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Dehumanising our youth

By Terry Joseph
August 11, 2006

Although commanding an incalculably large viewing audience, MTV hasn't made proportionate contribution to the sum of human dignity it met at first airing 25 years ago, except there is value hidden somewhere in the dehumanisation of black youth.

Globally famous as the ultimate party source, the station quietly marked its silver anniversary, which fell on Emancipation Day, perhaps fearing increased attention to the role it plays in enslaving black youth, who now refer to each other as "pimp" and "bitch" rather than "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" as was the language of their forbears in the pre-MTV era.

Interestingly, it took MTV fully 17 months after coming on air, before the first black performer was featured, probably unavoidably, since it was Michael Jackson's double-entendre blockbuster, "Beat It", which meanwhile introduced crotch-grabbing as a music-video fundamental.

The channel exponentially increased its black audience in 1986, premiering "Yo! MTV Raps!" to milk the genre's rising popularity. The same station that, five years earlier, was fending off charges of discrimination against blacks suddenly became champion of the tribe, using its lowest common denominator as both shield and spear.

As rap music and MTV grew, the station bombarded our youth with videos portraying blacks as dope-dealers, whores and pimps, highlighting invariably angry young men with gaudy "bling" from tooth to toe, glorifying gang-warfare and entrenching ghetto values through constant repetition, tantamount to subliminal injection; promulgating the myth that black people are destined to anti-social conduct and profligate lifestyles.

Presiding over the pathetic, MTV enjoys allegiance from the very blacks it portrays as hopeless, deluding them into thinking mainstream television is an end in itself although once there, women get to do nothing more than shake their backsides, convinced it is a worthwhile showbiz pursuit, even as they help ensconce the thug and drug black stereotype.

The classic irony is that MTV's president, Christina Norman, is black. Don't rush to excuse her on the premise she's only been absolute boss since May last year and needs time to reverse so powerful a trend, because she helped create it during her many years as head of marketing.

Listed everywhere among America's 100 most powerful women, Miss Norman consciously assisted in fashioning the "bitch" and "pimp" imagery urban youth internalised worldwide and, when the template became irretrievably ingrained, successfully retailed it as "cultural reality," provoking comparison with the role of loathsome African mercenaries who acted as procurers for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

To be fair, she pioneered MTV's "Break the Addiction" campaign, a 12-month environmental recovery programme geared to help contain global-warming. She also spearheaded "Choose or Lose", persuading more than 20,000 new voters to register and, by the same opportunity, made her station the highest rated network for viewers 12 to 24 years old. "This is what our audience expects of us," she said loftily, "We shed light on issues that impact their lives."

As MTV president, Miss Norman's executive portfolio includes development of business strategies, research, marketing and promotion for the flagship station, MTV2, mtvU, MTV EspaƱol, MTV Hits and MTV Jams. In short, were it part of her agenda, she could single-handedly change the way the world views black people.

But apparently, that isn't going to happen anytime soon, although intra-tribal pressure on her dichotomous position is mounting. On Wednesday this week, Reuters reported the first major flak-attack on Miss Norman's long-revered leadership qualities, condemning as "poor judgement," MTV's airing of the cartoon Where My Dogs At? Highly respected New York Daily News correspondent, Andre Crouch was equally critical.

The offending episode, which aired at noon on Saturday, depicted in one sequence two black women squatting on all fours and tethered by dog leashes who, for the piece-de-resistance, defecated on the floor. The show provoked universal outrage among prominent African Americans.

Acting as corporate pimp, MTV's parent company, Viacom defended it as "social satire." Payne Brown, a high-ranking executive at cable giant Comcast Corp, said he personally complained to Miss Norman but found her response "unsatisfying."

Clearly, along the road to success, she became one of the very black bitches she created and, for that, was rewarded with the opportunity to make more.

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