Posted by Megan Bannister
When it was founded by Robert W. Pittman in August of 1981, MTV was designed to cater to music videos presented by VJs (video DJs) and later live concerts and other music-related events. Almost 20 years later, the reality of MTV as a pop-culture outlet has drastically changed.
Before there was “Teen Mom” and “Jersey Shore,” there was Lauren Conrad on “The Hills.” But before there was “Laguna Beach,” there were music vieos from artists like Pat Benatar and the Buggles. At the dawn of the new millennia, though the station began to move away from its traditional music-based programming and towards the growing reality television phenomenon. In fact, at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, artist Justin Timberlake addressed the station directly in his acceptance speech, urging MTV to “play more damn videos.” It appears the message was not received.
During last week’s season finale of “Jersey Shore,” the station’s largest viewer audience of the year, MTV announced that come January the station will premiere a new series: “Skin.”
Originally a controversial British teen drama about the tumultuous lives of a group of friends as they struggle with drug use, sexual orientation, familial instability and a myriad of other problems, the MTV adaptation will be set in Baltimore, Maryland featuring a supposedly distinct plot line from it’s UK counterpart. According an article published in Sunday’s New York Times, MTV aims to expand their audience and interest a new demographic of viewership with its latest endeavor. However, I began to wonder, how starkly different could the audience of “Skins” be from those already devoted to “Teen Mom” and “My Super Sweet 16?” It was then that I came to a revelation, one that poses the question: Are we becoming the people we see on MTV?
In a sneak peak of the new series, posted on the official MTV website, one of the principal characters remarks to his friend, “Stan has got to get laid before he’s 17 or he can’t be my friend anymore.” Unfortunately he’s not kidding. And mentalities such as these are not only present on MTV but in popular music and current events as well.
Members of Generation Y are bombarded with media images of casual sex and socially constructed sexuality on a daily basis. Earlier this year music videos such as Katy Perry’s chart topping “California Gurls” and Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” were criticized by some for questionable content. More recently, Duke student Karen Owen’s private powerpoint presentation, which rated the sexual desirability and prowess of some of the school’s biggest names, went viral and was reported on by major news outlets like The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal online. The explicitly detailed account of Owen’s trysts with over a dozen male students brings into question not only the morality of college students and their peers but also how media portrayal of sexuality has constructed these values in the American youth.
Is MTV’s newest series the final nail in the coffin? Are the future leaders of America products of the social media they consume? Are we MTV?