Youth Culture Window
Kanye bringing Taylor Swift to tears, Lady Gaga thanking God and gays, Jack Black leading the audience in a prayer to Satan, Russell Brand going on and on about what sexual acts he’d like to perform with who… nothing surprising. Welcome to the MTV Video Music Awards (The VMAs), the biggest pop culture phenomenon of the year.
No one knows what the MTV VMAs will deliver. Ever since Madonna’s passionate onstage kiss with Brittany in 2003, and Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” in the MTV sponsored SuperBowl halftime show in 2004, audiences have readily braced themselves for what MTV has in store for us next. Sadly, not much would shock our desensitized audiences any more. It’s hard to believe that MTV could stuff anything more vile or degrading up their corporate sleeves.
Teen audiences gathered by the millions to watch the show live Sunday night, September 13th. Those that missed the show and heard the buzz at school Monday morning, popped onto the internet on their phones and computers where MTV.com provides the entire show at the click of a button. The MTV VMA’s have never been so accessible to this generation of young people.
What Kids Saw
The night began on a touching note as Madonna paid tribute to the life of Michael Jackson. Madonna confessed that when she found out that Michael died, all she could think about was, “I had abandoned him. That we had abandoned him. That we had allowed this magnificent creature that once set the world on fire to somehow slip through the cracks. While he was trying to build a family and rebuild his career, we were all busy passing judgment. Most of us had turned our backs on him.”
The audience was hanging on every word Madonna spoke. She ended her speech saying, “I want to end this on a positive note and say that my sons age 9 and 4 are obsessed with Michael Jackson. There’s a whole lot of crotch grabbing and moon-walking going on in my house.” Her final words were, “Yes, Michael Jackson was a human being. But damn it, he was a king. Long live the king.”
Modonna exited stage left and the show digressed.
Katy Perry sang Queen’s We Will Rock You as British comedian Russell Brand entered the stage to MC for the evening. As Russell thanked her, she lifted her leg and grabbed her crotch. I’m still not sure why, but in all honesty, I’ve stopped asking.
After a few serious comments about Michael Jackson, Russell descended to the only kind of comedy he knows, perverted attempts at humor. After announcing that last year he learned that he could say anything and “get away with it,” he quickly turned his attention to the bizarre musician Lady Gaga.
“There's been a lot of mudslinging and rumor mongering and rubbish, people saying that she's a hermaphrodite. I think it's a disgrace that a woman cannot be successful, sexy and have an aggressive sexuality without people saying, 'Oh, she must be a bloke.' That is sexist. And I would like to condemn the male-dominated media for their disgusting treatment of this incredible woman. And if you haven't worked it out by now, yeah, I'm trying to f--- her.”That final word was censored. Unfortunately the guy manning the censor board didn’t find it necessary to bleep his next line when he said, “and if I do pull her leotard to one side and find a little something a little extra there, I’ll just make it stiff and hang me hat on it.”
We shouldn’t be surprised by his topics of conversation, nor his verbalized sexual ambitions. After all, he sang about them in this pre-show ad released by MTV a few weeks ago to promote the upcoming awards show.
This article would become blocked by most explicit content blockers if I repeated most of what Russell said. Let’s just say that he ended comparing himself to Harry Potter, but grabbing his crotch and saying, “my sack of magic and wand are tucked up in these delicious trousers where they will stay til the end of the evening, you have my word as an English gentleman.” The rest of the evening was filled with banter about sexual exploits, the anatomy of women, and any other low hanging fruit he could get his hands on.
Kanye West, no newbie to tirades, found a new low at the show, interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video. Taking the mic from her, Kanye said, “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’m gonna let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!” He unnecessarily repeated himself for emphasis. “One of the best videos of all time!” Boos starting echoing throughout the room, Taylor standing there with a horrified look on her face, and Beyonce looking confused and slightly flattered. Taylor didn’t get to finish her speech. She was escorted off the stage where she burst into tears.
I was so disgusted with Kanye’s selfish outburst, that I was caught off guard by the next moment, Jack Black’s feeble attempt at humor. Black, giving a tribute to metal music, mused, “Since we’re giving a rock award tonight, who wants to pray to the Devil with me?” He instructed the audience to grab the hand of the person next to them and then prayed, “Dear Dark Lord Satan…” The crowd was interesting, chuckling at first, but then caught in an awkward silence, seemingly not knowing how to react.
Lady Gaga, highly anticipated because of her bizarre persona and fashion sense, sang her song Paparazi, wearing a bizarre outfit that looked like a mix between a showgirl costume and one of Paris Hilton’s bathing suits. The performance showed a little creativity, and a little too much Gaga, ending with her smearing fake blood over her body and face.
A little later on in the show, the bizarre Lady Gaga graced the stage once again, this time wearing a red scarf over her face, to collect her award as Best New Artist. Her first mummified words: “It’s my first CENSORED Moonman!” I guess this censored word is one of her favorite adjectives because just a few seconds later she said, “This is for my CENSORED fans!” She continued. “You’re the best fans in the whole world and I love you. And it’s for God and for the gays!”
A few artists weren't available to claim their awards that evening. Even though Britney had a previously recorded acceptance speech ready, they didn’t have one for T.I. (I guess MTV couldn’t get access to the cell block at the Federal Corrections Institution in Arkansas that’s currently holding him for felony gun convictions.)
