How Much Influence Does MTV Have?

Two weeks ago I told you to set your TIVOs to record the MTV Video Music Awards, referring to the show as one of the top three “portholes into youth culture” you’ll see any given year. Last week I wrote my annual recap of the show, calling it the “biggest pop culture phenomenon of the year.”

Some of you might be wondering why I would cite this show and this channel (MTV) as such a vivid reflection of our culture (and potent influence to it). I mean… seriously. How many people actually watch this show?

Good question. Let’s look at the extent of this channel’s reach, and then, let’s peek at how we can respond like the Apostle Paul.

How many watched the awards on the 13th? 9 million on MTV alone. But if you look at the other channels the show was aired on, the show drew 26.9 million viewers on Sunday night on all three channels (MTV, MTV2 and VH1). But that doesn’t include the 5.5 million who watched it online the next day. These huge numbers make it the #1 viewed cable show of the entire year among people age 12-34 (You can read the whole breakdown of TV viewers here).

An MTV press release expanded on the 5.5 million people who visited MTV.com the day after the awards, ringing up 53.4 million page views and watching 17.9 million video streams.

MTV General Manager, Kristen Frank commented, “On Sunday night, MTV and MTV.com were really at the center of the pop culture zeitgeist. The Awards set high marks yet again this year both on-air and online, and we’re really seeing some unprecedented growth for our multimedia content in 2009.”

Hold on a minute… I have to go get my dictionary and look up zeitgeist. Ah, here it is: the ideas prevalent in a period and place, particularly as expressed in literature, philosophy, and religion.

Unfortunately, Kristen is correct. According to their press page, on-air, MTV is the number one rated full-day ad-supported cable network for young people ages 12-24. A few years ago Nielsen Media Research reported that MTV was the most recognized network among young adults age 12 to 34, watched by 73% of boys and 78% of girls age 12 to 19. (ParentsTV.org)

What do all these numbers mean? It means that whatever MTV is slanging (look that word up here)… our kids are listening. That’s why we should probably follow Paul’s example in Acts 17 and at least become aware of the content of this award show, as well as the content of this network’s programming. Unfortunately, I think you’ll find yourself reacting the same way the Apostle Paul reacted in Acts 17 when he walked along the city of Athens and looked at all the idols the people worshipped. He was “distressed.” The New Living Translation describes his reaction as “deeply troubled.”

How do you respond when you are deeply troubled by the elements of our culture?

Hopefully, if you’re looking for how to respond, you’ll continue reading that same passage and see how Paul responded in a reasonable dialogue with the people in the culture. He “reasoned” with them, even citing inscriptions on their idols (vs. 23) and quoting their pagan poets (vs. 28).

I encourage you to do the same.

1. Be deeply troubled when you see these elements in our culture. Don’t get numb to them.

2. Don’t over-react. Instead, ask God to open doors for reasonable conversation with unbelievers. You can even use tools like our MUSIC DISCUSSIONS page or our MOVIE CLIP DISCUSSIONS to jumpstart conversations using these elements from secular culture.

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over a dozen books including the new Get Your Teenager Talking, The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket, The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager, and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the 10-Minute Talks series. Jonathan speaks and trains at conferences, churches and events across North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
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