Saturday, May 29, 2004
MTV should be embarrassed
MTV sells itself as young and hipper than hip. Actually they've used hardware and software unavailable until now to raise the art of selling the Lowest Common Denominator to a new high. Practically overnight, they poll their viewers and change their broadcasts. Want 24 hours of Step 'N Fetchit? NO problem! It's Lord of the Fly's with Intel Inside.
But they've reached their limit. CNN and other sources report that MTV won't run the ads for the anti-McDonald's documentary Super Size Me. Obvious question: What's McDonald's annual MTV advertising budget?
CONTINUED: Keith Richards (Keith Richards!) won't let his teenage daughter hang Eminem posters on her bedroom wall because of Eminem's potential influence on her.
MTV says just the opposite. If there is something 16 to 24 year olds want to see, MTV wants to broadcast it. If the FCC won't allow it on TV, they'll make it a movie or put the uncensored version on a DVD. The unadulterated eagerness of adults to support teen hedonism is unprecedented in the history of Western civilization.
I watch MTV too. Obviously it's seductive, and not actually evil incarnate. It's more like Confusion Rules!
Studies show that children who listen to Mozart for thirty minutes improve their scores on IQ tests. We should test them after thirty minutes exposure to Wal-Mart, the strip, Eminem, Li'l Kim, sprawl, isolated houses with no sidewalks . . . then test them after 24/7/365 sprawl and MTV with few adult role models.
The surprise is that our kids are doing so well in the face of all this. Humans are great, with the potential for spontaneous change. But we need to give them more help. The president of MTV says that if he had a teenage daughter watching the shows he sends out, he would be terrified.
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Moya Bailey, WireTap
May 21, 2004
Over Christmas break I was up late one night on the phone. As I passed the den I glanced at the TV and what I saw made me stop. Nelly and the St. Lunatics were throwing money at nearly naked women. Women were simulating sex with other women as Nelly and company looked on. Then I saw Murphy Lee sliding a credit card between a woman's butt cheeks. I was too disgusted to even speak and got off the phone quickly.
When I came back to school, along with the usual "How was break?" and "What'd you do?" came the soon equally familiar, "Have you seen 'Tip Drill?'" My Spelman sisters and Morehouse brothers alike were shocked by this recent low in depictions of African-American women on the small screen. Our critique of the video was not isolated. Fellow Historically Black College/University (HBCU) students at Howard had protested in front of Viacom to show their outrage towards the video in mid-December. It became apparent to me, as Spelman's Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA) President that this was something that we, too, needed to address.
The FMLA had its first showing and discussion of the "Tip Drill" video at the beginning of February. A significant number of students came, including men from Morehouse. Many differing viewpoints were brought up. One student asked if women could ever be in these videos and be sexual without being viewed in a negative manner. The comment was eloquently addressed by FMLA member Bettina Judd, who replied that the kind of sexuality they were displaying was not about pleasure; it was about women performing for a male audience. I mean what kind of pleasure is received when a credit card is swiped through your backside? It is impossible to display healthy sexuality when you are being degraded. The men in the audience noticed that watching the video in a room full of women made them feel differently about the video. It helped them see the misogyny they had overlooked before.
A week later I saw Asha Jennings, The Spelman Student Government Association (SGA) President carrying a big box. She called me over for what I assumed would be help carrying the load, but ended up being help in what has been titled, "The Nelly Controversy." Asha explained that in the box were flyers for the Jes Us 4 Jackie bone marrow drive that was set to take place on April 2. Spelman SGA had been working with Nelly's foundation to bring a bone marrow registration drive to campus. The problem was readily apparent.
How could Spelman, a historically black women's institution, have Nelly on campus after his heinous depiction of black women in his lyrics and videos? Asha had been previously unaware of the video and had just seen it. She now stood at the crossroads of what to do. Should she cancel the drive, knowing that the issue of minority bone marrow registration would go unaddressed? Should she uninvite Nelly from campus and allow the foundation to come? Should students remain silent altogether and not bring up the issue of "Tip Drill"?
Asha presented her dilemma to our Feminist Theory class, citing that her other classes were in favor of participating in the drive, and then writing Nelly a letter which would uninvite him from the campus. Our professor, Dr. Guy-Sheftall, was the voice of reason and pointed out that writing a letter does not carry the same weight that protesting or canceling a drive have. If we were upset about his portrayal of African-American women in the video, our actions had to be equally powerful. Additionally, sending a letter does not ensure that Nelly will read it. He has people who read his mail for him and he might never know our concern. Finally, you cannot separate the man from his foundation. It belongs to him and should he decide to come on campus, he could do so with his foundation.
It was then that debate broke down into the point-counterpoint formula that is all too familiar in heated discussion. We discussed and discussed until Asha broke down in tears. Dr. Guy-Sheftall told her she needed to stop beating herself up over this and make a decision to cancel the drive or to allow students to protest it. The class voted and the protest won out.
The FMLA took on the task of organizing and planning the action. We decided that the next week's FMLA meeting would be the strategizing session for the protest. We were excited and eager to begin our work.
