Ross Martin might be the busiest person I’ve ever met. In addition to heading up MTV Scratch–the network’s creative team aimed at the new millenial generation–he’s also a blogger, an indie poet, and, infamously, one of Amy Sohn’s top Park Slope DILFs. Here, he tells us about being a professional trendsetter but a nerdy dad, how he introduced the world to Matisyahu, and how his staff forces him to be Sabbath-observant.
How do you balance being the cool parent and, well, the voice of responsibility?
Uh, our kids wouldn’t even name me the coolest parent in our family. I try to convince them I’m cool all the time, but it’s just not happening. To them, I’m a “voice of responsibility,” as you put it, who tries really hard to be funny and thinks he’s thinner, less bald, and a better athlete than he actually is.
Do you ever want to keep your kids away from any of the stuff you discover–Jersey Shore, for instance?
That’s a really good question. The most inspiring dads I know are the guys who have really open, honest conversations with their children and help them make sense of the world around them. Brooklyn is raising my kids as much as my wife and I are. Our community is a protagonist in their lives, and the social web makes it even more complicated a matrix. We can’t keep the world from seeping in. Our kids count on us to protect them, keep them safe, and give them the tools to make smart decisions on the way to becoming who they’re going to be.
I know it’s not that simple. Video games, for example, are an epidemic facing every parent of a 9-year-old boy. For the last year, I’ve been on a mission to cure my son of the addiction. But I’ve managed to make it worse and, in the process, he started to resent me for it. Then Scratch’s Creative Director, Brian DeCubellis, sat me down and made me see it in a new light. Turns out, his son was just as consumed by video games as mine, but Brian started to encourage him to channel that energy in really creative ways. Now my son doesn’t just play video games, he invents new characters, writes short stories based on them, produces play-by-play videos, maps out new terrain, charts new narratives. Video games have become a trampoline for my son to express himself and explore his own passion and creativity. (Thank God he hates first person shooter games.)
In your MTV work, you’ve done a lot of guerrilla tzedakah work, like Pepsi Refresh, and some guerrilla Judaism, such as getting Matisyahu aired. What’s it like to strike a balance between your gut feeling of “this will hit big” and “I wish this would hit big”?
The pro-social work we’ve done here is the stuff I’m most proud of, by far–our response to Haiti and Katrina, our work on Darfur, Half of Us, InDebtEd, A Thin Line, Get Schooled, the list goes on and on. It’s how I was raised, and it’s part of the DNA of our company. Using the superpowers of our networks, platforms, and brands to create positive change, that’s what drives me, and it’s what drives almost everyone I know here.
As for “hitting big,” as you say–we want everything to hit big. And by hit big I mean do everything we set out to do and more. What I strive to do is create an experience people can’t keep to themselves, they have to share it, they have to pass it on.
You’re one of the busiest people I’ve ever met, yet you make sure to leave early for Shabbat every week, no matter what’s going on. How do you swing that? What is Shabbat like in your household?
My team at Scratch really understands that when the sun starts going down on Friday afternoon, I’m leaving. If I haven’t left yet, they help push me out the door. I love that, and I couldn’t do it without them.
At home, my wife and kids count on me to be there, and they know I’m psyched to get home, especially for Shabbat. All our screens go dark, we light the candles, do the prayers, eat a great meal together. We go around the table and each say something great that happened for us that week, and something we’re really looking forward to. Our 3-year-old, Theo, does more talking than any of us. He’d also drink more wine than any of us, if we’d let him.
When I was Googling you, I found this poem you posted by your son when he was 5. Do you ever worry about sharing too much of your private life, or your kids’ lives?
I don’t share anything my kids don’t want me to. We talk about everything, and there’s so much they say, do, and create that I’d love to share but don’t. I’m also careful to share certain things in certain ways in certain channels along the social graph. It’s not just what we share, it’s how, when, and with whom. I’ve learned to calibrate across social media, and by sharing we get so much in return.
The social web has shown us some of the most pioneering ideas and brought us some of the most incredible people in the world. Although, I admit, when it comes to sharing too much, I once accidentally tweeted my freakin’ credit card number.