Youth Culture Window
This year’s MTV Video Music Awards (the VMAs) departed from its normal gimmicks to show us something young people have adored for generations…
No, I’m not saying the show wasn’t void of twerking, revealing gowns, irresponsible lyrics, and poor role models. Sadly, those elements are pervasive and plentiful in today’s pop culture, and frankly, the show was full of it. But this year, instead of focusing on how far they could push the envelope, MTV– which, once upon a time, stood for Music Television – actually seemed to center the VMAs around music.
Many of the segments across the 2-hour-and-15-minute-long show contained live performances by today’s biggest artists, and many of them were solid presentations of talent. Ariana Grande, Jessie J, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Iggy Azalea, and many others grabbed a mic, took center stage, and stole the spotlight. For the first time in a while, this year’s VMAs gave genuine music enthusiasts what they wanted: concerts.
But that (abbreviated) list of performers (above) hints at yet another distinction that sets this year’s VMAs apart from those in the past:
Lots and lots of lyrical ladies.
Yep, the 2014 VMAs were dominated by females. Want proof? Check out the final list of winners from this year’s show; just about the only thing the women didn’t win was Best Male Video…. Seriously, the girls killed it!
But what are our daughters learning from these role models?
Sexualization of Girls
The first five minutes of the show could have caused some viewers to scratch their heads. That’s because, Nicki Minaj, the young female artist who just passed Michael Jackson on the all-time Billboard Hot 100 list, took the stage in butt-hugging hot pants and began twerking (and twerking is nothing new to this show, right?) But Minaj’s twerking – and she twerked a lot! – wasn’t the end of it. She emulated various sexual positions, lied down sensually on stage and allowed one of her female dancers to crawl on her and simulate thrusting into her…
and nobody batted an eye.
Why? Because our culture has literally grown numb to the growing sexualization of our girls.
But when she came out a few moments later at the end of the opening act (which featured Ariana Grande and Jessie J), she was busy holding her blouse together…or experiencing abdominal cramps…and everyone suddenly took note of what she was wearing. Twitter exploded with #wardrobemalfunction.
But Minaj wasn’t the only celebrity whose attire caught our eye and made us ask tough questions.
Ariana Grande had a “big” night at the VMAs, as well; not only did she kick off the live event with a performance of Break Free, but she also carried home the hardware for Best Pop Video. However, we had some difficulty reconciling the scantily-clad Grande (at the awards show) with the lovable and innocent Cat Valentine, the modestly-dressed character Grande plays on Nickelodeon’s hit show, VICTORiOUS. We’ve seen the kid-friendly comedy that airs each afternoon on Nick…but we’ve never seen as much of Grande as we did during the awards show.
Minaj and Grande weren’t alone. The show was full of ladies, and most of these ladies wore revealing outfits with plunging deep V necklines, super high side slits and lots of skin revealing cuts (I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise in a year where the ‘Video of the Year’ was a naked girl swinging on a wrecking ball).
So, where’s the line on what ladies wear today?
What are our daughters learning from these role models?
MTV Cares… Right?
Throughout the televised programming, viewers could see discrepancies in MTV’s messages, even if they weren’t looking for them. For example, it’s clear that MTV is anti-tobacco, based on their bold (and clever) commercials that aired during the telecast. But why isn’t their stance on alcohol equally as rigid (especially with so many minors watching)? Plenty of the music featured in the programming, including songs that won awards, talk about the frequent use (and misuse) of alcohol.
Of course, MTV also re-introduced its disconnect between sensuality and responsibility when they repeatedly aired provocative entertainment during the show but promoted “safe sex” ideals in Trojan Condom ads during the commercial breaks. The message to today’s young people is clear: Do whatever you want… but wear a condom and you’ll be okay.
MTV also tried to address certain cultural events, but did so in nebulous ways. For example, the Ferguson riots were brought up by rapper, Common, who even led a moment of silence for Michael Brown, the young man who was recently shot and killed by police officers in the suburb of St. Louis, MO. But not a single word was spoken to address the unrest in those communities. Then there was a brief video tribute to the late Robin Williams that lacked any reference to suicide, or where those who may be considering a similar fate could turn for help.
In fact Miley… yes, Miley… was the only one who actually provided a “for more information, click here” message attached to a social issue.
