Is MTV is Making You Stupid?

Let me preface this post by stating that no one rolls their eyes harder than I do when I hear concerned parents blather on about how their precious little muffin’s mind is going to rot because of any of the following: rock music, prostitution, violence in the media, sex in the media, sex in general, pornography, video games, liberal bias in the media…well you get the point. So I beg that you forgive me as I indulge in this relatively old fogey moment.

I worry about kids today.

Not because of any of the aforementioned things, but because of MTV and the general dumbing-down of a whole generation. So-called sexual deviancy I can handle, even endorse to a certain degree, but stupidity is unforgivable.

I mention it because I remember when I was twelve or thirteen and I would watch MTV as a model of what my late teens and early twenties would be like. I would live in a house exactly like the one in The Real World: Boston, I would be as cavalierly-cool as Aeon Flux, I would listen to all of the almost painfully cool songs they used to play on 120 minutes when MTV used to play music. In other words, what was cool in the mid-nineties even through the late 90’s is totally different than what is cool now.

And so I try to think of what twelve-year-old girls today are getting from shows like A Shot at Love, My Super Sweet Sixteen and all the Real Worlds after Las Vegas, and all I can come up with is that its hip to be stupid. Some would argue that the real message is that you should be slutty (or, assertive in your sexuality, which I’m all for but, I’m sorry, that’s not what MTV is trying to say), or rich and entitled, or perpetually drunk, but I think the common denominator in all of those things is a stunning lack of common sense and basic intelligence. And self respect, but that’s another blog.

So it begs the question: What came first, the stupid chicken or the idiot egg? Does MTV reflect teen life as it really is or does it, in fact, influence teen life to reflect it’s programming? Or, is it creating a sort of idealized world that doesn’t really reflect any sort of reality? Not being a teen anymore, I can’t really say.

All I can think, though, is that MTV, in it’s status as a sort of cultural zeitgeist, has a responsibility to its viewership that its not fulfilling. The MTV of my formative years, at least in my rather limited memory, had an air of social consciousness, a sensibility that being an individual, and creative, was a good thing. I do not hesitate at all in admitting that MTV did influence me to a certain extent, in giving me awesome role models in Jancee Dunn (on MTV2, which I loved more than MTV) and Alison Stewart. Perhaps it’s just the same nostalgia I get when I watch Salute Your Shorts and Are you Afraid of the Dark? and lament on how awful kids programming has become.

But maybe MTV and networks like it are doing some damage. Maybe it’s time that we should rethink our ideas about what’s cool.

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