Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Have You Watched MTV Lately?

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When I interviewed sixth-grade girls for my upcoming book Living Happily Ever After Today, MTV topped their favorite TV viewing.

I decided to tune in. During lunch one day, I took the opportunity to see what was playing.

It was a show called Parental Control. On this show parents picked dates for their young adult children. The premise: parents who don’t like the current boy or girlfriend use the show to introduce their child to new people. Each parent gets to pick one date from a pool of applicants. The adult ‘child’ goes on two dates that are videotaped while the parents and significant other watch a live feed of the date and exchange smack.

Of course there are commercials throughout the program. In one commercial girls age 8 to 10 were playing outdoor games.

“You can participate, too!” caught my attention. The spot was advertising Nickelodeon. Why would Nickelodeon, a kid’s network, have an ad on MTV? To find out, I did what I always do. I googled it.

What I found out is disturbing. MTV is viewed in over 412 million households worldwide. Nielsen Ratings report that MTV is in 95,000,000+ homes in the United States. While much of the program is about young adults, some sources report the target market is the 12-17 age range. (I also discovered that Nickelodeon is in the MTV Network, Viacom.)

Have you watched MTV lately?

Time Warner Cable who is pitching MTV tells us, “For what’s happening and what’s next in music and popular culture young adults turn to MTV to get the answers. From fashion, lifestyle and sports to attitudes, politics and trends, only MTV offers what’s consistently fresh, honest and groundbreaking.”

Here’s the bad news, folks. Not only young adults turn to MTV for current trends. So do 10, 11 and 12 year olds.

Again, I want to know. Have you watched MTV lately?

In the past I have mentioned My Super Sweet 16, a show featuring spoiled girls and boys celebrating their 16th birthdays in a way-over-the-top fashion. And let’s not forget A Shot of Love, another favorite of 6th graders, which had two seasons of Tela Tequila trying to find love with either a boy or a girl. Then there is Real Life a show “featuring real people and the unusual subcultures they inhabit,” as it is billed by MTV. And Engaged and Underaged?—tagged as “Who cares if people think it’s too soon to get married?”

Back to Parental Control. The show appeared scripted, which means the responses and reactions are probably exaggerated. The parents and children do not play nice. Nasty boyfriends treat their girlfriends with disrespect. Domineering girlfriends keep their men in line. Most troubling is how the boy or girlfriend acts toward the parents while watching the dates. In one episode, the girlfriend told the parents to “Shut the ‘bleep’ up.” A little later she said, “I have something to say to both of you.” They looked and she proudly made a rude gesture. Mom and Dad weren’t playing nice either. They both had mean things to say, as did the other participants.

When did it become okay to abdicate the defining of our cultural mores to our entertainment industry?

Walking the line between censorship and upholding values you believe in is the task of responsible parenting. Our role tests us every time our children tune into the latest MTV hijinks or current entertainment craze. Our first task is to know what our kids are watching, which means having your television in the family room. Then you can decide if you want to invite MTV to be the nightly guest lecturer in your home.

Allyn Evans
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