Monday, December 31, 2007

Pay $2,500 to meet that mysterious species... teenagers

The LA Times yesterday published what I think must officially be the one millionth story on one of those idiotic "trend guru's," marketing mavens who get paid thousands of dollars by corporations to tell them what mysterious Gen Y'ers and X'ers think.

It's all the typical blather categorizing millions of diverse people born in the same 12 year chunk with some snazzy buzzwords. But I was particularly fascinated by this bit at the end of the article:

Yet the high point of the afternoon was a carefully culled panel of -- yes! -- authentic teenagers. There were largely kids from high schools and colleges across Los Angeles, guys like Jack, a gregarious 18-year-old who works at the clothing company Hollister, attends Beverly Hills High and owns 35 pairs of shoes. They were paid $100.

Almost all of them seemed at ease in their skins, as if they'd been asked 1,000 times before about the minutiae of their lives. And the audience members fired questions at them. What would they most like to do with their cellphones? What video games do they play?

These racially and economically diverse teenagers seem more assured than your average teenager lolling around the mall or MySpace. "Kids who agree to do panels are more poised than normal," allows Buckingham, though she does point out that kids today are more "poised than kids 10 years ago. Kids are more savvy, and more sophisticated, and grow up more quickly. I'm always amazed even if you go to Indiana or Wisconsin you hear a lot of the same things you do in Beverly Hills."

Still, the kids jazz the audience; it's like each marketer is finally able to hook up directly with the power source. One can begin to see how Buckingham gets some of her ideas about a whole generation with the attention span of gnats and the vulnerability of children who've been handed most everything by their doting parents.

Is anyone else as amazed as me that corporations pay $2,500 to attend a conference where they get to speak to real honest to goodness teenagers? Is it REALLY that hard to find a bunch of teenagers willing to talk about the stuff they like to buy? Don't most companies have a few employees with teenagers of their own? Or is that hard to go to a mall or high school sports game or whatever and just ask some kids questions? The idea of a few teenagers in the front of a room being barraged with questions by a bunch of marketing VPs would be beyond laughable... if I hadn't actually seen it myself at a conference once and almost lost my lunch.

Beyond the absurdity of paying thousands of dollars for the chance to hear some kids talk when, in my experience, they never seem to stop talking at every movie theater in America, there are two obvious problems here:

-Teenagers aren't idiots. They know what kind of stuff marketing folks want to hear and they know how to perform for that audience. Is there any chance at all that in front of this audience, a kid is going to say "actually, my cell phone isn't that important to me" or "I don't really care what brand of shoes I wear"?

-When the panel of teenagers is organized by a woman who makes her living by telling the world what teenagers want, what are the odds that any of the panelists she picks will disagree with her about anything?

Honestly, the more I learn about how the business world works, the less plausible I find the idea that capitalism is remotely rational.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Just how dumb is Tim Russert?

I have always had a sense that a lot of Tim Russert's questions on "Meet the Press" were idiotic and more focused on the headling-getting "gotcha" than actual policy -- or even politics -- discussion. But it was eye opening to listen to a podcast in the car while Alicia and I were driving to her family's house for the holidays.

Though she's moderately interested in politics, she never watches or listens to "MTP," and she was literally horrified at the questions Russert was asking Ron Paul. Not that she agrees with Ron Paul on most issues, but even as a relative political neophyte she could see that Russert was trying to nail him on obviously preposterous grounds.

That motivated me to just skim the transcript, now that I'm home, and think for a second about just how idiotic some of these questions are:

-But if you had a flat tax, 30 percent consumption tax, that would be very, very punishing to the poor and middle class.

That might be an interesting point... if Ron Paul was running on a flat tax or a consmuption tax. But he's not. It's not on his campaign website, it doesn't come up in Google. As far as I can tell, Russert figured "Ron Paul must support either a flat tax or national sales tax, since all those other anti-tax kooks do." Which is why Russert looked like a total ass when Paul replied "Well, I know. That's why I don't want it."

-[after a broken up discussion about how Ron Paul inserts earmarks for his district into spending bills]If you were true to your philosophy, you would say no pork spending in my district... Well, when you stop taking earmarks or putting earmarks in the, in the spending bills, then I think you'll be consistent.

That wouldn't be consistency. That would be idiocy. The inconsistency would be if he voted for big tax and spending bills. if he votes against the bill, but knows it's going to pass, why in the world shouldn't he make sure his district gets its fair share? Alicia was literally LOL at that one.

-You say you're a strict constructionist of the Constitution, and yet you want to amend the Constitution to say that children born here should not automatically be U.S. citizens.

This is maybe my favorite of the stupid questions Russert asked. And I don't think I could beat Ron Paul's own response: "Well, amending the Constitution is constitutional. What's a--what's the contradiction there?" But the best part is, Russert seemed to realize his question sounded idiotic when Paul responded that way, so he makes a pathetic attempt to clarify himself and make it sound like there is some contradiction with this follow-up:

-So in the Constitution as written, you want to amend?

No, Tim, he wants to amend the unwritten part of the Constitution.

-[after Paul said he thought the Civil War was unnecessary] We'd still have slavery.

