“What’s your favorite music video?” one of the children at the lunch table asked. A flurry of titles and artists’ names was bandied about the sixth-grade section of the cafeteria.
My daughter didn’t know about any of them because all of the favorites aired on MTV. Instead, Katie mentioned a music video she had seen on the Disney Channel. After an almost imperceptible pause, the group burst out laughing.
“You are so sheltered,” one of the girls taunted.
That afternoon, Katie climbed into the car and wailed, “Someone called me sheltered!”
She was horrified.
So was I, but not by the sixth-grader who teased my daughter. I was horrified that so many 11- and 12-year-olds were free to watch MTV, a channel that pushed the limits of decency for its racy content and vulgar language.
That episode eight years ago was about the time I realized that too few parents understand that all media is educational and that the lessons our children learn by watching music videos aren’t just questionable – they’re downright dangerous.
I would opt out of MTV, as well as BET (Black Entertainment Television) and VH1 if I could. Unfortunately, these music-video channels are part of my standard cable package, so I’m left with no choice but to subsidize their existence and then block them from my cable receiver. But block them I do because – not to exaggerate – these cable stations and the corporations that sponsor them are pretty much wrecking an entire generation of American children.
There she goes again, you’re probably thinking. Climbing up on her little soapbox and ranting about pop culture in an effort to shock people. Besides, we all know that the drugs seeping into our water supply are really what is wrecking America. Or is it hormones in chicken? I forget.
But get this: At long last, my gut feeling that children ought to be sheltered from music-video channels is proven right. A new study conducted by the Parents Television Council (www.parentstv.org) with the support of Enough Is Enough (www.enoughisenough campaign.com) quantifies what concerned parents have known intuitively for years: Music videos are feeding our children a steady diet of sexual promiscuity, violence, vulgarity, drug use, criminal behavior and antisocial attitudes, and they’re doing it smack dab in the hours when our children are most available to watch TV.
The report is called “The Rap on Rap.” (Find it online at www.parentstv.org.) It studied three specific programs, MTV’s “Sucker Free on MTV,” BET’s “Rap City” and “106 and Park.” It found that viewers of these shows were bombarded with adult content an average of once every 38 seconds. Only the MTV show was rated TV-14. The BET programs were rated TV-PG. Because the content descriptors were inaccurate, homes using a V-chip to filter content are not protected.
The Rev. Delman Coates, a Baltimore pastor and leader of Enough Is Enough, a nonprofit group dedicated to ensuring corporate responsibility in entertainment, says the values promoted in today’s music videos are “contrary to everything we want to promote in families and in our communities. Each day, 40 percent of the people viewing these music videos are under the age of 18. This means they are marketing messages of violence, drug use, criminal themes and sex to our children.”
In particular, Mr. Coates believes the messages on BET undermine the black community with negative stereotypes that glamorize a “gangsta” lifestyle that is contrary to the way the vast majority of blacks really live.
“BET is not representative of black culture,” he says, “and we have to be willing to challenge these images of African Americans whether they are coming from a Don Imus or a Debra Lee, [president of BET Network].”
“This isn’t just about the entertainment industry,” Mr. Coates says. “There’s a link between the messages on these videos and the normalization of certain behaviors. This is why parents and people of faith have to let our voices be heard.
“In this instance, silence equals consent. Even a small voice will make a difference,” he says.
The Enough Is Enough Campaign, along with the Parents Television Council, hopes to convince the major corporate sponsors of MTV and BET to move their advertising dollars away from programming that promotes immoral and illegal behavior and corrupts children. Their mission is a big one that will take a strong grass-roots effort, but after talking to Mr. Coates, I’m convinced they’ll make a difference.
Then again, every parent in America can make a difference simply by raising children who are accused, one grim day in the school cafeteria, of being sheltered.