Music in the Air - MTV

Television was not an American invention, but it was in the US that some of TVs most international programming began. And with the programs has come more international English – dude!

Just about everyone has an opinion about MTV. Some like the videos, others like the cartoons and reality TV shows. Others wonder what MTV has to do with “real” music and some religious conservatives think it is pornographic. Whatever your opinion, MTV has had enormous impact in Europe and other parts of the world over the last three decades as it has spread the English language and Western pop culture. The “new language” or the local “street language” of the young reaches across borders instantly, brought to you by MTV. You do not have to go to Los Angeles to learn how they talk there, today you just turn on your MTV and you are served instant pop culture.

In the Eurovision Song Contest attempts have been made to protect national cultures. Some years the performers have had to sing in their national languages. But the English-language version of MTV has been so pervasive in spreading English pop culture that the nationality of young bands performing in English is often not that obvious. Perhaps today viewers find this irrelevant; another sign of the arrival of a truly global society.

So what is MTV? Around since 1981, it was originally devoted to music videos, and its audience has always been adolescents and young adults. It uses young video jockeys acting very cool and is always striving to be something different from all the other channels. Its idea of news, for example, is what party Lady Gaga was at, and what band just broke up or went into drug rehab. Of course this means that diehard fans of MTV may be totally out of touch with the realities of modern society. It is hard to care about politics when the top news story of the day is Ozzy Osborne falling off his dune buggy.

MTV is considered by many to be the driving force of pop culture. From just showing videos it has branched out into animated cartoons, prank shows, soap operas, and of course – reality shows. Now it offers local versions, like a Norwegian language version, but the music it plays is still mostly in English and the cultural influence is still chiefly American.

Perhaps the harshest criticism of MTV is that it is too commercial, just promoting what the record companies want it to play. Is the music lost in all the visual focus? Has MTV’s obsession with being cool blinded it to a social conscience? For example, MTV was accused of poor coverage of Live 8, the multinational concert aimed at raising awareness on African debt relief. The broadcast of the concert was constantly interrupted with cuts to its on-air personalities, celebrity interviews and commercials in the middle of live acts.





a) What impact does MTV have on modern culture?

b) What was the main content of MTV when it started?

c) What type of content does MTV have today?

d) What is MTV often criticised for?



Wikipedia defines cultural imperialism as: the practice of promoting, distinguishing, separating, and artificially injecting the culture or language of one nation into another.


Discuss in class examples of American culture in Norway. Have a secretary list the examples on the blackboard. Decide whether you think this influence is negative or positive, or perhaps you feel it is not important? Take a vote in class and make statistics on the attitudes in class: What percentage thinks it is positive, negative or not important?

Cappelen Damm

Sist oppdatert: 25.07.2012

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