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Mooks and Midriffs
September 11, 2002 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Mooks and Midriffs. "Mook" is a good and useful word, and we should all start using it more often. Douglas Rushkoff made a special for PBS' Frontline about the selling of "cool" to America's adolescents. Buy it here, it's really worth watching.
posted by interrobang (55 comments total)

 
That slang site is too much! On an unrelated note, I could really go for some maccadoodledandys right now.
posted by mikrophon at 11:46 AM on September 11, 2002


I thought a mook was someone who listened to new metal? well, I guess their definition would apply there too.
posted by mcsweetie at 11:47 AM on September 11, 2002


So I should buy something that tells me how people are selling me things?

/sarcasm
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:52 AM on September 11, 2002


Didn't George Castanza use "Mooks" in his Trivial Pursuit game with the bubble boy? Or maybe that was Moops.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:55 AM on September 11, 2002


I could really go for some maccadoodledandys right now.

You get maccadoodledandys at the House of Goofy White Man.
posted by debralee at 11:58 AM on September 11, 2002


"I'm sorry, the card says 'Moops'."
posted by wanderingmind at 11:58 AM on September 11, 2002


The word "mook" probably originates from Martin Scorsese's film Mean Streets in 1973. Here's a description of the use of "mook" in context in a Roger Ebert film review.

The style is displayed joyously in ``Mean Streets'' as Charlie and friends go to collect from a pool hall owner, who is happy to pay. But then Johnny Boy is called a ``mook,'' and although nobody seems quite sure what a mook is, that leads to a wild, disorganized fight.
posted by jonp72 at 11:59 AM on September 11, 2002


This special is actually about a year and half old, at least. I own it and watch it periodically. It's very well done. The interviews with some of the tweens are surprising and depressing. Especially the girls that want to be models. I think many a youth and parent would benefit from viewing it and having an open dialogue about it.

My personal favorite part of the video is when it talks about the incestuousness of the media empires, regarding MTV and the artists that they "promote". Not very shocking or new information, but they lay it out well enough for (hopefully) your average TRL fan to understand. The only problem is making them care.

And I've used "mook" at least once a day ever since first viewing the episode.
posted by Ufez Jones at 12:04 PM on September 11, 2002


This special is actually about a year and half old, at least

Yes, and we talked about it at great length at the time too, though I can't find it using Metafilter search.

What's the deal this week with people plugging PBS videos to go out and buy, anyway? First Cosmos, now this.
posted by briank at 12:11 PM on September 11, 2002


You calling me a mook? ... Are you calling me a mook?! What's a mook?
posted by fishfucker at 12:11 PM on September 11, 2002


"The Merchants of Cool" was one of the best--and most alarming--episodes of Frontline I've seen. It's almost a documentary version of the first half of "No Logo."
I had also always associated the word "mook" with "Mean Streets." I love it...they get offended first and then ask each other what a "mook" is.
posted by ghastlyfop at 12:15 PM on September 11, 2002


Yes, and we talked about it at great length at the time too, though I can't find it using Metafilter search.

Yeah, it's driving me nuts. I think the post was via megnut, and I can't find it there either. Darn that google straight to heck!
posted by frykitty at 12:16 PM on September 11, 2002


jonp72: The word "mook" probably originates from Martin Scorsese's film Mean Streets in 1973.
I always wondered what mook actually meant after watching that. I read in a dictionary of Italian American slang that jamook was a derogatory term, and concluded that this is what the pool hall owner had called Jonny Boy, and they misunderstood it as you mook.
Anyone clarify this?
posted by chill at 12:16 PM on September 11, 2002


check the script.
mook is mook.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:20 PM on September 11, 2002


Random House on "mook".
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:21 PM on September 11, 2002


Mook originated with Mean Streets? Hardly. Haven't you heard of Brooklynese?! Word Detective traces "mook" at least as far back as 1930, and probably derived from 19th century "moke". Quinion suggests that jamoke has a separate origin, including over a century of use to describe (jamocha) a mix of coffee -- java -- and mocha. (No, you can't blame it on Starbucks.) It seems to have merged with "moke" jocularly around the mid-20th century.
posted by dhartung at 12:23 PM on September 11, 2002


I am like so mad at you--was working on a riff similar and overlapping. Nuts. Nice post.
posted by y2karl at 12:24 PM on September 11, 2002


I've never seen the Frontline episode, but it seems apparent to me that anyone who needs mtv to help define their style should feel like a 'Mook' As Bradley Nowell once said... "I don't want to be no MTV Mu+h3r-fu@k3r"
posted by kileregreen at 12:25 PM on September 11, 2002


Another wonderful read on the selling of "cool" is the Baffler. Old issues are hard to come by (the warehouse burned to the ground), but Thomas Frank, the Baffler's editor, writes occasionally for Salon. His book, The Conquest of Cool, traces the commodification of "cool" to the '60s. A few choice articles from the Baffler have been collected in Commodify Your Dissent.

