The effects of MTV on youth consumer culture.

Essay by the24hrpartyzoneA+, January 2004

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With a look at today's society one would notice many changes in the values of our emerging generation. ?The United States has more malls than high schools, and Americans spend more time shopping than reading.?(Quindlen). This growth of consumerism in our country must be attributed to something. Since our generation, arbitrarily titled generation Y, is moving into adulthood, we must look at what has influenced our adolescence, and what is still influencing today?s teens. Through surveys it has been determined that MTV is the preferred channel amongst American teenagers, averaging to almost 75 percent of the teen population claiming regular viewership. Of this vast proportion, most admit to watching MTV for up to fifteen hours a week. These numbers alone makes one believe that MTV is the primary force finessing the desires of our youth. But while MTV?s existence is seemingly innocent, its capitalistic self-interest has led way to a habit of fickle trendsetting and targeted marketing which is altering the way its young viewers see the world.

As we are seeing this evolution of values in our generation we can also see the evolution of MTV. The 1980?s gave birth to many society-altering events. Yuppie greed, Reagonomics, and raised sexual ethics all shaped the way modern America thought and acted. In this time of fundamental conservatism a new television network emerged with the hopes of bringing forth a new art form, the music video. This avant-garde medium of music television tested the limits of traditionalism by presenting videos from new wave acts such as Blondie and DEVO, and hard rock bands such as Twisted Sister and Motley Crue. MTV seemed like a revolution for underground artists. A revolution which was untainted by the moral majority and the marketing dollar (Crawford). Fast-forward twenty years to the present. MTV no longer airs the struggling independent artists, but rather manufactured teen divas and polished boy bands. This overload of uber-pop has morphed the innovative non-stop music channel into a non-stop commercial, advertising numerous products ranging from CD?s to clothes. This network will push anything that can be marketed towards their impressionable 15-24 year old audience. MTV does not even bother marketing towards a younger age bracket anymore, as proven by the network?s founder, Bob Pittman?s statement, ?[ ? ] we don't shoot for the 14-year-olds, we own them? (Seel). It is clear to see that MTV has become the antithesis of what it was originally intended to be.

This evolution of MTV into a mass media machine of marketing is not due to the puppeteering of a few CEO?s, but rather it is the will of the teenage audience. At least that?s what the few CEO?s would like you to think. To defend their innocence, MTV conducts an annual survey to determine up and coming fads that they will be able to market. The Music Trendsetters Study (MTS) polls teens on their music, movies, and fashion preferences. ?MTV GM Van Toffler says, ?[ ... ] we wanted to be more in touch with what they're doing, especially around music,?(Morris). With this logic one would assume that MTV merely reflects the desires and fashions of the current teen culture and broadcasts them worldwide, therefore acting as a mirror for the youth. This mirror can take any form. Whether it be a music video, a commercial, or MTV?s own version of educational programming. There are numerous ways for MTV to attract their impressionable audience therefore securing their marketing revenue.

But MTV would not want you to let their addiction to profits lead you to believe that they do not care about their youthful audience?s well being. It feigns moral responsibility by airing the aforementioned educational programming. Condom ads and programs such as ?True Life? and ?Love Line? combat the difficult obstacles such as sex and drugs placed before today?s teens. MTV attempts to take on the role of the hip uncle rather than the stern father when preaching these lessons in morality in order to seem more in touch with its audience. All of the defenses MTV uses are actually distraction tools used to ensure the image of MTV as the voice of the youth instead of its real position as a salesman of ?cool?.

