So I was doing my morning reading the other day when I came across the headline "Millionaire Mom Creates .COM Sensation in Dorm Room." Sucker for odd intra-headline capitalization that I am, I made the pivotal life decision to click on it. I expected to be wowed, touched and inspired, in that precise order. At the very least, I expected to come upon a story with "advertisement" in negative-point invisible font atop the screen, detailing the ready availability of $4,600/week work-at-home jobs.
Instead, it took me through to "Driven," a Yahoo!-produced series of go-get-'em-you-go-getter clips aimed at emboldening entrepreneurs. Or at least that appears to be its primary aim. What with all the Oprah-tic bromides, one could just as easily describe it as an online self-esteem seminar for would-be business Cinderellas.
Underwritten by American Family Insurance, which warmly reassures viewers that "your dream is out there!" after each ep, "Driven" traffics in possibility - the possibility that, if you work hard and stay true to your values and refrain from arranging or otherwise participating in underground dogfighting rings, you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams. For the featured individuals (in addition to the aforementioned Millionaire Mom, there's an Iraq vet training dogs military-style, a couple steeped in the production of artful tchotchkes and a shifty organic juicemaker), those dreams have come true. They followed their passion, stayed focused and persevered during tough times. They won. As a result, they all come across as almost superhumanly likable and talented.
Here's the thing, though: Not every likable person is talented and not every idea is as clever and useful as the Millionaire Mom's online sitter registry. In fact, most people are untalented and their ideas peak out at "create app to measure daily raisin consumption." "Driven," then, becomes an exercise in false hope. There isn't any helpful information here, just a bunch of "go for it!" cheerleading.
It doesn't help that each episode is a carbon copy of the last. First we meet the entrepreneur, then he describes the origins of the idea. The tone shifts uber-dramatically when he encounters an obstacle, but it crests triumphantly when he overcomes the obstacle and achieves great personal and financial success. Let me write a sample script: "Jilly started with nothing and is now worth miiilllions and miiilllions. There were sleepless nights. At one point she was totally like, 'Am I gonna make it, or will it be back on the pole?' But she made it and didn't have to go back on the pole." Like it? Send me my royalties and/or residuals care of MediaPost.
The tonal and topical redundancy is compounded by the sheer amateurism of the clips themselves. Each ep boasts the same basic production elements - interviews with admiring colleagues, clips of coworkers fake-working for the sake of the cameras, etc. The Millionaire Mom "Driven" adds creative intrigue in the form of a nod to Lehman Brothers and the meltdown that ensued, but the producers tart it up with spooky-ominous music and rote financial-crisis headlines from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. The overall effect is to make Millionaire Mom sound like a worry-wart. Collapsing economy? Bah! This is America, yo.
And not that either of these things have anything to do with the underlying value of the video, but it'd sure help to find a host who has an idea what to do with his hands while speaking (I refer you to the 0:05 mark of the Millionaire Mom clip). Finally, heck to Betsy, hire a copy editor to catch the myriad typos and bastardizations of the AP stylebook: "As the founder of Sittercity.com, America's first and largest network to connect parents with sitters. Genevieve had humble beginnings in the her Boston College dorm room… With a hundred dollar loan from her father Genevieve purchased the domain name and paid 2 friends a few thousand dollars to build a website." It goes on like that for a while.
In recent months, Yahoo! has been pumping out video at an admirable clip. One of its series - "Remake America," which tells the tales of down-on-their-luck families without resorting to cheap sentiment - has proven the rare offering that can't be neatly summarized as "recession porn." But "Driven" doesn't entertain, inform or otherwise deliver on its promise ("If you want inside information from the 'front lines' about how to meet the challenges of this tough economy, you won’t want to miss 'Driven'"). Pap under the guises of news or self-help is still, at its core, pap.