As Alicia pointed out, we all learned in middle school that the Civil War wasn't fought over slavery (at least initially), it was over states' rights and keeping the country intact. And even if the Confederacy had successfully seceded, does anyone think it would still have slavery in the year 2007?

Which leads me to wonder... why does Tim Russert always finish his interviews by saying "Thanks for sharing your views" when he obviously isn't asking candidates to do that?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Paging Jonah Goldberg: Are conservatives "friendly communists?"

For some reason, Brendan felt the need to poke fun at Jonah Goldberg's thoughtful new contribution to the public discourse, "Liberal Fascism," but I actually found it inspiring. In fact, I'm working on a new proposal that draws directly on his brilliant intellectual work. I'm hoping to submit it to Doubleday, which had was brave enough to publish Goldberg's groundbreaking book via its new "Up is Down -- arguments even a mentally retarded infant could see through" imprint.

These are just two paragraphs I wrote that might be good for a book jacket. But hopefully you'll get the gist:

Did you know that in the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx said he supported “personal freedom” and “independence” and that the state is used by certain interest groups to control and oppress people, not to allow freedom?

Do these striking parallels mean that today’s conservatives are totalitarian maniacs, intent on conquering the world and imposing a new communist order? Not at all. Yet it is hard to deny that modern conservatism and classical communism shared the same intellectual roots.

PS Anyone else as amused as I am that Jonah Goldberg now has the #1 book in's fascism category, just slightly ahead of "Mein Kampf?"

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The 10 year-old Karl Rove

Now that Roger Ailes is busy running Fox News and Karl Rove has retired to the life of columnist and pundit, Republicans across the country are surely asking: Where's our next slimeball political operator who can drive our candidates to victory through blatant appeals to racism and fear? The Los Angeles Times appears to have found him -- a 10 year-old in Iowa:

It was an unusual question at the end of a long day: What, the fifth-grader asked Barack Obama, would you do as president if illegal immigrants staged a terrorist attack on the United States while you were pulling troops out of Iraq?

Quick, someone get this kid early admission to Patrick Henry University! I hope nobody else was planning to run for president of the national College Republicans between 2015 and 2019.

If he's smart, Tagg Romney is already signing this kid to an exclusive consulting contract for the 2020 election.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The most horrifying thing ever

Not that a blog nobody reads is the place to note an outrageous injustice, but this article left me frothing in anger like nothing I've read all year (or at least nothing involving Bush administration foreign policy).

A family courthouse in the Bronx where the elevators are so regularly broken that people have to wait AN HOUR OR TWO to get up to the courtrooms (they can't use the stairs for security purposes). And it has been this way for A YEAR. And a spokesman for the city said "the elevator project was not behind schedule, but was taking a long time because it was complicated."

I have literally never heard of such a thing in my life. Can you imagine how quickly the elevators would get fixed if this was happening in a family courthouse in a middle class or upper class community? Or if it was an office building in mid-town Manhattan? People would be getting fired left and right if it wasn't fixed in a week. And deservedly so.

If the elevators really and truly can't get fixed for a year, they should have moved the entire family court. That's what any business would do.

I remember going to family court once many years ago and it was a miserable place full of people facing some of the most emotionally wrenching problems possible. The idea that on top of that people have the stress of a 2 hour-long wait in the cold, or the anxiety of missing a court date because you're waiting for an elevator, is unfathomable. The article notes that one woman missed her court date to try and get her daughter out of foster care while she was stuck in line and had to reschedule for TWO MONTHS LATER. Two months without your child because the elevators don't work?

If Mayor Bloomberg read that and has any conscience at all, he's demanding this get fixed one way or another by the end of the year. And if the City can't do it, paying for it himself.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A disturbing trend

Two non-British people independently said "cheers" to me the other day, instead of "good bye" or "see you later" or any other non-pretentious farewell-type statement. I hope to God this is not becoming a trend, in L.A. or nationwide.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Tim Rutten's fundamental error on the CNN/YouTube debate

Tim Rutten devotes an entire, vicious column in the LA Times to bashing CNN for alleged bias in the questions it selected for the recent Republican YouTube debate:

Unless we're going to believe that the self-selecting YouTube questioners were utterly different from the rest of American voters, it seems pretty clear that CNN ignored these complex -- and highly relevant concerns -- for an issue that served its ratings interests -- immigration -- or ones that made for moments of conventional television conflict, like gun control, which doesn't even show up in surveys of voters' concerns.

Well, why the hell wouldn't we think that "the self-selecting YouTube questioners were utterly different from the rest of American voters?" As I wrote on Friday, it's actually amazing to believe that any regular American voter would shoot, edit, and upload a question for a YouTube debate. How many people were aware and motivated enough to even watch the debate? About 1.5% of us (4.5 million people watched). How many people like to shoot and upload videos of themselves to YouTube? VERY few. So it's actually perfectly reasonable to assume that most of the questions submitted would be from partisan activists with an agenda to push and not representative of what most people think.

As I discovered over and over again at Spinsanity and in my life working in the media, it's always easy to throw around accusations of bias, but there are usually much more system reasons for journalistic faults (real or perceived).