In the days that followed, we did research. We made signs with Nelly's lyrics on them and invited people to the meeting on Tuesday. We also found the definitions of a tip drill (which included a woman who has a nice figure but an ugly face, a woman who may have an STD and therefore only the tip of the penis can be used to have sex with her, or a stripper who prompts men to keep throwing money at her). These were added to the flyer inviting people to come to the FMLA meeting. Those planning to protest also planned to join the bone marrow registry, ensuring that the goal of the drive was accomplished and that bone marrow recipients did not suffer.
Fliers were up all over campus and the Nelly "Tip Drill" controversy was heating up. However, it was not until the Tuesday night FMLA meeting that everything came to a head.
Asha informed the group that the foundation had pulled out of the drive. Apparently, the foundation had been to campus earlier that week and seen the signs that the FMLA put up all over campus. They scheduled an emergency meeting with SGA and requested that no protestors be at the drive. SGA could not meet the ridiculous demand of assuring their request. The foundation then left the room so that SGA could vote on whether or not the drive could continue if, at the foundation's request, Nelly agreed to participate in a forum to address student concerns. Despite a unanimous vote to continue with the drive under the new stipulations, when the foundation came back they had already decided to cancel the drive.
The foundation was apparently so upset about this issue that they went to the press, saying that Spelman canceled the drive because of the video "Tip Drill." Unfortunately for them, their plan backfired and the media coverage blew up and ended up depicting them negatively.
MTV broke the story, erroneously reporting that Spelman was responsible for the drive not happening because we had planned a huge protest against one video. The Atlanta Journal Constitution's piece, however, included interviews with Asha and myself and set the record straight, explaining that the foundation had canceled the drive and that our issues were much bigger than Nelly and "Tip Drill." Fortunately, it was sent out on the AP wire.
We cropped up in the Dayton Daily News, an editorial in USA Today, a segment of Essence Magazine, and various websites, blogs and discussion boards. We appeared on five local Atlanta radio stations and I did an interview with the new liberal radio station Air America. All of this press was largely affirming, letting us state our case and explain once again that we were in support of the drive the whole time -- we just didn't want to support sexist images in the media. The foundation attempted to save face by trying to reschedule the drive, but was once again unwilling to have Nelly address student concerns.
As the media ran with the story, so many things surprised me. First of all, with all the activism that goes on at Spelman's campus, of all the problems we see in the Bush administration and in the world, a handful of students willing to stand up against problematic depictions of black women in the media got national attention.
The public outpouring of both support and opposition has also been surprising. The old guard of the black feminist movement has said they are re-energized by our efforts. Spelman alumna Pearl Cleage said that it was a welcome sight to see young black women giving voice to the issue of misogyny in the media. Jill Nelson, author of "Straight No Chaser" was equally impressed with what we have done, saying that our action gave her hope for the future.
But not all people have seen the situation in a positive light. Some thought we were angry emasculators who were too concerned with images and not at all concerned with bone marrow. It is so easy to portray us as angry black women unwilling to stand behind a black man, even though he is doing something good. Our questions for Nelly were recast as vociferous attacks and have allowed people to feel sorry for Nelly, a supposedly helpless bystander caught in the misdirected rage of young black women.
One of our most valid criticisms came from a former civil rights leader who spoke to the classism that seems to be lurking in this issue. As middle class, college educated black women, we can very easily speak to the issue of video images, but the issue of the financial barriers that lock women into being in these videos is not something that we seemed to address.
I understand how it looks that way; that those of us with privilege are judging those less fortunate than us for the economically driven decisions they make to participate in this medium. But in every interview we've had we stated that this is systemic, a part of the larger racist, capitalist, patriarchal society we call America. But once you start talking about interlocking systems of oppression, the press stops recording.
I also do not wish to demonize the women who participate in the videos and who feel the tug of the capitalist puppet strings and see this as an easy way to make money. Our criticism was directed toward Nelly, not the women in his videos, but I do hope to help them see that while they may feel autonomous in the choices they make, the implication of their decisions are global, impacting how African-American women are viewed world wide.
This whole Nelly controversy sapped a significant amount of energy from me and other obligations I had to school, to other organizations, and projects. Sometimes the situation seemed to have a life of its own, especially when the media picked up the story and ran with it. At times I felt like I was along for the ride.
Although the Nelly controversy was completely unexpected and caught me off guard, I will not shrink from the challenge of sustaining a movement around images of black women in the media. I want to make it clear that this is so much bigger than Nelly, that he is not the scapegoat but the spark that ignited the need for a public critique of how we as women are being portrayed. I see "Tip Drill" in the broader context of a racist, capitalist, patriarchal system that has a vested interest in feeding stereotypes of both black men and women as hypersexual in the quest for the almighty dollar.
It is because I love hip hop that I critique it and as part of the hip hop generation, who better than I to bring the music back to what I loved about it in the first place? For me, that sentiment can be summed up by one of the signs we had at the demonstration. "We love hip hop, but does hip hop love us?"
