I Hate MTV-And Why My Kids Love It
teenish daughters make dad see the light-sort of
I first heard of MTV back in the lush, plush, innocent Reagan '80s
it seemed like the yuppie-boomer dream come true. No more endlessly
waiting around for the music during the winsome antics of the Beatles
in "A Hard Day's Night" or the posturing of Jagger and the
Stones in "Sympathy for the Devil." Now the movie was the
song and vice versa. Bang - every three minutes, new song, new movie.
How totally cool. Actually, the coolness remained somewhat theoretical
for me, since I didn't have cable at home and when I did catch MTV
at a motel or friend's house I quickly flipped it off because I didn't
like the music. But it seemed like a cool idea and I assumed that
some day I'd really get into it.
- Then I got
married, had kids, survived into the 1990s, moved to a place with
cable, and now I hate MTV. I hate it most of all because my kids
like it so much and watch it hour after hour, summer and winter,
day and night. No, it's not just the addiction that bothers me
- nor is it really the music, which doesn't sound all that different
from what I remember back in the 80s. It's the content, the imagery,
the situations I can't stand. Sex as combat. The crotch as fetish.
The stupid blatant monotonous sexism of the whole enterprise -
all this teasing, taunting, coming on and putting down, performed
by writhing boys and girls of negligible musicianship. I thought
the idea was that the videos were supposed to enhance the music,
add a storyline or interpretation. Instead all I see, when I glimpse
the kids' tv while carrying out the garbage, are tight shots of
body parts and huge leering heavily made-up lips bearing down
on the camera like zombies. Fundamentally, I don't see much difference
between MTV and pornography.
- But here's
the rub. I know parents are subject to strange fits of passion
when it comes to their kids. What if this revulsion against MTV
is just a sign of how weird I've become? What if MTV is actually
inspired, liberating entertainment and I'm being blind to the
merit of my daughters' choices, repressive of their emerging sexuality,
obtusely loyal to my own tastes and values - in other words, a
typical parent. After all, my parents thought the Beatles looked
like girls, Zap comics were trash, and the counterculture just
an excuse for a really long, really loud party.
- So, rather
than wring my hands in idle speculation, I've decided to go to
the source and find out what my daughters think. Kids - now it's
your turn to step up to the mike. What exactly is it about MTV
that you like so much? Why do you watch it so often? What do you
think you're learning, or maybe I should say absorbing, from it
when it comes to sex, relationships between men and women, money
and power and all those other things that supposedly make the
world go round. Do you think I'm being a bad parent for letting
you watch it?
- Alice, let's
start with you. You're almost 13 and you've been glued to MTV
for what, three years now? Is this healthy? Is this normal? If
you were a parent, would you want your daughter or son to watch
- You have
got it totally and completely...WRONG!! I don't watch MTV because
of the sex, the violence, the outrageous outfits. I watch it for
the music, the VJs, the celebrities! Just seeing my favorite stars
is enough. MTV has got all sorts of shows that include juicy gossip
about today's stars. For example, Diary is a show that talks to
a different star each time and goes-supposedly-"behind the
scenes" for a look at their daily life. It's so cool to see
just Blink-182 for an hour straight. More, more, more! I need
more of my favorite celebrities! Then there's Making the Video,
which shows you the process in which Britney Spears's new video
is being made. I don't know why I like that show so much...Maybe
it's the fact that I feel like I'm behind all the glamour-right
next to Britney!! Oh my god, it's Carson! And there's Ray! Could
it be that these lovable VJs are all we need? Or could it be,
that by watching TRL everyday, with the same videos, everyday...I
can memorize all of "It's Gonna be Me"! "...You
got no choice, babe, but to move on..." Well jeez. There
is just so much stuff that I can't resist on MTV, it just might
be the perfect channel!
- Whoa, this
is a lot worse than I thought. I mean, this is not just tv addiction
- this is fan fanaticism. "The perfect channel?!" Getting
"behind all the glamour - right next to Britney!" Is
this a worthy goal for a child of mine - a child period? Well,
Alice, you do make a persuasive case, I guess, and I suppose I
feel somewhat reassured that you're not in it for the sex, violence
etc. But that still leaves the critical question unanswered: can
all this blatant sexism and raunchy titillation possibly be good
for kids? Entertaining - yes, I guess I can see the glamour of
spending an "hour straight" glued to flickering images
of cute people. But what worries me are the messages you're taking
away. I mean, what does MTV say to you about the way men and women
treat each other? Don't you think these videos exploit the people
in them - and exploit you for watching them?
