MTV Is in the Outrage Business, and Has Plenty of Accomplices

MTV VMA Miley Cyrus
Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Events like the VMAs exist primarily to titillate; the media is happy to play along

The Parents Television Council actually stumbled onto something when it asked “Why Does MTV Get a Pass?” in the context of Miley Cyrus’ by-now-legendarily scandalous performance at the Video Music Awards.

Except the advocacy group whiffed on the answer, which is that MTV is in the outrage business, and in that regard has plenty of accomplices — including, not incidentally, organizations like the Parents Television Council, which thrive (and fund-raise) off being offended, and providing a voice and forum for those who see such imagery leading America’s children to ruin.

For starters, there’s absolutely no reason for the Video Music Awards to exist other than to make news by being provocative, since nobody really cares about the videos or the awards. It’s all about the performances, and a can-you-top-that quality that has crept into the event.

So each year, MTV and the artists scheduled try to outdo each other. And the assembled media wait breathlessly to see who will produce an “OMG” moment that can be replayed on cable news and “Good Morning America” for the next week.

In that regard, the major failing of the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake halftime show the PTC cited as an example of MTV’s past transgressions was one of context — namely, engineering the garment-removing stunt during the Super Bowl, America’s national holiday of sitting around watching TV. Hence Chris Rock’s admonition to Jackson for exposing herself “on a Sunday afternoon.”

Frankly, if the same performance had taken place at the VMAs, the reaction would have been considerably less dramatic — generating a few days of buzz, perhaps, but hardly the enormous rigmarole that followed.

Indeed, the Viacom networks in general tend to thrive on creating these sort of media melees, which is why it’s going to be hard pretending to be shocked when Comedy Central televises the James Franco roast on Labor Day. (Entertainment Weekly already ran a piece highlighting the event’s 26 best lines, which is ridiculous, since there haven’t been 26 good lines at the last five Comedy Central roasts combined.)

In this, however, the rest of the media are more than willing accomplices, since chewing over the “Did Miley go too far?” story is a convenient excuse to run the clips and photos. And the same largely goes for groups like the PTC, who can use MTV’s perceived excesses and “incessant sleaze” as ammunition to press for one of its pet causes, a la carte cable.

Of course, rock ‘n’ roll has been pushing cultural hot-buttons since its birth, and from that perspective, one could easily argue that MTV is merely doing its part to uphold a proud (and occasionally not so proud) tradition.

But to get really agitated about what happened during the VMAs, you don’t need to be a cultural scold or harbor a low tolerance for “incessant sleaze.”

All that’s really required, in fact, is a short memory.

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  1. nyfoodhistorian says:

    Want to get MTV and Disney to clean up their garbage acts? Stop paying them. Yank the cord and introduce folk,jazz or celtic music to your kids instead, you’ll do them a huge favor.

  2. IguanaSpeaks says:

    Is Mr. Redstone a stereotype of a “dirty old man”? Don’t expect a cure for cancer from these young folks. As for today’s media and the media of yesteryear, they go for what’s “easy”.

    Thank you for your articles, Mr. Lowry

  3. JA Hughman says:

    Ms. Cyrus’s dance of shame was degrading to Women in America. When people across the world viewed this laughable example of “talent” that MTV Producers are willing to pay for, the people most likely choked on what was the saddest example of “talent” the world has seen since the “Milly & Vanilly” scandal. Ms. Cyrus simply appeared to be trying so hard to be “whatever” it was she was trying to be!

  4. File this under: “Get Off My Lawn, You Kids!”

    Seriously, what do people expect from MTV’s own awards? Hello, she’s an entertainer, working in character, onstage. And did everyone already really forget Michael Jackson and Madonna’s now-ancient crotch grabs?

    By my reckoning, Miley’s dancing was just a lukewarm recap/mashup of MTV’s pseudo-lewd hiphop choreography, circa 1990s. She’s got the pipes no doubt, and if she wants to act out her new-found sexuality onstage, fine – but someone please tell Ms. Cyrus that her dancing is just a C – at best, shock or no.

    Dear Miley management: please get your client to get genuine dance coaching and then practice, practice, practice – especially if she plans to follow a polished act like Lady Gaga. Because, Janet Jackson she ain’t.

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