Viewpoint: MTV and the Republic is still Standing



It was 39 years ago, Aug. 1, 1981, that MTV came on the air and, believe it or not, the republic is still standing.
MTV has probably been the target of more parental complaints than any other kind of television programming. That’s probably because it combines the two media forms that have always generated lots of criticism: music and pictures.



Back in the early days of movies, critics and teachers roundly condemned the new medium, and the moving images were thought to portend the downfall of civilization.
Music too has always been an easy target, whether it was the words or the melody. Back in the 19-30’s, for example, some communities tried to outlaw the saxophone because the sound was said to arouse animal instincts.
And many parents of the MTV generation grew up with music and pictures by watching Elvis Presley on television, but only from the waist up. His pelvic gyrations were deemed too suggestive for family viewing.
What makes MTV particularly interesting is that over the years, the network has rebranded itself through almost innumerable musical genres and program categories. As you might expect, each of the changes has brought its own set of audience concerns and complaints.
Now I personally remember the British music invasion, and the resulting high school dress code that forbid the boys from having hair over the collar. And I remember magazine articles that asked if Chubby Checker and the Twist were immoral.
But don’t get me wrong here. There are indeed songs and videos that should probably not see the light of day. But I hope I have trained my child to know what is acceptable and what is not.
I remember my parents saying that they couldn’t understand that there was about rock-n-roll that I found so captivating.
And now I find myself saying the same thing about MTV. The pictures and programming many times don’t make a whole lot of sense; the words and images are many times unintelligible.
During the last 39 years has MTV done any permanent damage? Probably not. And I just can’t wait to see what the MTV generation has to say about what it’s children are doing with the media. And I can’t wait to say, “I told you so.”
I’m Larry Burriss

Larry Burriss, a professor in Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Mass Communication and president of the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame, welcomes the crowd before the induction ceremonies at the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters conference in Murfreesboro for the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)