5 Take-Aways from Last Night's VMAs

Written by PTC | Published August 31, 2015

mileyc1. MTV doesn’t seem to know who their target audience is. It’s a bit of a jarring juxtaposition to see an image of a fresh-faced, young teen girl still wearing braces in mascara ads right next to an ad for Trojan Studded Bare Skin condoms. Or to see commercials for PG-rated “Pan” and “Jem” alongside ads for R-rated “We Are Your Friends,” and “Black Mass.” Who are they targeting? Pubescent or pre-pubescent kids, or sexually active young adults? Are they marketing adult entertainment to kids? Or are they marketing kiddie entertainment to adults?

2. Why is MTV telling kids not to smoke during the commercial breaks, then encouraging recreational pot smoking during the actual program?

Anti-smoking campaigns have been successful in reducing the number of children who take-up smoking, and the reason for much of that success is that they were able to persuade Hollywood to reduce or eliminate entirely the depiction of “role-model” characters who smoke on screen. They recognized, and persuaded Hollywood, that if kids see the people they admire and esteem smoking on screen, it increases the likelihood the child will take up smoking themselves. To their credit, MTV aired several ads by Truth.com encouraging kids to not smoke. So why then did the actual VMAs become a celebration of pot smoking? We get that Miley smokes Pot. We got it when she took her Instagram selfie and instructed everyone to say “Marijuana” instead of “Cheese.” We got it when she pretended to be tripping on hash brownies in a pre-recorded bit with Snoop Dogg. We got it when she told Kanye that if he’s smoking weed he needs to “pass that sh*t.” We got it when she closed the show with a song whose lyrics are basically, “Yea, I smoke pot… But I don’t give a f*ck.” Actions speak louder than words, MTV. And YOU allowed all of this to happen, which either makes you a hypocrite or a liar.

3. What exactly was MTV’s criteria for using the dump button?

Ahead of the VMAs, MTV announced that they would be running the show on a tape delay so they could stop any inappropriate content before it went out over the airwaves. There were ample “f-words,” and “s-words” during the course of the show, and the network censors seem to have gotten them all. But there were also several “bitch”es and the Instagram photo of Miley “blow[ing]” a cob of corn, at the beginning of the program. There was Rebel Wilson’s “F-ck Da Stripper Police” shirt – which actually spelled-out the same word they’d been muting elsewhere. And then of course, there were the transitions into and out of commercial breaks, they chose to highlight every attention-grabbing stunt from VMAs past from the Madonna-Britney Spears kiss, to Diana Ross jiggling Lil Kim’s breast, to Miley grinding against Robin Thicke’s crotch. If they were concerned about the viewers at home, why highlight every controversial moment from VMAs past? Why allow the visuals but not the words?

4. The V-Chip wouldn’t have stopped kids from seeing Miley’s “nip-slip.” And oh, by the way, there’s no way that was an “accident.”

Like the MTV-produced Super Bowl halftime show in which Janet Jackson exposed her breast to millions of American viewers, audiences for the VMAs got an unexpected eyeful of Miley’s bare breast – and the V-chip wouldn’t have prevented kids from seeing it. And let’s be honest, MTV, you knew Miley would #FreeTheNipple. Shame on you. MTV is a case study in the systematic failure of the television ratings system to adequately inform or warn parents about potentially problematic content. Nearly all television programming falls into the very broad categories of PG or TV-14. Parents might use the age-based ratings to block M-rated programs, but very few shows are given that highly-restrictive rating. Consequently 99% of programming falls into the over-broad age categories of PG or PG-14; and because PG-14 runs the gamut from slightly off-color sitcoms to graphically violent dramas, parents who use the V-Chip will be relying on the content descriptors more than the age-rating to block content from coming into their homes. Last night’s VMAs were rated TV-14 with a “D” descriptor for suggestive dialogue, and an “L” descriptor for strong language. But the ratings are wholly ineffective at anticipating unscripted events, which means the ratings inevitably let parents down anytime there is a live show.

5. Even without the nip-slip, there was enough raunchy sex talk, crotch grabbing, and simulated intercourse to justify an “S” descriptor.

Even allowing for the presumably unplanned “nip-slip,” MTV still should have put an “S” descriptor on the VMAs. There was no “S” descriptor, despite choreography that had Nikki Minaj pulling a man’s face toward her crotch to simulate a sex act. There was no “S” descriptor, despite Miley’s ever-more revealing costumes (which surely MTV had a chance to approve before the show?). Last year's broadcast brought in 8.3 million viewers and was the number one cable telecast of last summer with viewers ages 12 to 34. MTV knows millions of kids are watching, yet they continue to pull crass stunts year after year on the VMAs. MTV shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

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