Beyonce got her chance to perform as well on the show. Nothing new. Revealing outfits, and hip thrusts that would have made Elvis blush. Beyonce always has me torn. She seems like such a nice person, but then she lowers herself, selling out to be this sexual nymph as the industry so demands. It’s sad really. Beyonce obviously is so much more than a sex object.
And if the blatant explicit content of the show wasn’t enough, the gaps in the show were filled with interesting subtleties. For example, LL Cool J’s commercial for Direct TV’s NFL Sunday Ticket, where his opening words were, “Sunday’s not a day of rest gentlemen, it’s a day for football.”
All the while, kids watch attentively… taking the whole thing in, even more than they realize.
What Kids Learned
Millions of our kids watched the show. The question is, what messages are they absorbing from this?
- Fame, status and money are what matters.
Watch just a few minutes of the show and you’ll see what our society values. Who is getting the most Twitter tweets? What dress are you wearing? Jay Z is in the house—look at the car he pulled up in and look at him walk with all his body guards!
Character? Selflessness? Honor? Self control? Where are these things? Jesus’ Beatitudes are no where to be found here. They are extinct in this world that is beamed to our kids electronically. The character traits our kids are learning are the polar opposite of Biblical teaching. The role models our kids are choosing aren’t role models at all.
- Sexual equals successful
Pop Quiz: Name a female artist at the awards that wasn’t wearing revealing clothes or flaunting her sexuality in words or dance.
Hmmmmm. That’s a tough one.
Let’s be honest. Sex sells. Think of the artists performing and the videos that won that night. Britney’s Womanizer (the video that begins with her nude in a sauna), Beyonce with her low red dress, Pink’s “pink heart,” and Lady Gaga with her little outfits. Taylor Swift was the only female performer who really stood out as slightly modest that evening.
The big question is, will artists like Taylor resist the pressure to “bare more.” Or, will she venture down the road that Miley is on where the dresses and dances keep getting more revealing as the years in show biz take their toll.
- Keep it real… do what you feel
After Kanye dishonored Taylor Swift, stealing her moment, he blogged with a weak apology. After his apology to Taylor, he wrote, “I'm sorry to my friends at MTV. I will apologize to Taylor 2mrw. Welcome to the real world!!!! Everybody wanna booooo me but I'm a fan of real pop culture!!!” He went on, “…I'm not crazy y'all, i'm just real.”
Just yesterday I taught a parent conference and talked about how this generation uses the world “real.” Our kids say, “I’m just keeping it real.” “Hey teacher, you’re ugly. I’m just keeping it real.”
Perhaps our kids are learning that “keeping it real” is a license to do what you want and say whatever you feel, regardless of the feelings of others.
Rap artist spout explicit lyrics with vile messages. Their defense? They are artists who are just representing real life.
Funny, years ago I interviewed Brotha Marquis from the 80’s explicit rap band 2LiveCrew and asked him about that very issue. I asked, “Most of us sat and watched you on TV standing before the supreme court saying, ‘We're just sharing our point of view and we have a right to express our opinion.’ Just like rap artists always claim, ‘We're just depicting a true glimpse of life in the hood.’ And I've always wondered… what do these artists think when they go to bed at night? Did you really think you were just expressing an innocent point of view? Or did you know inside that it was wrong and . . .
Marquis interrupted me. “I KNEW it was wrong. Although back then I hardly ever went to bed at night.”
- How low can you go?
Talent seems to be taking second chair to “shock value.” Lady Gaga can definitely sing. But let’s not leave that to chance in this contest. Instead, she’ll let blood pour out of her costume and she’ll smear it all over her face for the shock value. It’s clearly evident what the world values. Just read what the press deems “The Top 10 Memorable VMA Moments” from the last decades. Shocking is good. Risqué is celebrated. Gross-out is not only acceptable, it’s welcomed.
It’s hard for me to believe that parents allow their kids to watch this show. Maybe many of them are unaware of the messages besieging their kids.
As parents, we need to be aware of what are kids are putting in their heads. More importantly, we need to open the channels of communication so we can talk with our kids about these influences because they will hear about them even if they aren’t allowed in the home. (I provide some advice to parents about how to talk to your kids about this kind of content at the end of this recent blog.)
A 180 Turn
As much as the show turned my stomach, a glimmer of light stood out in the final moments.
The much coveted “Video of The Year” was announced, awarded to Beyonce, for the same video that Kanye ranted about an hour prior. Beyonce showed a moment of class as she received the award, not thanking anyone or even spending any time on herself. She just said, “I remember being 17 years old up for my first MTV award with Destiny’s Child and it was one of the most exciting moments in my life. So I’d like for Taylor to come out and have her moment.” Then she invited Taylor Swift to come out on stage and finish her acceptance speech. Beyonce gave Taylor her entire time.
, president of The Source for Youth
Ministry, is the author of numerous books including the new
Should I Just Smash My Kid's Phone?
, and youth ministry books like
Ministry By Teenagers
Connect: Real Relationships in a
World of Isolation
, and the award winning book
Do They Run When They See You Coming?
speaks and trains
at conferences, churches and events across North
America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his
. You can follow Jonathan on
, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help.
Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live
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