My first encounter with "mook" was in Ted Demme's Beautiful Girls. Rosie O'Donnell gives a wonderful rant about objectification and beauty, and refers to her friends as "mooks." Great stuff.
posted by dilettanti at 12:28 PM on September 11, 2002


Thanks for all the clarifying links, everyone. This is great. I'll be busy all day now.
posted by interrobang at 12:30 PM on September 11, 2002


Thanks for that blue_beetle. I guess my memory of the film isn't what I thought it was. Time to dust off that Mean Streets DVD I bought 2 years ago, but never actually put in my DVD player.
posted by chill at 12:30 PM on September 11, 2002


This is what I think of when I hear mooks. First saw it on a friend's t-shirt. Australian?? clothing company I do believe.
posted by trillion at 12:37 PM on September 11, 2002


briank/frykitty: "I can't find it using Metafilter search." and "Yeah, it's driving me nuts."

Is this what you're talking about?
posted by trharlan at 12:39 PM on September 11, 2002


Commodify Your Dissent has a great piece about a prank some of the Baffler staff pulled on the NYT in the early 1990s. The Times folks were looking for an insight into the vocabulary of grunge-speak; the pranksters found out and sent them a list. Except, it was completely made up; all the words were ridiculously uncool. If I remember, one was "harsh rule, dude," meaning a bad break. Or something. The book is definitely worth buying, if just for that.
posted by risenc at 12:44 PM on September 11, 2002


Another book of interest: Culture Jam: The Uncooling of America by Kalle Lasn, of AdBusters fame.
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 12:44 PM on September 11, 2002


Blast First recently released a compilation called "The Sonic Mook Experiment: 2 Future Rock & Roll" (NSFW). It has it's highlights, but overall sub par. I just thought you should know.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 12:45 PM on September 11, 2002


risenc : Is that where phrases like "swinging on the flippety-flop" came from?
posted by soundofsuburbia at 12:47 PM on September 11, 2002


That was an excellent program (is there anything on TV that even comes close to Frontline?) complete with Insane Clown Posse and look-look.com. I find viewing look-look.com to be an especially chilling experience.
posted by pejamo at 12:52 PM on September 11, 2002


Is this what you're talking about?

Yes! **Smooch!**
posted by frykitty at 12:54 PM on September 11, 2002


I think the prank mentioned in the Baffler article was originally the work of a SubPop receptionist, who made up the grunge vocabulary for a NYTimes journalist. It's explained in Hype!, Doug Pray's excellent documentary about the selling of the Seattle music scene.
posted by liam at 1:10 PM on September 11, 2002


In fact the "grunge vocabulary" was the work of music rep Megan Jasper.
posted by liam at 1:19 PM on September 11, 2002


Liam: I stand corrected. The prank is only explained in the Baffler/CYD; it's been a while since I cracked it open.

Actually, that's not true. Hearing that Donna Tartt has a new book coming out, I recently reread the book's excellent critique of the marketing blitz surrounding her first book, "The Secret History."
posted by risenc at 1:25 PM on September 11, 2002


I have yet to watch the special, but I've read many of the surrounding interviews and some of the other books on the subject like Rushkoff's Coercion and Klien's No Logo.

The "Mooks and Midriffs" crowd are an egeregious example of "marketing suckers" but are we really immune? There's probably some marketing whiz staring at this blue screen right now, creating a new "lifestyle cluster" called "Brains and Weblogs" or something.

Us subtle intellectual types can and are shilled to successfully every day. In his essay "E Unibus Pluram" David Foster Wallace outlines the intellectual process in detail, but the jist of it is this. Their secret weapon is irony: Make a sarcastic, parodical pitch for your product, which goofs on advertising and at the same time flatters the viewer for getting the joke. Remeber those "Image is Nothing" Sprite ads?

