MTV Smut Peddlers:
Targeting Kids with Sex, Drugs and Alcohol
A Report on MTV Programming
March 20, 2004-March 27, 2004
By Casey Williams
It has been a year since Janet Jackson deliberately exposed
her breast to a world-wide audience that included millions of unsuspecting
children during the MTV-produced 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, but America is
still talking about it, and the entertainment industry is still reeling from the
backlash. How is it that "three-quarters of a second on a broadcast
television and 13 frames of video" have become the lynchpin for our discussions
about where the culture is headed?
One possible explanation is that in that moment, millions
of parents finally saw, and understood, what their children are seeing every
afternoon on MTV.
MTV is watched by 73% of boys and 78% of girls ages 12 to 19, and it is
profoundly influential in the lives of its young fans by glamorizing drug and
alcohol use, sexual promiscuity and violent behavior. MTV is also owned by
Viacom, the same corporate giant that owns CBS (the network that aired the Super
Bowl) and Nickelodeon, and that corporate synergy ensures that even the youngest
TV viewers are getting acclimated to the MTV brand. As one TV critic put it:
"Nickelodeon isn't just SpongeBob Squarepants: It's a gateway station to
crotch- grabbing MTV. With millions of viewers, Nickelodeon offers the perfect
cross-marketing vehicle for Viacom: Kids love it; parents trust its
To gain a better understanding of what children are seeing
on MTV, the Parents Television Council undertook a content analysis of MTV
programming during its enormously popular annual "Spring Break" coverage.
The PTC recorded and analyzed 171 hours of programming
around the clock during the week of March 20,
2004 to March 27, 2004.
The PTC found that MTV
contains staggering levels of sex and foul language – far higher than one would
find on primetime broadcast television. MTV's reality programs averaged 13
sexual scenes per hour, while music videos on MTV averaged 32 instances of foul
language per hour.
In 171 hours of MTV programming, PTC analysts found a
staggering 1,548 sexual scenes containing 3,056 depictions of sex or various
forms of nudity and 2,881 verbal sexual references. That means that
children watching MTV are viewing an average of 9 sexual scenes per hour
with approximately 18 sexual depictions and 17 instances of sexual dialogue
or innuendo. To put this in perspective, consider that in its last study of
sex on primetime network television, the PTC found an average of only 5.8
instances of sexual content during the 10 o'clock hour – when mostly adults
Analysts recorded 1,518 uses of unedited foul language
and an additional 3,127 bleeped profanities on MTV programming. That means
young children watching MTV are subjected to roughly 8.9 un-bleeped
profanities per hour, and an additional 18.3 bleeped profanities per hour.
By contrast, the 10 o'clock hour on the broadcast networks averaged only
6.5 uses of foul language per hour, according to the PTC's latest research.
Violence was least problematic but still high at 6
instances per hour of programming (1,068 violent incidents total). Even the
broadcast networks averaged only 5.8 instances of violence per hour during
the 10 o'clock timeslot.
Music Videos contained more foul language and violence
than MTV's series or specials. In the 109 hours of music video programming
contained within the study period, analysts recorded 3,483 uses of foul
language (32 instances per hour). Violence occurred in music videos at a
rate of 8.6 instances per hour (935 violent scenes).
MTV's reality shows had more sexual content than the
music videos. In 66 hours of reality programming, PTC analysts recorded
833 segments containing sexual content, or 12.6 scenes per hour. Within those
833 segments, there were 905 visual depictions of sexual activity and 917
Making the Band 2
had the most foul-language of
MTV's regular series. In four hours, analysts recorded 208 instances of
foul language, including 172 bleeped obscenities, or 52 obscenities per hour
Of MTV's regular series,
Room Raiders had the
highest level of sexual content with 112 segments in 5 hours of programming
(or 22 sexual scenes or scenarios per hour of programming.) Those 112
segments contained 175 verbal references and 92 depictions of sexual
On a per-program basis, the MTV Spring Break special
Spring Break Fantasies had the highest sexual content, with 32 sexual
segments per hour of programming.
Bleeped language was the most prevalent, constituting
67.3% of the total foul language recorded, or 18.3 utterances per hour. In
the sex category, there were approximately 9 sex scenes per hour containing
35 individual instances of sex (visual and verbal) per hour. PTC analysts
found 6 violent scenes or scenarios per hour.
If any good can be said to have come out of the Janet
Jackson Super Bowl debacle, it is this: parents now know what their children are
seeing every afternoon on MTV. But merely recognizing that there's a problem
clearly isn't enough. Parents allow more than half the children in this country
to have television sets in their bedrooms. Surveys indicate that 44% of
children say they watch something different when they are alone than when they
are with their parents, and 25% of those children choose MTV.
The incessant sleaze on MTV
presents the most compelling case yet for consumer cable choice. As it now
stands, most parents have no choice but to take – and pay for – MTV if they want
basic cable in their homes. Given the choice, how many parents now being forced
to take and pay for MTV as part of a basic cable package, would continue to do
Cable is now in nearly as many
homes as broadcast TV. We can no longer afford to ignore the rising tide of
vulgar and violent programming on cable aimed directly at our children. It's
time for a better option.
by L Brent Bozell