First, a confession …
I didn’t watch the Video Music Awards on MTV Sunday night. I know, I know. My “job” is music, and not that long ago I would have been glued to the TV. But thanks to DVRs, YouTube and the internet, I decided I’d spend the evening with my family and catch the highlights the next day.
“Highlights” being a relative term.
The first thing I heard on Monday morning wasn’t about any one performance, but about the amount of bleeping that the censors had to do for the broadcast. The New York Times summed it up this way:
This was maybe the most bleeped award show in history, and certainly among the lewdest: Lady Gaga’s opening monologue, in drag, channeling Andrew Dice Clay and Denis Leary; Cloris Leachman swapping foul talk with the “Jersey Shore” cast; Justin Bieber making phallus jokes with his girlfriend, Selena Gomez, during the preshow. The flat toilet humor of last year’s host, Chelsea Handler, had nothing on this.
Shock and Awe
The Video Music Awards have always been a spectacle – the outfits, the performances, the banter. Each years’ show seems to offer something to top the previous year’s outrageousness. And this year offered multiple moments of “what next?!” – Lady Gaga in drag, Beyonce’s pregnancy “announcement,” Katy Perry’s outfits (including her apparent tribute to the Rubik’s cube).
And then there was the language.
Tyler the Creator offered an acceptance speech that was unintelligible for all the censored language. Lil Wayne closed the night with a performance that made me think the mute button on my remote was possessed. I’ve been googling this morning to try and find a count of how many cuss words were used on the show. I guess nobody could keep track. Or maybe it’s because, as we’ve talked about recently, the definition of “cussing” varies depending on who you ask.
Regardless of my impulse to dismiss the show as nothing more than a over-the-top-self-promotion-fest for the artist of the moment, I – we – need to pay attention to the VMAs. Why? Because our students do.
This year’s VMAs were record setting with 12.4 million viewers – the largest audience in the history of show and the largest audience ever for an MTV telecast. Of those viewers, eight and a half million of Sunday’s viewers were between 12 and 34 years old.
Events like the VMAs shine the spotlight on a Lady Gaga or a Katy Perry or a Lil Wayne. And the combination of vulnerability, curiosity, peer pressure and still-developing wisdom that defines the teenage years makes kids a sponge for the messages of the culture. Part of a youth leaders’ job is to encourage students to think for themselves, and not just accept the messages of the culture. We have to help them understand that scripture offers them a measuring stick for what they see and hear.
How about you: Did you watch the VMAs? Have you talked to students about the show? How are you encouraging your students to process what culture throws their way?