Keep your wits about you.
posted by jonmc at 1:39 PM on September 11, 2002


I don't believe a word of this stuff in the linked article. These dumb marketing idiots are deluding themselves if they think they are creating everything which is cool and selling it wholesale to the kids... if a kid sees a hundred ads a day he's going to wise up pretty quick that they're all a load of bullshit. Street culture comes from the street, not from these marketing dickheads. Kids aren't all dumb, and marketing people don't have a clue what cool is. I hate them.
posted by mokey at 1:42 PM on September 11, 2002


This was the first episode of FRONTLINE I'd seen... positively engrossing. I've had a Season Pass (it's a TiVo thing) to the series ever since.
posted by Fofer at 1:52 PM on September 11, 2002


They talked about the irony thing in that frontline episode, jonmc. It wasn't the ads you're referring to, but the one where Grant Williams (was that his name? what happened to that guy?) would talk about how you shouldn't trust him b/c he's a star and then the little pop-up of him surrounded by cash would come with a little ka-ching. Then they talked about how they had to ditch that promo b/c the kids figured it out and it was no longer working. You really should check it out. Maybe your local library has it.
posted by Ufez Jones at 2:20 PM on September 11, 2002


Rushkoff has a good blog.
posted by goethean at 2:37 PM on September 11, 2002


"To be cool is often crucial to the teenage image of self. To avoid being branded “a looser”, you must know which trends and fads are in.

Well, there are already 36 comments so I'll feel free to rant, because nobody reads past 25 or so.

The common misspelling "looser" when attempting to spell "loser" is about the most annoying idiot-tag I see these days. People, there is one o in lose. There are two o-s in loose. Hence, there is one o in loser, and two o-s in looser.

Ever heard of dictionary.com?

It takes all of about ten freaking seconds. If you're not sure about a word, go there.

If we keep on misspelling "loser," the terrorists have won...
posted by zekinskia at 2:43 PM on September 11, 2002


Yes, "looser" is up there with "definatly" on the annoying misspelling scale.
posted by interrobang at 2:47 PM on September 11, 2002


The common misspelling "looser" when attempting to spell "loser" is about the most annoying idiot-tag I see these days

I see a new tattoo being born here:

"Born to Loose"
posted by jonmc at 2:55 PM on September 11, 2002


Ufez: Grant Hill.

I just might check it out, dude.
posted by jonmc at 2:57 PM on September 11, 2002


Some brand names would make great pejorative words:

"pepsi" (adj.) shallow, trend chasing, trying to pass for younger than one's age

"pringle" (n.) one who invites himself to a party and fancies himself the life of it

... all based on the ad campaigns
posted by kurumi at 3:01 PM on September 11, 2002


A pejorative neologism I've been trying to spread, cribbed from Norman Spinrad:
"disney" (n.) anything made to look like something it's not
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 3:23 PM on September 11, 2002


Hmm, and here I always thought that mooks were the unnamed extras that got beat up and killed in action movies: Storm Troopers, bad ninjas, the Hong Kong henchmen in white jumpsuits....Guess I'll have to rethink.
posted by kayjay at 4:09 PM on September 11, 2002


mokey:

Kids aren't all dumb, and marketing people don't have a clue what cool is.

Yes, but that doesn't matter as long as most kids are dumb and have disposable income. Kids certainly had no problem embracing the marketing of cool when I was young. That was over fifteen years ago.

We have generations of people now that have been marketed to from the second they've emerged from the womb. Most parents today are complete pushovers as well and the word "no" isn't in their vocabulary. I'm not sure that most kids can overcome their collective ignorance.

Here's an interesting article I found today and it certainly doesn't just apply to hip-hop, but every other popular genre of entertainment as well. The annoying thing about the Village Voice is that they think they've discovered something new that has been going on for decades.

Thanks to Arts Journal for the link.
posted by mark13 at 4:34 PM on September 11, 2002


Maybe it's because I read too much science fiction, but I thought "mook" meant semi-intelligent program, designed to answer phones and take messages, or do minor computer task.
posted by stoneegg21 at 5:01 PM on September 11, 2002


Shit, now I half expect people to write "what a looser" on purpose just to be ironic cool annoying or something. Me, I prefer "what a maroon!"

