In this article, the author asserts that the advent of Music Television or MTV as it is more popularly known brought a change in network television and advertising that gradually became ingratiated into the American culture.
The purpose of this paper is to review the article and highlight the arguments presented by the author in support of the statement.
Review of the Article
Right from the beginning, MTV was created to target a very exclusive group with advertising in mind. The group was eighteen to twenty-nine year olds who had proved elusive to marketers. A round the clock music channel was deemed as the perfect way to grab the attention of this market segment. The plan went well, since by 1984, three years after its inception, MTV was turning a nice profit (Anon, n.
p). MTV’s focus was on the visual; the rock music played had music videos which though at times had no connection to the narrative, were full of color and motion, and the bizarre. The videos were more focused on the visual and not the sound. MTV watchers, though a small and select group, were very loyal to the channel despite concerns raised that there was blatant portrayal of stylized violence, hatred of women and drug use (Anon, n.p). Though MTV was never overwhelmingly popular as compared to other cable channels of the time, the author quotes that it was once described as being the ‘single most influential cultural product of that decade’(Anon, n.p). Since MTV was targeted at a very specific group, it appealed almost exclusively to that group.
However, how the style adapted by the channel influenced other areas of television and popular American culture is what is of greater interest (Anon, n.p). It was acknowledged that MTV shows were one long advertisement. Though later on the channel expanded its program line-up to include shows other than music videos, and which did better on the rating charts than the music shows, the essence of MTV was the music. The recording firms that created and supplied the music videos had their own agenda, and MTV was the agent of fulfilling this agenda (Anon, n.p).
The effect that MTV had on rock as a music genre, and movies were more immediately observed; the effect of MTV on network television was much more gradual. In the movies, the rock music production style was tried: the use of handheld cameras, applying experimental art-film techniques, and using extreme visuals in production (Anon, n.p). Why the MTV ‘style’ crept into other mainstream network television is because American culture is one that is obsessed with youth and all things youthful. This was the launching board for the MTV style which laid emphasis on sensation but not thought. It is a ploy that worked well for advertisers who did not want the viewer to think about the product, just for them to buy it. Why MTV was suitable for perpetrating the culture of sensibility television is because, as the author notes, music works more with feeling and emotion, than with rational thought (Anon, n.p).
Slowly, the style was adopted in television shows where sating the senses took over making the brain work. The very first show of this genre was ‘Miami Vice’, which, as the author notes, was actually called ‘MTV Cops’ before it was given its broadcasting name. It was like an extended MTV rock video right from the soundtrack to the jumpy narrative, the stylized violence, and of course plenty of visual stimulation. As one literal critic commented, and as noted by the author, the cops in the series wore costly suits and drove costlier cars.
Despite the fact that the portrayed lifestyle could never be afforded on a cop’s paycheck, this did not stop the show from being immensely popular (Anon, n.p). Other channels followed suit such as Hollywood Beat, and even a news show- West 57th– that worked at combining the visual and sensual appeal with practical news reporting (Anon, n.p). The MTV effect was like a pack of dominoes falling; the epicenter was the MTV channel itself, then the advertising firms adapted the visual-sensual approach. After that came network television which created shows appealing to the eye and numbing to the brain. From such shows generated tabloid television which elevated celebrities with all their trivialities to new heights. Tabloid television is pure emotion and no thought; there is no justifying the gripping urge that has come over America to follow the inane lives of television superstars so ardently, to live, eat and breathe their every action.
It is very juvenile. As the author remarks, by 1984 the sensual-without-thought had crept into American culture and politics. When Ronald Reagan was running for the presidential office, political analysts noted that his campaign was full of bluster but no substance (Anon, n.p). Another effect has been simulation; there is no clear distinction between appearance and reality. It is well known that most singers do not write their own music. With digital enhancements it becomes even more difficult to distinguish between real artists and those who rely on auto-tune for their vocals. This tendency has spread further afield; ghostwriting has become the norm.
Comedians no longer write their own jokes but get all the credit. Politicians rely on speechwriters for inspiring speeches. As Ronald Reagan put it, if you really believe in it, it is true.
MTV also resulted in the blurring of lines between advertising and programming in network television. It has spurred the creation of infomercials which normally just serve the advertisers’ means. In the larger picture, it fueled consumerism; the constant urge to mindlessly acquire what advertisers sell on cable television, to be like the alluring celebrities on tabloid television. It is an incessant attempt to purchase what celebrities on television have; beauty, youth, and an illusion of happiness (Anon, n.p). The author concludes that television viewing has been transformed greatly over the decades, ever since the advent of the first black and white set. In what is termed in the article as the ‘post MTV-era’, viewers create their own version of MTV by channel surfing.
The channel switching creates a mosaic of not necessarily coherent images and sound that is in many ways reminiscent of an MTV rock video (Anon, n.p).
MTV remains a highly popular channel within the group it initially targeted in 1981, and which it still targets today. The stylistic approach has permeated network television beyond; it is as though MTV started a sensual orgy that does not have the appearance of coming to an end any time in the near future.
Anon. “What MTV Hath Wrought.” Undated. http://ruby.
fgcu.edu/courses/10251/comment12.html. 17 feb, 2010.