Teenagers and “Teenage Culture” Part 2 of 3

Part 2 of 3: Life with “Teena”

Life With “Teena” 

I shouldn’t say marketing men, because the real pioneer of marketing to teens, the one who saw it first and finally convinced big business that there was a fortune to be made by developoing a teen market, was a woman named Estelle Ellis. She was Promotion Director at Seventeen magazine. 

Seventeen, as its name indicates, was aimed directly at teens. But even in the early to mid 1940s, some of the articles in this allegedly wholesome magazine pitted the youngster against authority and against their parents. It even featured groveling adults apologizing to the youngsters. In the October, 1944 Seventeen, we read the adult saying: “We expect you to run this world a lot more sensibly than we have … no group of adults who have created a civilization which was blackened by a world war can claim to have done a good job.”11 

Part of this, granted, was a pitch for youngsters to take life a bit more seriously, to get in involved in civic discourse and in the political process. But it was not all that innocent. Seventeen also, here and there, encouraged youngsters to correct “old fashioned” ideas at home. 

For example, if a family had strict ideas on how home chores were to be divided (e.g. certain chores for the boys such as outside work, and certain inside chores for the girls), here’s what the April 1945 issue of Seventeen told its young readers: “If yours is such a family, you have a job of education to do.” 

The mother and father were supposed to learn that all jobs – cooking, cleaning, washing dishes – were to be shared by “all citizens of the home”. The youngsters were told to persevere even if Dad or Mom do not agree. Seventeen said, “Remember, he [your Dad] is just carrying over attitudes that were quite accepted in his youth.” 

Now, despite what anyone may think regarding who does what chores at home, (families may differ on this), the real problem is that Seventeen was encouraging the adolescent to be the moral conscience, moral voice and moral enforcer in the family, against the parents’ “old fashioned” or ethnic ways. All of this contributed to drive a wedge between adolescent and parents, and to introduce disrespect to the parents, who teens will regard as ignorant and stuck in old world conventions. 

The youth magazine thus became a kind of rival authority to the parents. 

Seventeen’s Estelle Ellis was the first to recognize that the “teenage market” is an untapped gold mine for corporate America. She had a hard time making the business magnates see this. How she finally did it is a fascinating story in itself. 

Seventeen hired the professional research team Benson and Benson of Princeton, New Jersey to survey its subscribers; to learn their tastes, to learn about their families, to learn what products they used. This type of market research to this age group was unheard of at the time. It had never been done before. 12 

The real success of this research was realized in the way the data was finally packaged. Rather than present the research findings in terms of stodgy graphs, pie charts and statistic tables, Estelle Ellis published the data in the form of a market survey called, “Life with Teena”. 

Ellis created a fictional character – Teena – who was a kind of everygirl USA. 

The market survey reads: “Teena … has money of her own to spend … and what her allowance and pin-money earnings won’t buy her, her parents can be counted on to supply. For our girl Teena will not take no for an answer when she sees something she wants in Seventeen.13 

The market survey had a slogan: “Teena Means Business, Don’t Pass Her By”. 

At the time, marketers recognized that Teena was an average American girl who will probably get married shortly after graduating high school. Thus, the type of products and brand names that Miss Teena buys today, Mrs. Teena will buy tomorrow as a married woman. This is a means of establishing product loyalty. 

The survey noted that Teena influences what her parents will buy in the home and what her teenage friends will buy. She influences what movie the boyfriend will take her to, and she will have plenty to buy for herself. Young Teena was an “advertiser’s dream” and promoters recognized it. Most important of all, says the survey, she wanted to “look, act, and be just like the girl next door … For Teena and her teenmates come in bunches, like bananas … Sell one and the chances are you’ll sell them  all.14
This really comes in to play with the creation of rock and roll.
Unlike swing music, which was music originally intended for adults that young 

people adopted as their own, rock and roll from the very beginning was a music for teenagers. The entire marketing strategy was aimed directly at teens, including sweaters, boots, lunch pales, hair styles, and all that goes with it. Rock and roll immediately became big business, marketing its wares to a target audience that had a lot of free time, and a lot of money, and the money the teens didn’t have, their parents had. 

This only intensified the “teen culture” as a world apart; a life of dating, increased promiscuity, rebellion, disrespect for authority, dancing, and more and more deferred maturity. 

Much of what created the “teenager” and “teen culture” was artificially generated by the movie industry, the record companies and other groups that were determined to make millions of dollars from “teen culture”. In 1955, with the advent of rock and roll, teenagers accounted for 80% of the nation’s record sales. “Teena Means Business”, and the record companies recognized it, “Don’t pass her by!” 