As for tattoos (Tattos? Tattose?), how about a little French guy with one that says, "Born Toulouse"


:)
posted by Ayn Marx at 5:27 PM on September 11, 2002


Ufez: Grant Hill.

Thanks jonmc. Total brainfart.
posted by Ufez Jones at 6:18 PM on September 11, 2002


A stunning companion to this Frontline is another called "The Lost Children of Rockdale Country" I have never actually had a documentary move me to tears before, but this one did. It is basically the story of a syphilis outbreak amongst teens in an affluent Georgia town. I'm not quite 30 and I can barely relate to the reality described for teens today by these two shows.
posted by tcskeptic at 8:31 PM on September 11, 2002


The fact that marketroids are attempting to steer youth culture is only half the problem. The other half is that, if you ever invent something cool, the marketroids will plagiarize it and make it uncool in doing so.

Take, for instance, advertising's very sudden and twisted adoption of the growing protest culture. IBM chalks up the streets. Nike stages fake protests. Lipton trivialized protest with their puppet commercials and made police brutality look like fun with the goofy fellow making instant iced tea while being sprayed by police fire hoses. (Gah, how I miss the free as in beer adcritic.com when I need some TV ad linkage.)

Hold on while I don my tin-foil conspiracy hat: Corporations are purposely co-opting activist values in order to make them stale out prematurely. It's no different than when every TV station and its mother picked up a "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (Or a Survivor) clone, not necessarily because it would bring in ratings, but because they wanted to wreck the genre with oversaturation and therefore end ABC's Millionaire ratings dominance.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter whether there's a conspiracy or not. Co-opting our culture in goofy and contradictory ways will feed an uninformed backlash. Let's say MetaFilter hits the big time mainstream and suddenly there's a dozen MetaFilter-inspired sitcoms and boy band groups. Next thing you know, Jay Leno's making jokes about how MetaFilter fans all live in their mothers' basements or something. Finally, when someone looks over your shoulder at work and sees you on MetaFilter, they think, "gah, what a trendy..." They might even make up a pejorative for us, but at least "mook" is already taken.
posted by Skwirl at 9:17 PM on September 11, 2002


Old story I've told on MeFi before. Young, gonzo journalist begins work at TIME magazine, ca. 1967, the Summer of Love. He finds that TIME is planning a cover story on the Haight-Ashbury scene. Turning to the grizzled veteran at the next desk, juddering away on his manual Royal, he brightly says how he had no idea TIME was capable of being this cool. Without missing a keystroke, the veteran retorts, "Fastest way to kill it."
posted by dhartung at 10:36 PM on September 11, 2002 [1 favorite]


I always thought it was an abbreviation of the Ojibwe word for whitey, "Chimook". Or maybe that's not so far off. Heh, something new every day...
posted by Poagao at 11:49 PM on September 11, 2002


Did anyone else scroll through the Ms and find this term?

MetaTate: Staring at the monitor in contemplation while you prepare a post or comment to MetaFilter.
posted by emmling at 12:08 AM on September 12, 2002


dhartung: I've always considered Time, and any other news outlet, to be "where trends go to die." I just saw a mention of Domokun in Time a few weeks ago — need I say more?
posted by Down10 at 1:15 AM on September 12, 2002


Skwirl, I don't know about your conspiracy theories (interesting to ponder, just not sure how I feel about them) but I agree with you wholeheartedly about this statement:

The other half is that, if you ever invent something cool, the marketroids will plagiarize it and make it uncool in doing so.


Part of "merchants of cool" talks about marketing agencies that send out street teams to interview and photograph hipsters that they call "fringe kids". The kids that will be the originators or first to latch on to the next big things. Then, they take the results of the interviews and the photographs and put them on their website, charging advertising firms and corporations many thousands of dollars to access their information.

I read this book called "Street Trends" the summer after my freshman year in college while studying abroad in the UK. I got into an argument with my professor on a train, in front of the other 4 kids in the class, about how these people are shitheads and ruining any semblance of culture that is not branded that the U.S. has left. Being a former Air Force Captain and Ph.D in Marketing, he didn't really see my point of view. I still think it's true. Seems like the time between origination and exploitation of art, music, style, etc. is growing ever shorter as the days go by. Fortunately, I soon changed my major from marketing to economics, and am a much happier person for it.

(and yes, tcskeptic, the Rockdale Country episode was also very chilling.)
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:06 AM on September 12, 2002


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