• Why Does MTV Get a Pass?

    by  • August 27, 2013 • Cable Choice • 10 Comments

    How many “scandals” has MTV orchestrated in recent memory? And yet when they erupt, scorn is not directed at MTV, but heaped on the performers. And only the female performers, at that.

    After the MTV-produced Super Bowl halftime show which saw Justin Timberlake ripping Janet Jackson’s bodice and revealing her breast to a national television audience while singing that he’s going to have her naked by the end of the song, the incident was thereafter referred to not as the MTV halftime show, but as the Janet Jackson incident.

    Likewise shortly after this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, Twitter and social media lit-up with “Can you believe she did that?” commentary. But maybe the question people should have been asking is “Can you believe MTV is at it again?”

    In fact in the day and a half since the VMAs aired, my guess is millions of words of virtual ink have been spilled talking about what Miley Cyrus did, but very little of the criticism has been directed at MTV, which hosted, directed, and televised the program; or at Robin Thicke, the willing accomplice.

    Which is not to say that Miley Cyrus is not responsible for her performance, and it’s not to let her off the hook. But at any point MTV could have pulled the plug on the performance, and they didn’t, which means they are equally complicit and equally culpable for what aired. What is more, it was MTV, not Miley or any of the other performers, who chose to rate the program as appropriate for a 14-year-old child, it was MTV that sold ad spots for violent, R-rated movies and condoms.

    It’s time to talk about MTV and their role in this whole big mess, and why cable customers are still footing the bill for a network that would probably soon cease to exist if not for the forced extortion from cable bundling.


    Several years ago, PBS aired a documentary called “The Merchants of Cool” that examined how products and performers gain currency in the popular culture. Quite contrary to what television and movie studios, record labels, and video game manufacturers would have us believe, the entertainment industry does not merely deliver what consumers want. They decide which performers they want to promote and then create a closed feedback loop to spur and then satisfy demand for that performer. That’s how artists like Lady Gaga come out of nowhere to become a pop culture sensation, seemingly overnight.

    And MTV is instrumental in this process of culture creation. MTV decides which artists or careers they want to promote, MTV tells its pre-teen and teen age fans who’s cool right now, the fans buy their tracks or albums, they flock to the concerts, watch their performances at the Grammys, VMAs, and the cycle continues. Hot one minute, gone the next.

    And that’s what makes MTV so insidious. Impressionable young teens and pre-teens are looking to MTV for social cues. They are looking to MTV to tell them what’s cool, how to behave, and what’s expected of them. And MTV knows it. Yet they continue to produce trashy reality programs like “Real World,” “Jersey Shore,” and “16 and Pregnant;” they continue to churn out reckless original programming like “Skins,” and “The Hard Times of R.J. Berger;” and they continue to orchestrate publicity stunts at venues like the Super Bowl and the VMAs.

    And MTV is well aware of its influence with young consumers. In a marketing memo MTV at one time sent to prospective advertisers, they boasted that “’MTV has had as far-reaching an influence on many facets of popular culture as any cable television network. It’s (MTV) effects on music, TV and lifestyle fashions have been deep and enduring’ (Daily News, 7/01). Why? ‘Everyone who has a TV knows there is something called MTV.’ (Businessweek, 2/18/02). Since most cable networks typically skew 35+, you could be missing out on reaching valuable young viewers. By adding MTV to your media schedule, you can attract and capitalize on the12-34 year old audience.”

    The memo went on: “Our audience is deciding what they wantMTV’s median age is exactly when a majority of young American adults begin to form life-long brand loyalties. Young adults 15-17 are excited consumers and extremely impressionable. Now is the time to influence their choices. 12-34 year olds have higher brand recall and more recognition than 35-49 year olds. In fact 69% make their purchasing decisions based on brand name, not price.”

    So they know that children in the demographic they are trying to reach are extremely impressionable, yet they continue to inundate them with messages promoting casual sex, binge drinking and other reckless behavior.

    More than half the children in this country to have television sets in their bedrooms.  Surveys indicate that 44% of children say they watch something different when they are alone than when they are with their parents, and 25% of those children choose MTV.

    The incessant sleaze on MTV presents the most compelling case yet for consumer cable choice.  As it now stands, most parents have no choice but to take – and pay for – MTV if they want basic cable in their homes.  Given the choice, how many parents now being forced to take and pay for MTV as part of a basic cable package, would continue to do so?

    Cable is now in nearly as many homes as broadcast TV. We can no longer afford to ignore the rising tide of vulgar and violent programming on cable aimed directly at our children.  It’s time for a better option.