Rock Around the Clock 

One of the main reasons this paganized teen culture was able to spread throughout America, and was allowed to end up to be a gold mine for business and corporations, is the fact that America has no national religion. Religion in America is considered merely a private matter. Catholicism was not the guiding factor in the nation’s morality. In the decades leading up to Vatican II, the Church in America was a strong factor that had to be taken into consideration, but it was not the guiding factor for the nation. 

No, rather, “What’s gong on right now”, or “what the other girls are doing” or “what other parents are allowing their children to do” became the deciding factor of what was morally acceptable. 

In the 1950s, however, there was one last high churchman who was of such eminence that in many ways he was the moral barometer of America. If he said something was bad, the people of America would avoid it like leprosy. But if he said something was good, then most in the nation would relax and accept it. The name of this eminent American moral voice was Ed Sullivan. 

And it was Ed Sullivan who told us that Elvis Presley was all right, and that rock and roll was all right. 

Elvis Presley’s style of dance and performance, combined with a beat-driven music that inflames the lower passions, were considered so immoral that television networks would not show Elvis’ hips. In his first TV performances, he was shown only from the waste upward. 

By the mid-1950s, Elvis was enormously popular. Teenagers loved him. But parents found him outrageous, provocative, immoral. One American Catholic Cardinal denounced Elvis for encouraging “a creed of dishonesty, violence, lust and degeneration.”15 

Ed Sullivan refused to have Elvis on his television program. But Steve Allen, who held the rival time slot to Sullivan, welcomed Elvis on his show. Sullivan, who saw that he was losing ratings and money, then offered Elvis $50,000 for three performances on his program. 

Elvis cleaned up his appearance a bit, so as not to look too much like a rebel without a cause, and Ed Sullivan introduced Elvis to the nation as a hard-wokring singer who loved his parents, and who was “a real, decent, fine boy.” Sullivan said, “We’ve never had a pleasanter experience with a big name than we’ve had with you.”16 

With that, Elvis had received the Nihil Obstat, the Imprimatur. Moses had decreed from Mount Sinai that rock and roll is no longer unclean thing. The rock and roll rebel whom parents had feared was, in fact, a real, decent, fine boy – a faithful member of the congregation. 

Palladino writes, “With Sullivan’s blessing, the rock and roll business moved into high gear … Almost overnight, teenage desire became a respectable marketing tool, and teenage rebellion a popular high school style.”17 

From this point on, teenage life – the youth culture – was now very much product of American corporations who made billions from teenagers, and who had a vested interest in keeping the teenage market alive and thriving 

Everything from then to the present, the marketing of the Beatles included, has followed a similar pattern18 

The main point in everything I’ve said so far is: we need to realize we have been manipulated and corrupted. This should anger any man of good will. We need to step back and realize how severely we have been manipulated and corrupted, especially by the teen and “tween” industries that primarily look at our adolescences as bottomless consumers who should have their own “teen” lives independent from parents and family . 

Up until now we have focused on the 1940s and 50s. Today, of course, everything has become immeasurably worse. After 50 years of teenage culture primarily formed by rock and roll that has become increasingly more degenerate, and the most basic natural morality now thrown to the wind, corporate America knows that if it wants to get the young people’s attention, it has to be more outrageous, more sensuous, more blasphemous. Witness popular cretins such as the foul-mouthed Howard Stern, the profane Madonna or the vile Lady Gaga. The pop-culture always has to drop to a new level of shock and degeneration to capture the youngters’ interest. 

The Merchants of Cool 

This is not necessarily a “Catholic” issue. Many of those who note the disorder of today’s pop-culture are secular commentators. 

IN 2001, for example, PBS ran a Frontline documentary called The Merchants of Cool. 

The documentary opened with the words: “They want to be cool. They are impressionable, and they have the cash. They are corporate America’s $150 billion dream!” 

The documentary showed how major corporation study children, as one writer said, “like laboratory rats in order to sell them billions of dollars of merchandise by tempting, degrading and corrupting them.” 

Mark Crispin-Miller, a New York University communications professor says in the documentary: 

“When you’ve got a few gigantic transnational corporations, each one loaded down with debt, competing madly for as much shelf space and brainspace as they can take, they’re going to do whatever they think works the fastest and with the most people, which means that they will drag standards down.”19 

Frontline Commentator Douglas Rushkoff says, “Today, five enormous companies are responsible for selling nearly all of youth culture. These are the true merchants of cool: Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp, Disney, Viacom, Universal Vivendi, and AOL/Time Warner.” These conglomerates sell 90% of the music in the US, own all the film studios, all the major TV networks … as well as every single commercial cable channel.” 

