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Editorial: Searching for the real teen

For us adults, walking into the high-tech, laser-beam kinetic of one of today's video game palaces is rather like stepping back into the sci-fi movie world of our youth. It was only a couple of decades ago that we were viewing...
January 1, 1998

For us adults, walking into the high-tech, laser-beam kinetic of one of today’s video game palaces is rather like stepping back into the sci-fi movie world of our youth. It was only a couple of decades ago that we were viewing what is taking place today in an arcade environment-virtual reality games, direct interaction with lifelike video characters, video car racing with kids strapped into vehicles that simulate every bump and roll of the car-in the context of some Blade Runner-ish, futuristic fantasy. Much of those wild imaginings have become real, and within a much shorter time frame than anyone could have predicted back then.

And because the change in both entertainment and information delivery has occurred so quickly, and in such exponential leaps, one wonders, sometimes, just how large the gap truly is between the adult decision maker’s experiential frame of reference and the kids to whom they are marketing.

As writer Ed Kirchdoerffer points out in a story in our ‘TeenScreen’ special report, 25 years ago, growing up as a kid in suburban New Jersey, sports consisted of baseball in the summer and football in the fall. Basketball was something to be played more than watched and hockey was somewhere on the fringe. And it was pretty much the same 25 years before that.

But now, suddenly, in the space of one generation’s maturity from adolesence to adulthood, everything has changed. The activities and interests that make up a kid’s experience are rooted in a context that never even existed before. In the example of sports, baseball and football are now only two of a wide variety of alphabetized professional sports leagues that have captured kids’ attention-with increasing appeal among females-not to mention numerous other new diversions that have been invented along the way, from in-line skates to beach volleyball to skiing downhill on a board.

Fragmentation of interest is probably as significant as fragmentation of media in the challenge of marketing to kids.

Yet for all of that complexity, there might be a very simple answer as to the best way of reaching young people, suggests West Coast editor Virginia Robertson in her story on the new one-hour drama Dawson’s Creek.

Although pushed to a 9 p.m. time slot on Tuesday evenings because of the furor last fall over what was considered (by adults) to be racy material in the teen- and young adult-directed show, Dawson’s Creek producers are unapologetic about what will reach today’s teens.

‘I think it definitely conveys a sense of honesty, portraying what they talk about-the real emotions of teens,’ says co-executive producer Paul Stupin.

The scripts have teens talking about what they’re really thinking, in the kinds of conversations that they really have. The storylines similarly try to capture life as it is, depicting sex and relationships as they really are. One storyline follows an affair between a student and his teacher.

‘This sets up the expectation where you think at the end she is going to blow him off,’ describes Stupin. ‘It’s a suprise when the situation reverses and [the student] Casey confronts [the teacher], revealing that both of them are in a situation that’s way over their heads.’

Dawson’s Creek launches January 20 on the WB network, and if the advance reviews and prognostications are accurate, teens are going to love it. If that’s the case, the bigger question will probably be whether adults understand teens well enough to let them watch it.

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