By MeiLi Smith
While working the overnight shifts this past weekend, I decided to take a break from studying and check out what was on TV. I figured it was the perfect opportunity to take a flashback to high school and indulge in some teen television. I couldn’t think of a better channel to flip to other than the most well known teen network: MTV. Now we are all aware that MTV has been known to promote partying and sex with shows like Jersey Shore and Spring Break. And while those aspects of MTV are important to recognize when analyzing the media’s influence on teens, we must also look at the positive aspects that MTV provides as well.
During the time I spent viewing MTV this weekend I noticed that a certain theme kept reoccurring: Partying. Practically every show, every commercial, and every preview had some sort of reference or link to partying. One of the first things I watched when I switched to MTV was Rob Dyrdek’s show Ridiculousness. The show doesn’t have much to it other than a group of “stars” commenting on clips of people doing ridiculous things, which usually involves getting hurt in some way.
When I first turned to it though, it was showing a bunch of different clips of men humping women at various parties. The clip that disturbed me the most was a clip of an old man vigorously thrusting his pelvis against a young girl, while the stars of the show laughed hysterically in the background. None of the cast members seemed to think that these clips of men aggressively dry humping women were inappropriate or wrong. At one point Rob Dyrdek even pointed at one of the girls that was getting thrusted upon and said, “oh, look at that face! That’s pure joy! She loves it!” while the rest of the members laughed and nodded in agreement.
This scene was particularly problematic for me because it reminded me of a very similar scene that I witnessed last spring break in Mexico. I was at a club called CoCo Bongo and a girl that I had met at my resort earlier that week was dancing up on the stage. The club was an entertainment club, so there were performers doing different acts. One of the performers was dressed up like the guy from The Mask and was swinging around the club on a rope. At one point he grabbed the girl off of the stage and wrapped her legs around him and proceeded to hump her in the air while they swung around on the rope. Everyone in the club either laughed or said nasty things about the girl being a slut. I ran into her afterwards and heard her repeatedly tell her friend how violated she felt. The girl was only seventeen.
The reason I brought that scene up is because unfortunately, it is not uncommon. We see acts like this in the media and in real life all the time and people joke about them as if they don’t matter. The fact is the scene I described is not a joke and is not funny. Quite frankly it could be considered sexual harassment. When the media jokes about instances of sexual aggression they are telling their audience that it is okay to joke about it too. It also gives teen boys the misconception that it’s okay to make unwanted sexual advances as long as it can get some laughs. I can almost guarantee you that no girl, or boy for that matter, wants some random strangers pelvis thrust upon him or her. But when networks like MTV, and various others, promote that type of behavior it becomes normalized and deemed as acceptable. This is especially problematic for teens as they are already trying to figure out whom they are and how they should behave, and the media provides an easily accessible model to imitate.
Now even though MTV thrives on their use of sex and partying, they also have started to bring in some new shows that cover some important issues. Shows like Awkward and Girl Code talk about the discomforts of high school and important issues of sex and women that have been otherwise seen as taboo.
I watched Girl Code for the first time this weekend and at first I was pretty hesitant towards the content. In the beginning, the show seemed like just another thoughtless MTV “real life” show that perpetuates traditional gender norms. Basically, it was a bunch of women (actors, comedians, and other D-list stars) and a couple of men, commenting on different topics and the “girl code” behind it. Not to mention, the docu-comedy’s beginning preview feeds into MTV’s reoccurring party theme, with a bunch of girls at a club taking shots together. So it’s not surprising that I didn’t have too high of hopes for this seemingly stereotypical show. However, as I continued to watch a few episodes it became more and more clear that even though they were playing off of the stereotypical role of women, they were actually debunking those stereotypes simultaneously. They touched on topics of masturbation, farting, and sex in a way that most television shows do not. Most of the women were pretty vulgar, but they talked about the subjects in a very realistic way. Most teen television shows have very narrow views of how women and men should view sex, but Girl Code made it clear that sex and farting are normal things in life and even though they can be awkward at times it’s okay because everyone goes through it.
Overall, it seems as if MTV definitely has some negative messages that they are conveying, but at the same time can have some really great messages to give teens as well. I have yet to find a teen TV show where there is healthy communication about sex, and MTV provided that with Girl Code even if it was approached in a strange way.