And it is MTV?s creation of a ?cool? dependence that is skewing teen?s reality and promoting the emergence of shallow values. MTV?s popular voyeur drama, ?The Real World? is programming proof opposing MTV?s main mirror theory argument and wholly displays this type of skewed reality. MTV says that ?The Real World? is to be a reflection of the true lives of their audience. But even this raw display of human nature falls under the chopping block of MTV?s editing room. The participants of this so-called ?real life? show can be molded into any stereotype and can unintentionally become purveyors of a certain fashion with a few choice selections by the show?s editors. There is almost a formula to the casting process in this show. There is the clean-cut frat boy, the rebellious rocker, the lipstick lesbian/stylish gay guy, and the sexy vixen. While these stereotypes exist in real life to a degree, their coexistence in a single lavish habitat isn?t very real at all.

But what about the Music Trendsetters Study, one may ask? Wouldn?t this coveted survey prove MTV?s interest in what teens have to say? Upon close inspection of the MTS one would find that this is also a tainted exaggerated truth. In actuality, MTV hires a research firm called Youth Intelligence, which handpicks each participant for the study based on their appearance; therefore skewing any valid results this loaded questionnaire may yield (Morris). Obviously, the trends found in the MTS are predetermined and the results can already be calculated by Youth Intelligence before the survey even begins. With these facts in mind one could supposedly believe that MTV is a reflection of the current youth, but this reflection would certainly be seen from a warped funhouse mirror.

The distortion of reality is also evident in MTV?s championing of hypocrisy. While shows like ?True Life? and ?Love Line? attempt to serve the noble cause of educating teens about sexual responsibility-their goals are negated by other shows, namely, ?Undressed?-which is practically a soft-core porn series more suited for the late night Cinemax crowd. Both types of sex-based programming are devices in advertising, used to lure teens into viewership by broadcasting sex, whether it is in a respectable way or not. And though sex sells, it is not without its price. MTV Europe was fined $92,400 by British broadcasting authorities for three breaches of guidelines on sex in a single year (Clark-Meads). But fines like these are merely a slap on the wrist for a company that has an annual revenue upwards of 13 billion dollars (Corporate Television). While pandering to the sexual desires of an audience is expected on American television nowadays, it shouldn?t be exploited to such a young and impressionable audience.

We must be wary of corporations like MTV are who are making the false utopias presented in novels such as Aldous Huxley?s Brave New World a reality. In these alternative realities, the citizens of the world are in a constant state of distraction from vital issues, concentrating on petty pleasures and inconsequential problems. MTV?s concentration on being cool by buying into trends, and the practice of condemning those who choose more scholarly enlightenment, which are themes that are all very prevalent in the programming, will contribute to the weakening of our society and lead to the destruction of individualism and the diminishment of personal growth (Golway). Since we as teenagers have most of our necessities provided to us by our parents, our pocket money can be easily used in utterly frivolous ways, but this does not me we have to use it that way. Our generation has the largest amount of disposable income in all of history, averaging about $500 a month (Clark) We should take greater responsibility of our assets and rather than following MTV?s advice spending more money on a pair of jeans than a typical African family earns for weeks of hard labor (CIA World Factbook). The excessive ?bling-bling? spending attitude presented on MTV is not only impractical; it is also not particularly admirable. We must learn that we can?t all be cash money millionaires like Master P and we shouldn?t be ?Dirty? like Christian Aguilera.

Unfortunately we cannot reform MTV or its practices. There is no hope for a return to its initial glory days. It has become too aligned with all the other major media corporations thus making it a purveyor of the uniquely capitalist ideal of materialism. Not even voting for our favorite underground artists on to appear TRL will yield a change in the status quo. It will only make this alternative music, our music, become the new pop. When certain factors, in this case, sexual marketing coupled with a brainwashing of instant trends and fueled ruthless capitalism are linked together they become too strong to change. We can only hope to break the link with a strong, swift blow. We as the network?s primary audience must simply boycott MTV. We must send a message to the marketing executives and programmers that we will not be influenced by the same old marketing tricks like trite catch phrases and scantily clad hardbodies. We will show them that our styles are defined only by us and not by what will make them richer. Only then will MTV wither and fade away, leaving us free from the pressures of trend conformity.

Works Cited

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