Somewhat perversely, it might be expedient to begi Essay

This essay has a total of 2306 words and 11 pages.

MTV

Somewhat perversely, it might be expedient to begin by pointing out that this paper is not
about the music video per se. There will be no close textual analysis of individual clips.
Eminent pop philosopher Elvis Costello once said that "writing about music is like dancing
about architecture. It's a really stupid thing to want to do" (quoted in Goodwin, 1993:
1). Conscious that 'accidents can happen", this paper is concerned with the institutional
as opposed to the purely textual; with the processes of production and reception (although
it should be noted that it is perhaps inevitable that such a consideration will touch upon
the channel - if not the videos themselves - as "text" in its most socially-engaged
sense). The focus here, then, is on those organisations which broadcast music videos, on
Music Television (MTV) in particular, and on the possible impact of what has become a
truly global phenomenon.


There is a common perception that American products dominate the world's markets. Coke and
Pepsi slug it out across continents. It would appear that there is no place on earth where
one cannot purchase a Big Mac. In his book Superculture, Christopher Bigsby offers this
assessment of America's global dominance:



American corporations shape the physical and mental environment, influence the eating
habits, define the leisure pursuits, produce TV programmes and movies: devise, in other
words, the fact and fantasy of the late twentieth century (Bigsby, 1975: 4).

The perceived threat of globalisation has prompted fears and resentments not dissimilar in
temper and tone to those by-now familiar reactions to the threat of Americanisation.
Globalisation is sometimes seen as a force that will erode or, worse still, dissolve
cultural difference and variety. Yet, the presence and pervasiveness of American-made
goods does not necessarily signal the death of the local, regional or national. As
Frederic Jameson notes, late modern or postmodern capitalism has led to a more
disorganised set of relationships between trading nations. Thus, it is one of the
characteristics of the dreaded "P"-concept - postmodernism or, perhaps more accurately,
postmodernity - that it leads to uncertainty and paradox, as opposed to certainty and
confidence. As a kind of postmodern capitalism, globalisation reflects this. For with it,
the act of cultural transfer becomes more problematic, the flow of goods and ideas so much
more difficult to "police".


Economically, globalisation refers to a shift in capitalist practice. Today's multi-
nationals talk of "global marketing strategies" and securing a "global market share" -
corporate- speak which alludes to a kind of capitalism sans frontieres. Economically,
there can be no doubting the level of control exerted by predominantly western
multi-nationals over the flow of goods and information. At an empirical level, the issue
of ownership is not really open to debate. Despite challenges from Japanese giants like
Sony or Matsushita, it is companies of the West - and of the United States in particular -
which continue to play a leading role and hold a controlling interest in trans-national
capitalism. Looked at this way, we could continue to argue for the existence of a form of
Western economic imperialism today.


In cultural terms too, the world-wide dissemination of Western-made products - together
with the ideological values these are often said to carry - is seen by many to pose a very
real threat to the identity and autonomy of certain of local, regional and national
cultures. It is perhaps the logic of globalisation that it pushes towards standardisation
and homogenisation of markets, goods and tastes, seeking a "one size fits all" approach to
cultural production and consumption. In this one can hear echoes of Marshall Berman's
oft-quoted statement concerning the effects of modernity:



Modern environments and experiences cut across all boundaries of geography, ethnicity, of
class and nationality, of religion and ideology: in this sense, modernity can be said to
unite all mankind (Berman, 1983: 15)1 .

At the forefront of globalisation are giant multi-national media empires like Rupert
Murdoch's News Corporation. Such corporations possess not only the means of production,
but also the means of distribution. Quite obviously, multi-nationals are key players in
the globalisation process. Moreover, it is argued that they have the power to restructure
space and with it our subjective experience of that space. We might, for example,
interpret computer giant IBM's "boast" as proud recognition of this ability to render
borders irrelevant:



For our purposes ... the boundaries that separate one nation from another are no more real
than the Equator ... They do not define business requirements or consumer trends (quoted
in Morley and Robins, 1995: 10).

Yet we have to ask whether the presence of such corporations necessarily signals the death
of indigenous cultural identities, as is suggested in so many worst-case scenarios. Whilst
the issue of who holds the economic reigns is often clear enough, what is less clear is
exactly what effect this might have.


One World, One Image, One Channel...


Rock'n'Roll enters Iranian homes at a rate of 50 TVs every working hour. Estimated
satellite dishes being installed daily in Iran: 400. Homes reached by MTV Europe: 65
million ("Digitations", 1994: 10).

In 1981 MTV began a journey into the minds of American youth (Station brochure, 1995).

One of MTV's most famous slogans from the mid-1980s - "ONE WORLD: ONE IMAGE: ONE CHANNEL"
- would seem to lend support to its critics' direst warnings about the station's Orwellian
intentions to lobotomise the world's youth. However, this paper sets out to challenge the
still widely-held premise that MTV's now global reach makes for a kind of Invasion of the
Body Snatchers-scenario; to challenge views which see MTV as both carrier of and symbol
for global youth brain-rot. In so doing, it will sketch some possible strategies for
'reading' MTV against the critical grain.


Following its American launch in 1981, MTV quickly built up a sizeable audience. In 1987 a
sister company was set up in Europe. By 1994, MTV Europe (MTVE) had overtaken its American
sibling in terms of households reached, to become officially the biggest TV channel on
earth. In its various guises - as MTVE, MTV Australia, MTV Japan, MTV South America - MTV
spans five continents, is beamed into over one hundred countries, and has potential access
to more than a quarter of a billion homes worldwide. It is owned by Viacom - one of the
planet's largest media conglomerates. The very model of a modern multi-national, Viacom
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