It’s MTV. What did we expect?
April 2004 – Despite its vulgarity, the recent Super Bowl half-time show, which climaxed with a stunt that revealed singer Janet Jackson’s right breast, may have been a wake-up call for American families and a boon for the cause of decency on TV.
In the midst of countless replays and news coverage, the curtain has been drawn back on the sex-saturated world of the cable television network MTV. It’s a domain that adults over 35 are likely only vaguely aware of, but to many teens and young adults, it’s territory as familiar as their own backyards.
It’s not that parents haven’t heard of MTV. Many were among its early viewers when the network began some 22 years ago. At that time, programming on Music Television consisted of wall-to-wall record company promotional videos. This older MTV generation watched as the network redefined pop culture and spawned an industry that made cable hook-up essential for most American families.
But today’s MTV has little resemblance to the network’s early days. In fact, music videos comprise only a small part of the programming. Now soap operas, reality shows, beach specials and decidedly left-slanted news dominate. In the words of a recent commentary by Laurence Herman in USA Today, “… the innocence of its early programming [has been] replaced by a prurient broadcasting hodgepodge with a message subversive to basic values.”
Today MTV invades more than 140 countries and 350 million homes, with 80 million of those in the United States. It’s a billion-dollar cash cow for its parent company, media conglomerate Viacom, which also owns CBS, the network that aired the Super Bowl. At the request of CBS, the NFL hired MTV to produce the raunchy half-time spectacle.
What do you expect?
Christians across the nation were collectively shocked and surprised by MTV’s Super Bowl prank using Janet Jackson. But should we have been?
Not according to Al Menconi, whose ministry for over 20 years has been to help Christian parents and children think Biblically about the entertainment media. “What do you expect from MTV?” he asks. “Their shows like Real World, Road Rules, Spring Break and others regularly feature nude and nearly nude young people simulating sex in their dance routines and other sexually charged behavior. The Super Bowl program was no different.”
Bob DeMoss, senior writer with FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, summarizes MTV’s underlying message to its 12-24 year old target demographic: “Above all else, satisfy any and all hormonal impulses for any reason at any time, without any thought for the implications or wisdom of such actions; and, encourage others to do likewise, without passing judgment.” Lyrics and choreography from the Super Bowl half-time show certainly validate DeMoss’ assessment.
With a stage full of striptease cheerleaders and gyrating dancers dressed as transvestities, Janet Jackson’s opening number was All For You. Lyrics include: All my girls at the party / Look at his body / Shakin’ that thing / Like I never did see / Got a nice package alright / Guess I’m gonna have to ride it tonight. (“Package” is a contemporary euphemism for male genitalia.)
Hip-hop artist P. Diddy followed with Bad Boy for Life: I’m the definition of, half man, half drugs / Ask the clubs, Bad Boy - that’s whassup / After bucks, crush cruise after us / No gaze, we ain’t laughin’ much / Nothin but big thangs, check the hitlist / How we twist s--t, what change but the name?
Bad Boy segued into Hot in Herre by rapper Nelly: I was like, good gracious a-- bodacious / Flirtatious, tryin’ to show faces / Lookin’ for the right time to shoot my steam (you know) / Lookin’ for the right time to flash them G’s … I need you to get up on the dance floor / Give that man what he askin’ for / Cuz I feel like bustin’ loose and I feel like touchin’ you / And can’t nobody stop the juice so baby tell me what’s the use / (I said) It’s getting’ hot in here (so hot) / So take off all your clothes / I am getting’ so hot, I wanna take my clothes off.
Nelly’s presentation also included the requisite hip-hop crotch-grabbing move.
Next, Kid Rock, wearing an American flag poncho, offered his rock/rap compositions Bawitdaba and Cowboy. Lyrics celebrate “crackheads,” “crooked cops,” “hookers,” and pornography.
Jackson’s infamous duet with Justin Timberlake was the finale. Rock Your Body included choreographed groping, simulated lesbian sex and these lyrics: Are you feeling me? / Let’s do something / Let’s make a bet / Cause I, bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song. As the last line was delivered Timberlake reached across Jackson to rip off a black leather bodice and reveal her breast. The broadcast immediately cut to commercial without a comment.
Assuming the public would find the stunt edgy and cool, MTV gloated at their Web site, “Janet Gets Nasty.” But when the public indignation became evident even MTV, along with CBS, the NFL, Timberlake and Jackson, scrambled to offer explanations and measured apologies. Timberlake claimed “wardrobe malfunction.”
However even before the game, MTV had promised “shocking moments.” Rolling Stone magazine, long a major voice of pop culture, reported that MTV insiders said “a tearaway finale, in which Jackson’s skirt would be ripped off to reveal a sexy undergarment” was considered.
In any case, Americans got an eye full and ear full of what MTV is all about – marketing “cool” in the form of sexual immorality and debauchery to teens and young adults.
Merchants of Cool
“MTV provides the parameters of cool,” Menconi explains. “Teens must find out what is cool. This is basic.” Menconi says MTV dictates what it is to be a teenager – what is funny, what is fashionable and what is interesting.
“Cool” may be the reason millions of teens tune in to MTV like earlier generations did radio, but to corporate America, it’s all about money – $150 billion per year in disposable income that teens spend.
A segment of the compelling news documentary The Merchants of Cool, which originally aired on PBS on the Frontlines series, is devoted to demonstrating the extent to which MTV goes to stay cool and sell cool. It’s all a very calculated marketing effort.
According to Merchants of Cool producer Douglas Rushkoff, MTV and other marketers monitor teens in real life in order to sell them an image of themselves. Then those teens watch those images and aspire to conform to what they see on MTV. The marketers watch the whole process in order to craft new images. Rushkoff calls it a giant feedback loop.
The trick for marketers is to recognize when what’s currently cool is old, and move on to something else. Right now what’s cool is raunchy sex and rebellion.
“My guess would be that we’ve been through a fairly serious anti-drug and alcohol movement in the country,” says DeMoss. The same is true with the rash of violent lyrics in the late ’80s. What’s left? Sex. Oh, and anger. Anger is okay, but sex seems to have more in it for the performer.”
“Money has always been the most effective leverage for Christian activists,” says AFA President Tim Wildmon. “We’ve always said the entertainment companies respond to one thing – money. And that’s certainly true of MTV.” Wildmon says if Christians can get the attention of advertisers on MTV, programming changes are possible.
• For articles, books and teaching tapes on the influence of media: www.almenconi.com
• Not Even A Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust, by Joshua Harris. Straightforward talk about sexual sin without being graphic, this “PG-rated” book will speak to the person deeply entrenched in lust, as well as to those just flirting with temptation. Available at Christian book stores.
• To order The Merchants of Cool: www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/cool/etc/tapes.html|• Plugged In Online and Plugged In magazine – Focus on the Family publications designed to help equip parents, youth leaders, ministers and teens with essential tools that will enable them to understand, navigate and impact pop culture: www.pluggedin.com
• For a variety of articles and information on family and parenting issues: www.familylife.com.