- MTV reminds
me of flatulence jokes. When I was a kid we told these stupid
jokes about, well, you know, farting - they were gross, but hey,
we were kids. Now the same jokes provide the story lines for "major
motion pictures" and tv shows. That's what MTV has done to
the sexy swagger of pop music. It's as if the producers are thinking,
How outrageous can we be in mining every offensive cliché and
suggestive gesture? Talk about dumbing down and ramping up.
- Okay, I'll
control myself and turn the keyboard over to Sarah - Alice's non-identical
twin and another MTV groupie. Sarah, kindly react to my diatribe...
- MTV... What
can I say about MTV? Maybe that it's the greatest channel on earth!
It's got my favorite artists, 'N SYNC, Eminem and Blink 182, and
what's better than seeing your favorite artist perform live, seeing
their music video or watching them on a show that you wish would
never end? And then there are the VJs. My favorite two are Carson
and Ray because they are so funny to watch. Sometimes I just wish
I was Carson because he gets to meet all of these famous people
and he must have the best job hosting TRL! And of course there
are the shows. How could I forget the shows of MTV! Well first
there is TRL, one full hour counting down the top ten videos of
that day, picked by the fans who watch the show. How great is
that? And finally there is a show called Fanatic. On this show
fans get picked to meet their favorite artist and ask them questions.
Oh my god, I love that show! I wish that I could be one of the
fans that was picked to meet their favorite artist especially
if I got to meet 'N SYNC. That would be a dream come true. But
anyway, MTV isn't bad, it's just a great channel with a bunch
of great people
- Dad has
returned to lift the mike ever so wearily. It's clear that I'm
fighting a losing battle here - no, I've lost the war. These kids
are not fans - they're cultists. Worse, they sound like MTV shills.
I mean, maybe I should email this to Carson and Ray's boss right
now and they can sign Sarah and Alice up as publicists to the
"tween" world. So much eloquence and passion squandered
in so wretched a cause.
- But I have
to admit these kids make a persuasive case, because I'm weakening.
Personally, I'd rather spend an hour with the oral surgeon than
listen to 'N SYNC explain why they're so great and how they got
the inspiration for all those memorable lines ("bye, bye,
bye!"), but I'm willing to concede that this is a matter
- Well, Emily,
oh sage of 15 summers, do you have any other words of wisdom and
enlightenment to shed on this subject? Do you agree with your
sisters that MTV is the "perfect channel"? Does anything
about it ever offend you or make you wonder about the hidden -
or blatant - messages you're being subjected to? And while you're
enlightening me, would you mind explaining when the term "singer"
morphed into "artist"?
channel indeed! I assume you know that MTV stands for Music Television,
but I say that's false advertising. Where's the music? I have
seen music on MTV once a day, in the form of TRL, which is really
just an excuse to look at official "cute person" Carson
Daly. Does MTV offend me? Yes! TRL (Total Request Live) in which
fans write emails to mtv.com asking for their favorite videos
to be played frightens me. How can an entire country have such
bad taste in music?
- But I am
supposed to be disagreeing with you. What is your goal here? To
have MTV taken off the air? Or just to prevent us from ever watching
it? Either way it's censorship. Making it impossible for MTV to
air is a violation of Freedom of Speech, and stopping us from
watching it is possible censorship of our brilliant young imaginations.
Just you wait till Sarah wins a Grammy for Best Cinematography
in a Music Video. And anyway, what's the problem with the sex
on MTV? You let me see the film "High Fidelity"-twice,
no less-in which a man and a woman have sex in a car. I suppose
your argument would be that they weren't clad in lingerie (as
opposed to MTV, where everyone is). But really, do you think my
sisters and I can't tell the difference between a Britney Spears
video and real life? Do you think we don't realize that exploitation
(of men and women) is MTV's big selling point? And if we realize
that it's exploitation we can't be numb to it or in favor of it.
Please, father, be reasonable.
- Father reasonably
wraps up: I am afraid I have been trumped. No matter whether it's
the perfect channel or the perfect reflection of our national
awful taste in music, MTV is evidently exactly what the framers
had in mind when they drafted the first amendment. Clearly, the
right to freedom of speech (not to mention freedom of lingerie)
extends to our very own family room. In any case, I must admit
that the girls' arguments have a certain Jeffersonian clarity
and passion - a sign that MTV, for all its ills, hasn't squelched
their ability to reason and write.
- But I'm
not giving up. Next time, I'm planning to tangle with the girls
on a subject in which I have the decisive advantage in every way:
Laskin is a Seattle writer, father of three musical daughters
and fan of Aretha Franklin and Cecilia Bartoli. He and his daughters
last argued about Neatness in dadmag. His new book is called Artists
in their Gardens.
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