The MTV Generation

Posted Dec 5, 2003
Last Updated Nov 2, 2011

One of my good friends recently expressed to me his concern with the narrow-minded fixation of a large sector of our society on pop-culture. It's time to take a stand against it, he suggested. While I understand his frustration, I wonder if it's an issue that can actually be fought at a grass-roots level.

The pop-culture that has been spoon-fed to the MTV Generation is not easily shrugged off. It is more than a simple channel broadcast to a single segment of the population. Pop-culture is the product of well-researched marketing married to group psychology.

The media, like every other venture, is about making money. Individual journalists and entertainers may feel that the value of the media is its artistic expression, but owners and shareholders care mainly about profit gains and less about art. And it can be no other way, as companies run by nonchalant do-gooders are pushed aside by unscrupulous tycoons because that's the reality of life.

In a society where freedom of opinion and expression are valued to the point of being worshipped, the pop-culture syndrome we find today is almost inevitable—since the people willing to speak what they want in a way that the public generally wants to hear it is going to thrive. The irony is that the so-called freedom of speech and opinion quickly gets gobbled up into a form of promoting anything and everything that humans want while making it ever more difficult for the public to find a desire to seriously address the important issues facing society.

It takes a simple example to illustrate this: What percentage of young adults spend time watching national news during any given day… and what percentage of those same young adults spend time during those same given days sitting in front of the television watching MTV and Entertainment Tonight (or other like programs)?

We ought to feel a sense of satisfaction that we live in a free society where we have the rights to speak and hear anything we wish. However, we ought also understand that a sense of responsibility comes with that freedom. Just because I have the right to watch whatever I want whenever I want, I do myself no good by saturating my time with unproductive programs that do little more than offer instantaneous self-gratification while giving me a false sense of incompleteness in my life—many pop-culture programs mislead viewers into thinking that they are entitled to "the good life” just because they happen to be alive.

I am in no way endorsing the suppression of the freedom of press. Far from it. What I am endorsing is a that people understand the need for moderation and variety. Watching MTV isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But watching MTV for hours a day, several days a week, is a bad thing. The same for any other media-outlet for pop-culture. Doing so can only narrow your mind and suppress your ability to appreciate the variety of art and human subjects available in our world.

Publishers and network executives understand the appetite of the MTV Generation. They feel they are only giving the public what it wants. But they are only seeing a part of the picture—they fail to see (or actively ignore) the side where their products often influence the public to further feed on their shows and magazines. In a way, pop-culture is an addictive drug. And it's a drug that many young people cannot escape—they find pop-culture magazines at the checkout lanes in all stores; they hear pop-music every time they turn on the radio; pop-culture blares from nearly every channel on their TV. It's on billboards as they drive down the roads.

Pop-culture is a marketing machine, one meant to capture people who have yet to fortify their inner selves with enough character to fight instincts. And once hooked, people have no desire to break free. The evidence is there every time you go to a checkout lane in your local grocery store—notice how much room there is for tabloid magazines devoted to the sex lives of celebrities, and notice how many substantive publications you find like National Geographic.

I have no deep answer to this issue. I doubt you can convince too many people to change their lifestyles. My only answer is that I try to keep my kids away from pop-culture as much as possible. I know they are going to run into it in their lives… but my hope is that by the time they become adults, they will already see past it as a ploy to get their money and enslave their lives in the guise of "freedom of expression".

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