Moya Bailey is a Comparative Women's Studies/Pre-Med major at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.
Posted by: John Massengale at Jun 5, 2004 2:14:01 PM
In this "Tip Drill" video the young women decided to do this video, no one was holding a gun to their head. The girls know what their up to so dont hold Nelly against it what is so terrible about thsi is the women only got paid a "whopping" $300.00!!! These women should be a shame to do such distrbing things and get paid so little for it.
Posted by: Briana at Mar 31, 2005 3:37:51 PM
heyy just so u know...MTV has no reason 2 be embarrased!! MTV rocks!! i am 13 and it is my favorite channel!! and i listen 2 eminem ALL the time and i do just fine on tests!! so yeahh!!
Posted by: taylor at Apr 26, 2005 8:11:36 PM
You have to realize that this is something that has been going on since the earliest days of man. Prostitution is the second oldest profesin next to the soldier. These woman CHOSE to do this of their own free will, many of these woman actually enjoy doing it. I have a good friend who is a dancer, and guess what, her son goes to private school and she is a home owner. THe exploitation of woman is a misnomer. These women choose to allow themselves to be exploited, if that is even what you want to call it. Many men go home fantasizing about these woman. What I feel is interesting is that this issue has come to the forefront on a overpriced HBCU that mainly caters to the over privledge black students. You have become the Harvards, Yale's and Princtones of the black community. Please do not try to equate yourselves to the women who do this. You have nothing in common with them. The difference is about the same as being white and black. I used to respect HBCU's but after experiencing the elitest attitudes on these universities, I feel you no longer have the right to comment on what is best for the black community. After all how much does it cost to go to school at spellman? Now look how many people will die needlessly all because you want to make a stand on a music video. For christ sake it is entertainment! Do you realize that the reason the men who watched the video felt different when they watched it with women is because they didn't want to block out any prospects among the women who were there with them. Watch the reaction in private and you will see the true feelings. I feel sorry for all the people who you condemmed to a painful and miserable death for attempting to make a stand on a music video.
Posted by: Shawn Case at Oct 7, 2005 12:42:20 AM
I personally feel both grateful to you for speaking up about the continued demeaning representation of women and surprised and proud of Nelly for sticking around to answer questions.
This is such a huge issue one could be overwhelmed, but if we all do what we are able when we see the opportunity, as you have done, I am confident that many generations may benefit.
Posted by: heather at Jan 17, 2006 9:34:16 AM
I applaud your stand for morality and decency. May I quote from Goodfight.org, who have documented several examples of what MTV (now owned by Viacom) has produced and continues to produce:
MTV is after our children... consider the startling admission made by Bob Pittman, founder and former president of MTV. Pittman outlined a simple two-point plan whereby MTV would be able to accomplish its objective in gaining ownership of our children. The plan was basic, (1) "get their emotions going," (2) "make them forget their logic," and the result will be MTV will "own them." This is no more than a basic brainwashing technique. Pittman stated:
"The strongest appeal you can make is emotionally. If you can get their emotions going, make them forget their logic, you've got them. At MTV, we don't shoot for the 14-year olds, we own them!" (MTV is Rock Around the Clock, Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 3, 1982)
Tragically, MTV continues to own our children. I would suggest having a look at http://www.goodfight.org/a_ozzy.html where the above is documented.
Here is another quote from Goodfight.org:
Perhaps an answer to John McCollum's father as too how his son could change from a seemingly happy child overnight to committing suicide can be understood when one realizes the power of music. Medical Dr. and brain specialist, Richard Pelegrino, who is a consultant to the entertainment industry, in an article for Billboard magazine speaks of the incomparable power of music upon the human brain, stating that music has the uncanny power to "…trigger a flood of human emotions and images that have the ability to instantaneously produce very powerful changes in emotional states." Pellegrino went on to state:
"Take it from a brain guy. In twenty-five years of working with the brain, I still cannot affect a persons state of mind the way that one simple song can." (Billboard, January 23 1999)
It baffles why individuals such as President Bush have made humourous light of Ozzy Osbourne and the songs produced by Black Sabbath. (If you don't know who the group Black Sabbath were, you might have a look at Wikipedia.org and search for Black Sabbath. Osbourne was one of the early members.)
There is no mea culpa of President Bush on record, as to why he decided to make such sick humour. I wrote him and inquired as to why he would make such statements, and after eighteen months, I had not received any replies from the President or anyone at the White House. But regardless of your opinion of Bush, one thing is certain: MTV is synonymous with evil. We need to take action and hold MTV and Viacom accountable. Boycotts would be one suggestion.
Thank you for allowing me to post. Take care and be well.
Posted by: L'Homme Bel at Jun 2, 2006 1:44:54 AM
I'm from russian. MTV and another "entertainment" channels are continuously degrading last years. Some programs became amoral, other is such brainwashing stupid shit i hardly can see. So I'm afraid about our next generation.
Posted by: Red at Jul 31, 2009 12:45:10 PM