyone who has not been living under a rock knows young girls are highly susceptible to suggestions that they can should alter their personal appearance. Anorexia, Bulimia and other eating disorders are one result. So, too, is an increasing number of plastic surgeries among young women.

Being a parent is always fraught with risk but if you do know what young people are looking at or listening to then you at least have a shot at being able to talk with them about the new media landscape.