Look, MTV does entertainment. We get that. But if they’re going to continually leverage social issues in their programming, they should at least present a clear message…even if it’s not one that’s universally agreed upon.
What impact does MTV’s entertainment have on families?
This question was brought to our attention in a stark manner: at the end of the show, Beyoncé performed a medley of her latest songs in front of a huge crowd that included her husband, Jay Z, and their daughter, Blue Ivy, a beautiful little 2-year-old girl.
Of course, Beyoncé’s performance was a typical one for her: sultry.
Her outfit was par for the course that evening: revealing. She performed sensual gestures as a silhouette on a chair. She also spread her legs on numerous occasions, whether dancing or sitting. And of course, there was the whole pole-dancing scene where she and her dancers slid up and down against the metal beams.
All of this in front of Blue Ivy, a 2-year-old who matched her mom’s hand gestures during Flawless. What other moves will Blue soon learn from her mom?
More importantly, what will your kids learn from her (and others)?
Don’t Ask Questions You Don’t Want Answers To
As leaders, we know that the only thing worse than not answering tough questions is not asking tough questions. We’ve interjected a few questions throughout this article, but you probably already know that you shouldn’t ask questions you don’t want answers to. Asking tough questions usually results in discovering tough answers…tough answers that have to be addressed.
So where should we draw the line between modest and sensual clothing? What’s the best way of imparting our biblical worldview to our kids so that they will know which stance to take on social issues? And what impact does this kind of entertainment have on our families?
Each of those questions has unique answers, and they would probably be fleshed out in families in a variety of ways. But here are a few points to bear in mind as you search for answers to the big questions.
- Make sure our voice is heard above the roar. There are plenty of voices in today’s culture. Each of them calls for our time, our attention, our money, and our loyalty. Together, they form a roar that’s distinct in the ears and hearts of our kids. In fact, in most cases, teenagers in our families and youth ministries hear these voices even more clearly than we do. That’s why we must make sure that our voice is heard above the roar of culture. We do that by making sure we’re standing the closest to our kids. No matter how loud the culture roars, it’s still our voice that they hear the best because of our proximity to them. Take advantage of the relationship and speak with your kids on a frequent basis (Deut. 6:5-7). Make sure they know your voice, and the importance of following it. That’s best done if we….
- Make sure our answers reveal the authority God has invested in us. It’s self-defeating to denounce some of these elements in our kids’ lives only to import them into our lives. For example, what is your phone’s ringtone? What’s on your playlists? Authority comes largely from practicing what we preach. But it also comes from speaking the truth, something we must do because few others will. We don’t have to be silent on culture. In fact, we can even use culture to provoke godly conversations with our teenagers. The Source for Youth Ministry has hundreds and hundreds of totally free resources that will help you do just that. Our MUSIC DISCUSSIONS page includes pre-planned lessons using some of our culture’s latest music along with relevant Bible passages and questions. We even have an entire website dedicated to resources for parents. Having conversations is a huge piece of the puzzle, but we must bear something else in mind, as well….
- Don’t be afraid to lead counter-culture. At times, and it’s happening with more frequency it seems, we as parents and youth workers have to simply shut down the opposition. We have to hit the off button, or cut the cord. When that time comes, don’t shy away from your responsibility. No, I’m not saying parents should become whiners and complainers and start producing Pharisitic (is that a word?) lists of what you can and can’t watch. What we’re advocating is conversations. Constantly look for opportunities to ask questions that prompt our kids to think about their media choices. Constantly look for opportunities to truly listen to their answers. But sometimes, it’s okay to say, “Sorry, we’re not going to watch this.” As we take a peek into this porthole of youth culture today, some things can be used to help your teenagers make wise and godly decisions; some things are simply a waste of time…and life. Discern between the two, and act courageously on behalf of your teenager. Just because all of culture is heading in one direction doesn’t mean your teenager has to, as well. As the old saying goes, “Even dead fish make it down stream.” Help your teenager plot a course against the current where needed, and give him/her the resources to be victorious over the culture. You’ll be glad you did.
For years, entertainment has raised big questions. It’s time we help our teenagers discover big, life-changing answers.
Let’s make sure they have everything they need to answer those questions.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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