    Ms. Henson is a noted expert on entertainment industry trends and the how the impact of entertainment affects children and the American popular culture at large. She also directs the organization’s Advertiser Accountability Campaign, which encourages companies to sponsor family-friendly entertainment. She previously supervised the research and program content analysis operations of the PT and produced a number of groundbreaking PTC studies that document the levels of graphic sex, violence and profanity on television. Some of those reports include: The Ratings Sham I & II, Dying to Entertain, Faith in a Box, The Sour Family Hour, The Blue Tube, and TV Bloodbath. She began her career with the PTC in 1997 as an entertainment analyst, documenting instances of inappropriate content on television. Ms. Henson has appeared on a variety of television shows including Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, Your World with Neil Cavuto, The Big Story, CNN Headline News’ ShowBiz Tonight, CNBC’s On the Money, MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, and CBN’s Newswatch. She is a frequent guest on radio talk shows across the country and has been quoted extensively in news sources such asEntertainment Weekly, Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, New York Daily News, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Variety, Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg. Ms. Henson is a graduate of the University of Virginia where she received a BA in Government. She resides in Falls Church, Va., with her husband and their son.

    10 Responses to Why Does MTV Get a Pass?

    1. Jayne
      September 5, 2013 at 10:11 pm

      This is exactly why we dumped cable and bought an antenna and a video streamer. We do not miss cable at all!

    2. Joe Pinner
      August 31, 2013 at 10:02 am

      MTV is certainly a prime reason for sleaze infiltrating cable companies, the networks and for decades has continued to produce with incredibly high-technical quality a history of incredibly filthy, unhealthy, mindless and yes, dangerous programing, unbridled by regulations of decency! What is even more distressing, in my opinion, is the seemingly huge number of children and immature-minded “adults” who savor this type of trash and fuel and reassure the producers of this garbage in getting deeper in the gutter for their programing! Geez! How do these people sleep at night, especially those who may be parents!? Thanks to PTC and may your tribe continue to increase and don’t let the “opposition”, in wont of a different and more appropriate term, grind you down! Just some thoughts!

    3. MO
      August 30, 2013 at 9:05 am

      All the blame should not go on Miley – from childhood she has been directed to be something a child should not be. The directors and producers knew what was going to happen. Yes, we are sick of the groups who can’t keep their hands above their waists. Please give us cable choice and do not support advertisers who sponsor such disgusting programming.

    4. William P. Cheshire
      August 30, 2013 at 5:06 am

      Save some of that outrage for Congress, which sits on its hands, the FCC, which refuses to act on thousands of citizen complaints, and the U.S. Supreme Court, which has determined that pornography is what James Madison had in mind when he wrote the First Amendment.

      • William Warfield
        August 30, 2013 at 12:48 pm

        Isn’t *that* the truth, Mr. Cheshire? You are 125% *correct!*

        Which makes me hope Cable Choice *will indeed* become a reality soon and not just talk!

    5. LouiseCA
      August 29, 2013 at 7:37 pm

      You’d have to tie me in a chair and beat me up to get me to watch MTV, but unfortunately, I’ve seen enough of the clips and discussions on news channels to know that something has to be done about MTV.

      Someone suggested that next year, they might go as far as completely nude dancing if something isn’t done to either bring them to their senses or issue some sort of punishment in fines, or whatever, to begin to make it more difficult for them to continue promoting filth and ruining our children.

      I’m so glad that that PTC is speaking out about this. God bless you, and please continue.

      And may Americans wake up before it’s too late to save our next generation. If it isn’t already.

    6. SA
      August 28, 2013 at 6:03 am

      I for one am sick of being forced to pay for channels I do not watch and especially MTV. They get rich why we are subjected to this garbage. Cable companies drop channels right and left why can MTV not be one of them!! I can just imagine how many 14 yr old girls that will now be doing the Miley Twerk crap WTF was MTV thinking. Oh ratings thats what

    7. William Warfield
      August 28, 2013 at 5:41 am

      Regarding the paragraph above explaining “culture creation,” it only seems to validate a statement the late, great – and, to be sure, *much more* talented – Lucille Ball made in 1986 when she heard Atlanta media mogul Ted Turner bought out her alma mater, MGM, and I paraphrase:

      “The industry today is owned by bankers, not by artists.”

      Thank the Lord I’ve long since ceased watching MTV (I’m now 51). When I was in college in the mid-80′s, they aired mostly music videos and they had their audience in mind (i.e. *no* offensive content). And now *this* is what they’ve come to?

      I *do* agree – *make Cable Choice a reality now!*

    8. debra waters
      August 27, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      Nothing is being said about rappers who crotch grab all over the television. Nor about Beyoncé dry masturbating in her performances on stage. Girls as young as eight years of age are doing this twerk, and has been doing it for at least 10 years that I know of. Nor the vulgar language these people produce for young ears to listen to been addressed. Nor do I hear any mention of how disgraceful mr. Thicke was grinding on her behind. Yet it is o.k. for males to do lewd acts on stage; crotch grabbing, squeezing, and grinding on women. Double standard? Well women should be able to grab their breast and flap their happy hips on stage as well.

    9. Alicia Fawcett
      August 27, 2013 at 2:07 pm

      Good article Melissa. I do not subscribe to cable due to content and increased Ad’s, however it does not keep my pre teen daughter from being able to view content already aired on the net.

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