Think for Yourself

Is high school just a place to be brainwashed and prepared for a lifetime of wage slavery? (Maybe). Do big-name corporations and the popular media subtly chip away at teenagers' ability to be themselves and choose what they like? (Possibly). Is it true that most young people don't possess the maturity to know what they want? (Definitely).

Teenagers don't have much freedom. Sure, there are many who would claim otherwise, but consider the sources of those claims. Often the message that teenagers are free comes from large corporations like Nike, and it comes in the form of slogans like "Just do it". What they seem to be saying is, "Do what you want to, when you want to. Be spontaneous. Be original." What they are actually saying is that if you, like everyone else, just give in and buy their products, then you will be accepted. People will think you're cool.

The marketing professionals behind campaigns like Nike's realize one thing: the best way to sell to kids is to make them believe that the only way they can hope to achieve the status of cool-individual-full-of-intelligent-thoughts-and-ideas, is by buying the right products.

I'll give you an example. Let's look at the hit TV show Dawson's Creek; the ultimate medium for selling the latest pop singles. The show is full of good-looking "teenagers" (they actually look like they're closer to twenty-something), who banter wittily, converse neurotically, and casually throw around words like 'persnickety' and 'paradigm'.

Persnickety, for cryin' out loud. It's totally sinister. As a result of all this heady dialogue, the teenagers who are watching the show are given the false impression that they too possess the wit and intelligence of the show's central characters.

Now that's bad enough, but - shh!... - listen to the soundtrack in the background. Can you hear the carefully placed songs subliminally eating their way into yielding young minds caught up in an emotional moment involving the cross-eyed squirrel boy and his sexual woes. This is the marketing formula in action: get a teenager all worked up, make them feel smart (or cool, or horny) and then when they've opened themselves up emotionally, go in for the big sell. "YOU could be like THEM". If only you had better taste in music (or clothes, or running shoes, etc....)

I am not saying that television is responsible for teenagers' inability to think. I am saying that corporations know how to zero in on a young person's vulnerabilities and that they use the media to exploit those vulnerabilities.

And how about at school? There's propaganda everywhere. I can recall seeing signs like 'Reading is fun!' or 'Education for life' tacked up on my classroom walls. While these appear to be harmless messages aimed at getting students interested in learning, young people are bombarded by these slogans at an age when they are most impressionable. We aren't asked if we think that reading is fun; we're told that it is. And if you and I don't think reading is fun, well then, there's just something wrong with us, isn't there. Now, don't even get me started on the wonderful government-funded advertisements on television, telling students it's cool to give blood, or to be yourself, or to be a girl...

I think that most teenagers today probably don't deserve the freedom to think for themselves because it seems like even if they had it, that they'd have nothing to contribute anyway. I mean, they can't even see the countless ways they are being controlled. Or, if they do, they don't seem to understand, or care about, the reasons why they're being manipulated. We've happily traded in our freedom for a pair of GAP khakis.

Young people are being brought up to consume, and to believe that this get-a-job-a-house-and-a-car dystopia is the only way to live, which leaves very little room for free thought or emotion or true creativity.

Is that sad? You bet it is.


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