A Report on MTV Programming
March 20, 2004-March 27, 2004
It has been a year since Janet Jackson deliberately exposed her breast to a world-wide audience that included millions of unsuspecting children during the MTV-produced 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, but America is still talking about it, and the entertainment industry is still reeling from the backlash. The incident became one of the biggest news stories of 2004, but why? Why were so many parents taken aback by the incident? How is it that "three-quarters of a second on a broadcast television and 13 frames of video" have become the lynchpin for our discussions about where the culture is headed?
One possible explanation is that in that moment, millions of parents finally saw, and understood what their children are seeing every afternoon on MTV. Dr. Jane Brown, journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill observed on NPR's Talk of the Nation, "We as adults rarely see what our kids are seeing..it was sort of a moment where popular teen culture came into the mainstream, and we all went, 'Oh, my goodness.'"
Parents witnessed first-hand the incessant crotch-grabbing and revealing clothing, the dangerous mixture of aggression and sexuality, and the relentless sexual simulation and stimulation that characterize MTV's programming.
The reality is that parents need to be worried about MTV not only because of its popularity, but also because of its tremendous influence in the lives of America's teens and pre-teens. MTV is the most recognized network among young adults ages 12 to 34, according to Nielsen Media Research. It is watched by 73% of boys and 78% of girls ages 12 to 19. Boys watch for an average of 6.6 hours per week and girls watch for an average of 6.2 hours per week.
MTV is owned by Viacom, the same corporate giant that owns CBS (which aired the Super Bowl) and Nickelodeon, and that corporate synergy ensures that even the youngest TV viewers are getting acclimated to the MTV brand. As one TV critic put it: "Nickelodeon isn't just SpongeBob Squarepants: It's a gateway station to crotch- grabbing MTV. With millions of viewers, Nickelodeon offers the perfect cross-marketing vehicle for Viacom: Kids love it; parents trust its programming."
MTV does influence young viewers. According to Dr. Brown, "If you believe Sesame Street taught your four-year-old something, then you better believe MTV is teaching your 14-year-old something, because the influence doesn't stop when we come to a certain age."
Indeed, research shows that watching MTV changes the attitudes and perceptions of young viewers. At least two experiments show that watching MTV results in more permissive attitudes about sex. One experiment showed that college students who were assigned to watch MTV developed more liberal attitudes toward premarital sex than their peers who did not watch MTV as part of the study. The second found that seventh and ninth graders were more likely to approve of premarital sex after watching MTV for one hour.
Read the entire article on the Parents Television Council website (new window will open).