They are all competing for our children’s money. They even send “spies” into young peoples’ groups in order to gage what young people will spend money on next. These youngsters also advise the corporations on what type of products their peers would be interested in.20 

Two horrific new stereotypes created by the Vicacom/MTV world are what Rushkof calls the “mook” for boys; and the “midriff” for girls. 

The mook is the teenage boy who is crude, loud, obnoxious, unspeakably obscence, and in your face. He is a type now broadcast all over youth medium. “There is no mook in nature”, says Rushkoff, “He is a creation designed to capitalize on the testosterone-driven madness of the adolescent.” 

The documentary further comments, “The mook is perhaps Viacom’s most bankable creation. Once programmers discovered his knack with teenage boys, the replicate him across the length and breadth of their empire.” 

The girls are dragged downward as well, with the creation of the “midriff”. “This midriff is no more true to life than the mook. If he is arrested in adolescence, she is prematurely adult. If he doesn’t care what people think of him, she is consumed by appearances. If his thing is crudeness, hers is sex. The midriff is really just a collection of the same old sexual clichés, but repackaged as a new kind of female empowerment. ‘I am midriff, hear me roar; I am a sexual object, but I’m proud of it.” 

Britney Spears, shown on the documentary signing a snatch “I’m not that innocent”, is a kind of exemplar midriff, who’s provocative act teaches young girls, “Your body best asset. Flaunt your sexuality, even if you don’t understand it.” 

Because of the ubiquitous nature of the mook and midriff, spread across vast areas of youth culture, these are low-rent characters our youngsters now admire and imitate a horrifying thought 

Of MTV, one of today’s most morally corrosive forces on the teenage and young adult generation, the documentary points out, “Everything on MTV is a commercial”. The music, the bands, the clothes, everything.21 

An Age-old Problem, to a Point…

Of course, it’s not all about money. There is the corrupting influence of the devil himself. In focusing on big business targeting teens, we are not ignoring the age-old aim of the devil to corrupt and damn as many souls as possible in his hatred of God and of man, who is part of God’s creation. 

In his 1884 Encyclical against Freemasonry, Pope Leo XIII warned that the Secret Societies strive to corrupt morals in society, since the man who is morally weakened will more readily come under the influence of their godless principles. 

After speaking of stage plays, books and pamphlets that are “remarkable for license” (which would be tame compared to today), Pope Leo warned, “For, since generally no one is accustomed to obey crafty and clever men so submissively as those whose soul is weakened and broken down by the domination of the passions, there have been in the sect of the Freemasons some who have plainly determined and proposed that, artfully and of set purpose, the multitude should be satiated with a boundless license of vice, as, when this had been done, it would easily come under their power and authority …”21 

The infamous 19th Century Masonic document The Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita21 likewise speaks of the need to spread immorality, especially by the corruption of women. “In order to destroy Catholicism, it is necessary to commence by suppressing women … but since we cannot suppress women, let us corrupt her.”21 

The Alta Vendita said further, “Tertulllian was right in saying that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of Christians. Let us, then, not make martyrs, but let us popularize vice amongst the multitude. Let us cause them to draw it in by their five sense; to drink it in, to be saturated with it … Make vicious hearts and you will have no more Catholics … It is corruption en masse that we have undertaken.”21 

Communism has similar aims. In 1958, former FBI agent Leon Skousen documented 45 Communist goals to subvert American from within. Here are five goals that relate to our present discussion on pop culture: 

• Goal 24: Eliminate all laws governing obscenity by calling them “censorship“: and a violation of free speech; 

  • Goal 25: Break down cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio and TV; 
  • Goal 16: Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as “normal, natural, healthy”;
  • Goal 27: Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with “social” religion. Discredit the bible…; 
  • Goal 40: Discredit the family as an institution. Encourage promiscuity and easy divorce.
    Each of these goals listed by Mr. Skousen, considered unthinkable in the America of 1958, are not only accomplished in the United States, but are principle components in today’s pop-culture, as purveyed by Hollywood, rock and roll, MTV and countless other mediums.21 

Even if one wishes to dismiss today’s rampant immorality in culture as the work of Secret Societies and other Forces of Organized Naturalism,21 one cannot deny that widespread degeneracy exists, is increasing, and that the present pop culture of rock music, Hollywood, MTV and other like-minded mediums are major purveyors of cultural decadence now considered to be “main stream”. 



