The Oracle of Bedtime hath spoken, though his words are intelligible only to the Select. Ted ("Nightline") Koppel succumbed to nostalgia in his first outing as a Times columnist on Sunday, but he did make a resonant point: that the powerful have succumbed to the tyranny of the 18-34 demographic. For those of you fortunate enough to think that the phrase focus group has something to do with lenses, "18-34" represents those whom advertisers have determined to be the hippest, most zeitgeist-defining, most credit card-brandishing slice of the American populace, and therefore the object of worshipful scrutiny. As a result, sitcoms, magazines and gizmos are all designed to appeal to these capricious consumers. Understanding what these people want and how they think is the key to wealth.
Having passed the northern boundary of that group some years ago, I don't approve. My buying power is just as good as anyone else's. Koppel, quite reasonably, believes his is actually better: the 40-65 demographic is still the one actually holding office, hiring peons, remembering Woodstock, embezzling millions and making up the bulk of readers, viewers, car purchasers, toothpaste users and classical music ticket buyers. So why isn't the hip replacement crowd the one we consider hip? The answer is that most of the people who sell cars, toothpaste, newspapers and music also fall into this group, and they know they're not def. So younger people must be.
Aside from the fallacy of lumping an 18-year-old male high school dropout in Rapid City, SD with a 33-year old attorney and mother of two in Palo Alto, CA, the pursuit of the 18-34 demo is a form of cultural surrender. It may be a fine decision-making tool in the toothpaste and electronics industry, for all I know. But in the worlds I inhabit - news and the arts - it can become a pathetic obsession. Faced with abundant evidence that kids think newspapers are a drab waste of time, editors are trying desperately to impress them anyway. And there's nothing quite so awkward as the sight of a symphony orchestra trying to too hard to be cool.
Now I have nothing but admiration for full-throated efforts to rope kids into the concert hall. There can never be too many discount tickets for students. Singles night at the symphony sounds a little painful but harmless. But as soon as come-ons to the pre-gray crowd take the form of specialized programming, the results often wind up looking positively geriatric. (Marvin Hamlisch is the illest!) I may not belong to the 18-34 club any more, but I didn't renounce my membership that long ago, and I don't recall liking lame, slurpy concerts any more then than I do now. Focus groups notwithstanding, the artistic tastes of the young are unpredictable. The 33-year old, musically inexperienced friend whom I took to hear Thomas Ades' hard-hitting Asyla and a Mozart Piano Concerto played by the Berlin Philharmonic last weekend had this to say: "That first piece was fantastic! And the Mozart was OK, too." It wasn't youth-oriented programming that got my friend to the concert (although, as a matter of fact, both pieces were by composers in their 20s). It was that irresistible opiate to which the callow and the ancient alike are addicted: a free ticket.
The lesson I draw is that the best way to get those cherubic "audiences of the future" into the hall today is to play good music - music that would knock the socks off a geezer - and to charge as little as possible. Make concerts inexpensive, but don't make them cheap.
JDavidson8 at nyc.rr.com