The obscene 'reality' at MTV

Posted: Aug 05, 2005 12:00 AM

It's daytime in the summer, and what are your children watching? The odds are that it's MTV, cable's raunchiest magnet for the out-of-school crowd. Nielsen experts say MTV is watched by 73 percent of boys and 78 percent of girls aged 12 to 19, and if they've got it on during the day, the younger ones in the house are probably checking it out, too.

 TV Week reports that television viewership of broadcast and cable shows is up this summer, and some networks aggressively plan to catch (and then capture) viewers during the summer months. MTV Group executive Brian Graden told TV Week that they focus hard on their daytime and late-night programming because "our audiences are home in a way they're not during the school year."

 That attracts advertisers selling to youngsters, too, everyone from Coke to Pepsi to Hershey to Dentyne gum. MTV tells them "Young adults 15-17 are excited consumers and extremely impressionable. Now is the time to influence their choices."

 MTV's summer schedule includes daytime repeats every day of their nighttime reality shows that usually debut in "The 10 Spot" at 10 p.m. Eastern time, especially "The Real World: Austin." But even if parents were home, they wouldn't be helped by MTV, or those shameless cable-industry lackeys who tell you to trust the V-chip. MTV has dropped its content indicators this summer, meaning there is no L for language and no S for sexual material. Thus the V-chip wouldn't block a thing when "Austin" starts with the "cast" in a hot tub with shot glasses with one woman toasting, "Here's to having a huge seven-person orgy." It wouldn't help with the woman-on-woman kissing session that follows. According to the MTV schedule in late July, MTV will air "Austin" episodes at least 19 times during the week.

 There's also at least 19 repeats of "The '70s House," where clueless young people born in the mid-1980s live together in a house in a completely polyester '70s bubble (and complain about the "tight and skimpy threads they've had to wear since being tossed into the totally shagadelic '70s.") Plus at least 16 re-airings a week of "Laguna Beach," a "reality" version of "The O.C.," with rich California 18-year-olds having a spicy last summer at home. The group's trip to Cabo San Lucas includes one male offering the obligatory MTV sentence: "Let's just have a big orgy. Are you guys down? Now that we're in Cabo, let's just [bleep]."

 MTV boasts about its bad-behavior shows. On one of their web features touting the nastiest new video games, it raves over the Xbox game "Fable" with the words: "Take the moral low-road and watch your character grow horns as you fart loudly in public, cheat, steal, brawl, guzzle beer in the local taverns until you throw up all over yourself. In other words, it's like a 'Real World' highlight reel, baby."

 Over the summer, one brave researcher for the Parents Television Council studied the foul language on the original airings of MTV "reality" shows from January to mid-July. In 136 shows adding up to 71 hours, there were 938 bleeped curse words (the big offenders, especially the F-bomb), and 542 non-bleeped curse words (such as "a--," "da--" and "he--."). Do the math. There's approximately one instance of foul language every three minutes . None of that onslaught would be caught by your supposedly foolproof V-chip, since MTV is skipping out on identifying its own filth.

 Why would you bury an audience in bleeped F-bombs? Why would you encourage it? Is it funny? (Three years ago, Time magazine said the bleeped language on "The Osbournes" show "wasn't going to stay hilarious forever.") Or does it encourage the viewers to get annoyed with the bleeping and push the envelope further into the un-bleeped "real world" of profanity?

 Here's at least one reason. If you thought fantasy football was for geeks, how about fantasy "reality show" games? has an online competition for you to pick the sleaziest reality-show contestant. You earn "fantasy points" from your character "each time a Cast Member says a curse word in which 'bleeping' or audio 'dropping' is required." You also "earn" points toward a prize when your characters get naked ("blurring of the picture must occur"), for "hooking up/making out," for getting into "a verbal or physical fight," for cheating, and for bodily functions (defined as "Vomiting, Farting, Burping, Snot-Rocketing, Peeing and Spitting").

 All this is one incredible innocence-nuking spectacle for the pre-teen audience. It's not a great routine for the teenagers, either. A study in the journal Pediatrics found that heavy exposure to sexual content on TV related strongly to teenagers' initiation of intercourse or their progression to more advanced sexual activities. MTV wants to take your boys and girls from "scoring" their shows at home to just plain "scoring."

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