A friend and colleague linked to this commentary on MTV after thirty years. I like the linker a lot more than the link.
According to the article byline, “Dr Kieth Ablow, is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team,” and according to his website, his “message is always the same: By harnessing your innate capacity for courage, faith, truth and compassion you will find the power to reach most any goal.”
For lack of a more sophisticated response – thumbs down, dislike, shenanigans. In paper workshops during graduate school, economic historian John Nye was fond of prodding the question, “why can’t I just say the opposite?”
Repeatedly in his tirade against the music television network, Ablow ponders,
How else can we explain the readiness of the network to pioneer the dissemination of an even more potent and potentially destructive (though very occasionally worthwhile) drug—reality television? How else can we explain that MTV hooked teens on The Real World, which wasn’t real at all, but staged and cut (like heroin) to provide high impact dramatic moments (kind of like music videos)? How else can we explain that the network moved so fluidly to suggest to young Americans that they were all celebrities, all worthy of staring in their own videos? How else can we explain Jersey Shore and My Super Sweet 16 and Teen Mom—all programs that require actors to pretend they are not acting, which is the equivalent of encouraging the rest of us to behave like we are acting.
“Potentially destructive?” Prove it? “How else can we explain?” Allow me to try. Social order and its associated culture are not creatures of elitist snobbery nor design they are instead the accumulated product of disjointed human actions but not of any singular human design.
First, I think Ablow’s model of causation is insulting to younger generations, but that is a topic for another time. More importantly I am concerned that this belief treats the cultural content of MTV as a concerted marketing effort rather than recognizing it for the meaningfully representative cultural residue that it is. In other words, if MTV were truly conspiring to make the youth self indulgent and consumerist there are probably more affordable ways to do so. Secondly, why do so many other network shows and cultural products highlight similar cultural themes? From Glee to Gaga there is a clear and consistent message in American pop culture – individuality is in. Furthemore I want to argue, that this is a good thing! – even in the form of Jersey Shore.
Virginia Postrel is on to something when she argues that women’s high heeled shoes are perhaps the greatest testament to human civilization. Never before in human history could something so un-functional be tolerated let alone embraced to the extent of our fashion trends.
And then we have The Jersey Shore – a group of unapologetic obnoxious heathens. They want nothing more from life than fun, sex and physical attractiveness. While many find their behaviors brutish or curt, I say hooray for them and hooray for our society that can afford to host such extravagant silliness – recessions and financial crisis aside.
When you go the gym you sweat. Sweat smells bad, but you cannot eliminate or plan for a change in that outcome without disrupting the beneficial process that leads to it. In fact, I would suggest that Ablow’s aesthetic intolerance is a far greater threat to society than Snookie or the Sitch’s promiscuity or low brow social commentary.
If you actually watch the show, you will see that characters are not a-moral or degenerate but they operate according to standard of social tolerance and anonymity that Dr. Ablow could perhaps benefit from. “You do you, I’ll do me.”