HEY KIDS, you know those people responsible for the entertainment you see? Don’t look now, but the prevailing evidence suggests that they think you’re stupid.
This amounts to one of the more puzzling instances of disconnect in our modern times. Teens and young adults, we’re frequently reminded, are the most sophisticated, tech-savvy generation the world has ever seen. They’ve grown up surrounded by gadgetry that not long ago would have sounded like science fiction. Their minds are so agile they can consume five forms of media at once. And at least in theory they can focus more on genuine learning, inasmuch as facts and details are readily at their nimble fingertips — just a quick Google search away.
Watch enough television, though (and this could easily be expanded to include movies), and it’s hard not to wonder why they don’t have better taste, inasmuch as virtually every innovation or wrinkle ostensibly aimed at enticing a younger audience has the effect of dumbing down the product.
The perceived low-brow tastes and short attention spans of youth are responsible for all those whooshing, headache-inducing graphics, heavily staged reality TV shows and pretty much the entire E! network. It has birthed a show like G4’s “Hurl!” — the first gameshow with vomiting built into its premise — as well as the painful makeover of “At the Movies,” which has degenerated into a choppy mess where the hosts appear coaxed to argue.
The most recent installment of “At the Movies” included an absurdly heated debate over the merits of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” prompting 20-something critic Ben Lyons to proclaim, “I’m always freaked out by the personification of animals.” Even granting him a pass on Disney’s animated classics, that would still indict “Babe,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and (sort of) “The Wizard of Oz.”
Young men also bear the brunt of blame for ultimate fighting and mixed-martial arts showcases like “CBS EliteXC Saturday Night Fights,” where this weekend an excited announcer could be heard to shout, “If you’re willing to step into a cage and fight for your life, you can be anything you want!”
Sounds like the template for a reality show capitalizing on the surplus of unemployed day traders.
THE IRONY is there are some very smart, clever programs aimed at youth, including Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Sarah Silverman Program,” which returns for its second season with an episode that endorses the mind-enhancing benefits of drug use. In this economy, even Nancy Reagan would probably forgive people for just saying “Yes.”
Yet those tiny beacons are invariably surrounded by loud and obnoxious programs, such as HBO’s “Little Britain USA” and FX’s new “Testees,” which mistake a grade-school fascination with bodily fluids for actual comedy.
To be fair, most of what’s aimed at their elders stinks too, but baby boomers were the first generation weaned on TV and shouldn’t be expected to know any better. You kids — raised with VHS and cable and now DVD, VOD and TiVo — should be more discerning, but that hardly appears to be the case.
Indeed, the fall already looks like tough sledding for quality fare. Second-year programs “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and “Pushing Daisies” — which barely survived, thanks partly to a truncated development season due to the writers strike — look to be on life support. Many CBS viewers are also snubbing the promising comedy “Worst Week,” continuing TV’s frustrating difficulty in establishing promising comedies.
In a fragmented market, moreover, it doesn’t require that many younger viewers to sustain excellence. These days registering a 4 rating among adults 18-49 — or just over 5 million of the 132 million people within that age bracket in the U.S. — makes for an unqualified hit. (Notably, NBC’s convoluted “Heroes” is flirting with limboing under that bar — reflecting how quickly the mighty can tumble in today’s fast-paced culture.)
So please, kids, revolt. Become indignant. Prove your superiority. The baby boomers increasingly held hostage by your entertainment whims as the forward wave of them passes 55 beg you. Barring that, what about a promise (even if it’s a lie) to try preserving a few bucks in Social Security for you?