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Thursday, August 12, 2004

MTV is the Root of All Evil

One of the most commonly asked questions I get is, "Why is
advertising is so stupid?" It's a reasonable question, but not a
totally accurate one. A better question might be, "What the hell was
that last 30 second spot about?" It's true that most advertising
today is, at best oblique. More often, it's downright
indecipherable. We look, we watch, we sit through presentations that
leave us scratching our heads, no more informed than when we started.

Come to think of it, I suppose you can say the same thing about
politicians' speeches. I've sat through dozens of them, sponsored by
every political party. It doesn't matter whom you believe or what
they're saying: few speakers are capable of putting thoughts
together with any coherency.

The fact is that almost nobody out there can get a clear thought
across to anyone else. There's more than one reason why, but
there's no reason greater than the most sinister demon of them all:
MTV.

There was a time, you know, when people actually could communicate
fairly well with each other. In fact, you couldn't get out of high
school without the ability to write a cogent letter. As late as the
1960's, there were politicians and social activists whose oratories
rivaled the likes of the classics. John F. Kennedy, for whatever you
may think of him, knew how to deliver a speech. You didn't have to
be a Rhodes scholar to understand him, which is the first sign of a
really great communicator. People from all walks of life could
listen to John Kennedy, understand him and actually get inspired by
him.

Of course, that was also the last time motion pictures averaged two
hours plus in length. Television commercials were 60 seconds, not 30
seconds. And the fastest way you could get written information
across the country was by telegram. In those days, people understood
each other better because they took the time to understand each other
better. They had to. There was no other choice.

Eventually, fax machines, e-mail, pagers and cell phones invaded our
lives and sped everything up exponentially. Self-appointed gurus
will tell you that technology fostered the polarization and gradual
chilling of human social interaction. They propose that technology
allowed humans to hide behind their digital interfaces, preventing
them from real world human contact and thus destroying the art of
communication.

But that's bullshit. MTV is the real culprit. They've robbed two
generations of one of the most enduring and endearing human
qualities: patience

MTV is the medium that introduced the ultra-fast cut music video.
Three minutes of sound and images, finely diced into 500 scenes,
usually featuring sexy girls and guitar-wailing guys. Rare was the
scene that lasted more than a second, which had the effect of
creating a video mosaic: bits and pieces of unformed information
that had no value of their own, but together left the viewer with a
vague feeling of pleasure.

After watching MTV, you feel like you've been hit by a bus: you know
something has happened, but you're left dazed, unaware of how much
time has passed.

An entire generation has grown up with MTV. The same generation that
suffers unprecedented rates of ADHD and other mental processing
disorders. Is it any wonder? When a whole slice of society has
grown up not taking the time to analyze anything, or worse, not even
wanting to, the lack of analytical ability doesn't stop at
television. People who won't take the time to understand things very
soon see no point in considering any other viewpoint than their own.
It's no coincidence that special interest groups have risen up to
overtake national politics: the populace has real trouble following
more than one issue at a time.

Lack of analytical skills and the patience to use them knocks out the
underpinnings of a capable life. If you don't take time to
understand anything, it's highly probably you can't learn anything.
If you expect everything to happen in an instant without knowing why
it happens, you can't possibly expect to gain knowledge. You become
dependent on a service economy. Helpless.

Because so many have been raised without analytical skills, they're
at a loss to communicate their own needs and wants. When people
can't articulate their thoughts, you have a serious problem, because
the minute people can't clearly verbalize their positions, they get
frustrated. And the more frustrated they get, the more prone to
violence they become.

The rise of impatience doesn't stop in the business or the political
world. Because they lack easy answers and are frustrated by their
inability to analyze, more parents have shorter fuses with their
kids. The kids, not knowing any better, model themselves after their
parents and the cycle continues, while all the while the TV is on and
tuned to - you guessed it - MTV. Today, the average movie is 100
minutes or less, because people's attention spans can't handle more
than that. McDonald's promises your order in 30 seconds. Quack
clinics promote new hair or larger breasts in just one visit. And
nobody stops to analyze why or how.

You want to know why so much advertising is so stupid? Because it
spends so much time saying something and meaning nothing. The people
who write those commercials have no idea how to articulate a concept.
The people watching those commercials have no idea how to analyze the
quick-cut, scattered images blasted at them. If you want to really
understand advertising, it actually is possible to decipher.

The only problem is that it takes so damn long to figure it out.

2 Comments:

Blogger Edward Trimnell said...

Rob:

You are right on target in regard to MTV. I was a member of the first MTV generation (I was thirteen in 1982), and I remember how addictive it could be. I had been quite an avid reader before that, but once MTV came out, all I wanted was hour after hour of short, easily digestible rock videos. I didn't even watch many movies after that (they require extended periods of focus.)

Because MTV doesn't require much active involvement on the part of the user, it fosters the habit of using television as a backdrop for other activities. (For example, I frequently left MTV turned on as I did my homework.) This habit further decreases one's attention span.

You may remember the recent NEA report that talked about the decline of reading rates since the early 1980s. The report primarily blames television and the internet. However, television was well established in the 1960s and 1970s, and Americans were active readers then. The internet, it could be argued, actually facilitates reading, since a variety of content is available online.

MTV may indeed be the major culprit, now that I look back on my own childhood. And just look at how major network programming has declined in the interim--programs and movies with plots are giving way to "American Idol" and mindless reality shows.

BTW-I enjoyed your book.

Edward Trimnell
www.edwardtrimnell.com

6:34 AM  
Blogger Jesse Thompson said...

Now if what you say is true (I cannot analyze your message deeply enough to be sure ;) I think it stands to reason that MTV cannot be undone. It can't just be turned off, or contrabanned, because it is too hard to define the pathogen clearly enough to block.. and because it is, in fact, addictive and people would be angry and want it back.

Thus, the only way to combat a feature such as this in the evolution of entertainment is to fast track it's progenetor. We must find something which fills society's need for whatever kind of entertainment MTV provides, but is less damaging somehow. An MTV vaccine, if you will.

I suggest Quake and Unreal Tournament :) Long live first person shooters, wh00p!

12:50 AM  

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