MTV, Keep Those Stereotypes Coming: Happy 30th!

August 1st, 2011 | Categories: Stereotypes in General

Do you remember a world without MTV? Are you old enough to remember the top television shows from 1981?

1. Dallas
2. 60 Minutes
3. The Jeffersons
4. (tie) Joanie Loves Chachi
5. (tie) Three’s Company
6. Alice
7. (tie) The Dukes of Hazzard
8. (tie) Too Close for Comfort
9. ABC Monday Night Movie
10. M*A*S*H
11. One Day at a Time
12. NFL Monday Night Football
13. Archie Bunker’s Place
14. Falcon Crest
15. The Love Boat
16. (tie) Hart to Hart
17. (tie) Trapper John, M.D.
18. Magnum, P.I.
19. Happy Days
20. Dynasty

It has only been 30 years since MTV originally aired. Yet, in comparison to the World Wide Web itself -only 20 years old- MTV seems ancient. Whether you feel like MTV has been around forever or like it’s a recent phenomena, it’s hard to deny that MTV has infiltrated society and changed the face of television.  Search Google for “MTV” and you get 365 million hits.

I Want My MTV

One of the hallmarks of MTV has been its much maligned use of stereotypes (over 10 million hits for “MTV” and “stereotyp*”). Jersey Shore might come to mind (over 1 million hits for “Jersey Shore” and “stereotypes”). MTV plans to keep up their work communicating stereotypes as fodder for their recent and upcoming programing. If You Really Knew Me deals with high school stereotypes. Irish stereotypes, environmental activist stereotypes, southern stereotypes, and gay stereotypes are already included in or may be scheduled to be in their programming for years to come.

You don’t need to look far to find sites that lambaste MTV for communicating stereotypes. Consider, though, that MTV’s programming introduces stereotypes as topics into the mainstream. In doing so, they spark discussion and make people think and feel about these topics.

Why does this matter? Experts who study stereotype processes have a term that is relevant here: suppression effects.  The term suppression effects describes how trying to hold back stereotypes can result in more stereotype use. In other words, the more you try not to think of a stereotype, the more you may end up thinking of that stereotype. For example, try not to think of a puppy right now. You are probably picturing not only a puppy, but a few different types of puppies!

By forcing us to think and communicate stereotypes, MTV is doing us all a favor. Through the concept of suppression effects, politically correctness can be viewed as ironic because its prescriptions to avoid stereotype use may actually make people think and communicate stereotypes more. This could potentially increase the negative effects of stereotypes like prejudice and discrimination. So it may be a good thing that MTV provides an outlet for expressing stereotypes through their programming and discussion about their programming.

Consider the top television shows from 1981. Shows like Magnum, P.I. were at best blissfully unaware of and at worst intentionally engaged in perpetuating gender stereotypes. Other shows like The Jeffersons and One Day at a Time exposed a variety of often overlooked stereotypes while perpetuating others. The controversial nature of these programs helped to push civil rights forward. MTV has changed the face of television, but in some ways it looks the same. The controversies they stir up push people to confront stereotypes even as they perpetuate stereotypes. MTV, keep those stereotypes coming: Happy 30th!



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  1. August 1st, 2011 at 13:55

    So the negative part of portraying of stereotypes, in let’s say the Jersey Shore, gets offset by bringing to light the stereotype in the first place? That seems to be counter-intuitive in a sense. On the other hand if racists always hold their tongues, they’ll never have their views challenges & live in their head’s own echo chamber.

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