MTVTeenagers turned on to MTV

Dylan Strain reports

Working with two groups of fourteen-year-olds last week in Spittal an der Drau in Austria, we came to the Monday show sketch lesson, the last lesson or session of six, in which we started to get ideas for our hopefully humorous performance.
"Shot of love with Tila Tequila," "Paris Hilton's BFF" (Best Friends Forever, in case you've somehow missed it) "Flavour of Love" or "Next" were the shows offered as suggestions for a spin-off sketch. All are MTV shows.
These two groups were made up of 28 very bright students. Earlier on in the day I found out, courtesy of practising the present perfect tense, that well over half of one group “have smoked” and all 14 in one group (all girls) “have kissed another girl”. Apparently nothing to do with the recent Katie Perry pop song that goes "I kissed a girl and I liked it" and more to do with "practice for boys" says student Vedrana. More from my students later.
I start to wonder about MTV. I do some extensive research. The results of my Google search include the Parents Television Council (a conservative group) labelling MTV as “smut peddlers” based on research in 2004 / 05. A Christian right–wing organisation, American Family Association have described MTV as having a negative moral influence calling them "pro-sex, anti-family, pro-abortion and promoting drug culture." Blimey, am I turning into a Mary Whitehouse Daily Mail reader? What else?
On the other hand, Aaron Strong in his article “MTV continues to influence America's Youth” writes:

The moral fabric of America is most likely not being ripped apart by MTV, but it is probably being challenged in several ways. Since 2003 genocide in Darfur, Sudan has been occurring. The United States has virtually ignored this conflict while hundreds of thousands of Africans are ethnically cleansed simply because of their skin colour.

In 2005 a column in the New York Times written by Nicholas Kristof mentioned the powerful coverage that MTV is dedicating to the genocide happening in Darfur. Mr Kristof wrote that, ‘It should be a national embarrassment that MTV is more outspoken about genocide than our president [George W Bush].

According to Cally Carswell, Obama's influence is everywhere, even on MTV which is overhauling its programming, dumping "the backbiting and bitchery of most non-fiction fare" in favour of reality shows profiling young people on the up-and-up.

The president of MTV Brian Graden told Variety magazine at the end of 2008 that "our new shows will feature themes of affirmation and accomplishment. These themes are more consistent with the Obama generation”.
I decided to have a discussion with my two groups about MTV. Would these new shows for “The Obama Generation” show themselves? I asked the first group, what shows do you watch then?
"Flavour of Love, Exposed, Next and Tila Tequila."
How would you describe them?

"Very dirty" said Marco and Lukas in stereo. (Tila Tequila is described as "funny" and "crazy" a bi-sexual girl looking for her true love.) "Exposed is the worst", said a couple of girls. (This would seem to put ex's back with each other whilst the present boyfriend or girlfriend looks on, whilst the tempted are unaware that they are being watched.)
"Its all to make money." "It's funny, not real, like wrestling." "We know it's fake."
Group two, the all girl group. Is MTV a good thing to watch? We have a group show of hands. The group of 14 is split down the middle. "MTV is boring," says Anna. "Only uncool people say that," says Vedrana.
"Some people are stupid and they think it's reality," said Johanna.
Just less than half the group have a television in their bedrooms.
"The problem is when younger people watch MTV," someone says.
How old?
"Eight to 10. They grow up too young. The parents are out to work because everything is so expensive. They want to be like us. We drink alcohol at 14, so they want to start age 12," insightfully comments Vedrana once more.
In the early part of the week I hear Marco and Lukas continue to think it's cool to shout out in class "bitch," "MFer," and "asshole" etc, so I have to take action and discipline them. 

A blogger called DOG wrote: “Being exposed to anything for hours at a time will eventually manifest itself in your life even if you don't think it will. Ever had friends that had a little saying or quirks that you didn't have until you started hanging out with them...? That's my point.”
On Thursday afternoon an hour or two after our discussion, Vicky tells her classmate quite nicely to "fuck off". On the other side of the room, Kath turns to me and with delicious timing quips, "She's been watching MTV."

4 March 2009

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