Please understand me: I am not saying that adolescents and young adults were not always mischievous. We find this mischievousness spoken of in literature throughout the ages. In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, the Shepherd laments: 

“I would that there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest: for there is nothing in between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting. Hark you now: would any but these boiled brains of nineteen and two-and-twenty hunt this weather? They have scared away two of my best sheep, which I fear the wolf will find sooner than the master.”22 

Those of this age group, including young men in their early twenties, have also been considered as frivolous. We read in P.G. Wodehouse the uproarious Aunt Dahlia who complains of young British aristocrats: 

“The modern young man is a congenital idiot and wants a nurse to lead him by the hand and some strong attendant to kick him at regular intervals of a quarter of an hour.”23 

No one is denying there has always been a certain amount of wildness inherent in adolescents and young adults. And certainly no one is saying that youngsters should have a cheerless adolescent life. I’m all for fun, games, get-togethers, decent dances, sports, good friendships, plays, energetic activities, and music that includes bluegrass and Scottish highland compositions that really kick. 

My point is: it not “normal” and “natural” for adolescents to be inherently rebellious, to be disrespectful of parents, to be in a prolonged state of deferred maturity, and to expect to live an active social life independent from their parents, wherein the look to their peers– and not parents and family – for advice, information and approval. 

The adolescents get much of this disordered behavior from the today’s music, television, movies and most influential at all, the average modern high school where they are surrounded by other teens who have unknowingly surrendered to these poisonous influences. This only increases a descent into disorder, immorality, a decreasing knowledge of Natural and Divine Law, and an ever-worsening differed maturity.24 

10 Ibid., p. 45. 11Teenagers, p. 90. 

12 In a 2003 interview, Estelle Ellis said the following about the ‘teen’ market she discovered and developed: “And this was really a wilderness time, it was like discovering a whole new country. Because there was no awareness not only of teenagers – but there was no awareness of teenage girls, there was no awareness of how they dressed, or the clothes they needed. There wasn’t even anyone producing clothes for this age group. There were no cosmetics being created for this age group. So it’s hard to believe it, but at that time, it was totally … new terrain. New Territory, new country to be discovered. “[Estelle Elllis, Promotion Director at Seventeen, 9/44-3/50; Personal Interview, 6/19/03] – “ Teena Goes to Market’: Seventeen Magazine and the Early Construction of the Teen Girl (As) Consumer, Kelly Massoni, The Journal of American Culture, Volume 29, Number 1, March 2006. 

13 Teenagers, p. 104. 

14 “Teena Goes to Market,” page 38 [emphasis added]. 

15 Teenagers, p. 129.
16 For what it’s worth, I know a priest who was friends with Elvis Presley while in the military. He said that Presley was a clean- living soldier who listened primarily to southern Gospel music. Unfortunately the rock image that Presley presented publicly, along with the beat-driven rock music, was not a praiseworthy influence on American youngsters.
17 Teenagers, p. 131.
18 The revolution of the 1960s added even more fuel to the fire in turning youngsters against parents, but that deserves a separate study beyond what will be discussed here. 

19 Merchants of Cool [Emphasis added]
20 This is detailed in Branded, The Buying and Selling of Teenagers by Alyissa Quart. [New York: Basic Books, 2003].

21 “Let us popularize vice amongst the multitude”

22 The Winter’s Tale, William Shakespeare, [New York: Penguin, 1969], p. 102.
23 “Jeeves and The Song of Songs” from Very Good, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse, [New York: Penguin, 1957], p. 87.
24 As early as 1963, authors Grace and Fred M. Hechinger wrote, “In many ways, this is typical of the American interpretation of the teenage problem. Instead of making adolescence a transition period, necessary and potentially even valuable (if often slightly comical), it began to turn it into a separate way of life to be catered to, exaggerated, extended, far beyond its biological duration. Eventually it became a way of life imitated by young and not-so-young adults. This moralized an abnormality. It gave teenage an air, not of matter-of-fact necessity, but of special privilege and admiration. Instead of giving teenagers a sense of growing up, it created the impression that the rest of society had a duty to adjust its standards to teen-culture.” See Teen-age Tyranny, Grace and Fred. M. Hechinger, [Greenwich: Crest Books, 1963], p. 23.

Next Week: Part 3 of 3: Differed Maturity

Picture of John Vennari

John Vennari

John Vennari, the late editor of Catholic Family News and founder of Oltyn library services was a writer, speaker, and teacher of the true Catholic Faith. He devoted to his life to combating the errors so rampant in the church and society today. His fight ended in April 2017 after a long battle with cancer.
Please remember to pray for Mr. Vennari.