Ideology of Consumer Culture
Perpetrated through MTV

      by Ashley Grisso  



MTV has crossed over from being merely an avenue for the promotion of products to being a product itself that can communicate meaning, and therefore, ideology to its mass audience (Jhally, cited in Cole, 1994). Surely there is more than irony at work in mainstream discourse that defines its notion of family values, in part, on an image of the completely pure and sexually innocent child (read white and middle class) while it refuses to acknowledge the "immense sexualization of children within consumer capitalism" (Giroux, online).

The ideology that MTV and music videos embrace that commodifies and promotes the sexualization of young women and girls, among other questionable social values, is an accepted social standard in the US. Now our culture's mores are being exported to other places around the globe. MTV claims that young people from disparate countries are part of an emerging international youth culture that transcends any national cultural identity. "Music is the global language. We want to be the global rock 'n' roll village where we can talk to youth worldwide" (Sara Levinson, cited in Banks, 1996). International operations are more than 50% of total revenues of media conglomerates. The advertising that supports MTV is uninterested in cultural differences in various countries. MTV's most far-reaching business strategy that transcends geography is to develop and exploit international youth culture.

MTV's characterization of transnational youth relies heavily on a shared affinity for popular consumer products. This is the first international generation; they wear Levi's, shop at Bennetton, wear Swatch watches and drink Coke. French teenagers are thought to be more like German teenagers than they are like their parents. MTV marketers believe that there is a world pop culture and sensibility among 12-34 year olds who have a viewpoint, attitude, and consumer habits that have been shaped by the last 25 years of technology. These targeted young people worldwide are being described purely in term of what they might buy, as potential consumers (Freston, cited in Banks, 1996). Although MTV promotes voting and other public services announcement to encourage democratic participation and responsible citizenry, primarily the audience is targeted as potential consumers to deliver to advertisers.

MTV encourages young people around the world to embrace a consumerist way of life, rejecting alternative values, traits, or traditions as part of self-identity. MTV presents a blizzard of appealing consumer products, both in traditional commercials and in the videos themselves, that entice young viewers worldwide with a homogenous, consumer lifestyle. This is what advertisers have been looking for: outlets to influence young people everywhere to buy their product (Banks, 1996).

This present generation of US 11 to 13 year-olds is growing up quickly and is richer than ever. They are a retailer's dream with a seemingly insatiable desire for the latest in everything. "Tweens," the term marketers have coined for the 27 million children 8 to 14—the largest number in this age group in two decades—have seized on these young people because it is an opportunity to lock in highly impressionable consumers. "Tweens" were the driving force behind groups like the Backstreet Boys being created and are the reason that they enjoy such tremendous success; 10- to14-year-olds now account for about 9 percent of all CD sales (Kantrowitz & Wingert, 1999).