MTV and girls
page 2

from Jump Cut, no. 35, April 1990, pp. 2-15
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1990, 2006


1. In the popular arena, the Parents' Music Resource Center, headed by wives of prominent government officials, organized to focus attention on so-called "pornographic" rock music lyrics and album covers, persuading Congress to hold hearings to establish a system for rating records similar to the one used for rating movies. Male musicians and bands came under the most fire, although Cyndi Lauper made the list for "She Bop," her song about female autoeroticism ("The Women Behind the Movement," 1985). The Parents' Choice Foundation distributed a review of sexism on MTV in their newsletter, lumping Benatar's video, LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD, with its "worst cases" videos, describing it in the following terms: "…one performer fights with her ornery parents then leaves home to become a hooker" (Wilson, 1984, p. 3). Other examples of popular criticism that describe music video as sexist include Levy (1983) and Barol (1985).

In academic criticism, the arguments are more sophisticated, but frequently lead to the same charge. Brown and Campbell (1984) used content analysis to argue for a lack of positive female images on MTV, without ever addressing the issue of female musicianship. Kaplan (1985, 1986) has explored female representation in music video in several papers. Although she points out "alternative" representations in some of the same videos I analyze, ultimately she argues for the overdetermination of male address. Holdstein (1985) provides a textual reading of Donna Summer's "She Works Hard for the Money," arguing against a feminist interpretation.

2. Rieger (1985) dates the institutional exclusion of women from musical composition and performance back to the beginning of cultural institutions themselves. Churches in the middle ages made it an official practice to bar females from participation in liturgical rites, effectively creating a gender boundary to high music' culture. Early educational institutions reserved musical training and opportunities primarily for their male students.

Women's music-making was forced into popular culture forms, and with respect to the formation of the bourgeoisie in the 18th century, into domestic space. Female piano playing and singing were designed as appropriate forms of musical expression for women and incorporated into the bourgeois woman's role in the family.

"It was important to a man's prestige that his wife could entertain his guests with music, and of course a musical education for his daughter served as a good investment for an advantageous marriage" (p. 141).

Music by women was conceived as a service provided for fathers, husbands, and children, not as a source of pleasure for themselves, or as a career direction, a means for making money. Prior to the influx of women, men were accustomed to performing music in the home. But as music in a domestic setting became associated with bourgeois female roles, men responded by establishing professional standards and devaluing the amateur status. Women inherit this legacy of too little institutional support and dominant ideological attitudes pertaining to the suitability of musical expression for women. And these conditions form the bases of male-dominated musical forms today, including rock and roll.

3. The following sources enabled me to trace the decline of the record industry and to feel justified in crediting the start of music video cable distribution with its subsequent turnaround: Henke (1982), Hickling (1981) Kirkeby (1980), Loder & Pond (1982), Pond (1982), Sutherland (1980), and Wallace (1980).

4. Information about sales and rankings of female musicians were constructed from the following sources: Brandt (1982), Grein (1985), Loder (1984), Miller, et. al. (1985), Swartley (1982), Turner & Loder(1986).

5. I use the term "patriarchy" loosely, as have many feminist critics, to describe an institutional system of male privilege and female subordination under capitalism, not as a strict anthropological description.

6. I am indebted to Nava's (1984) discussion of youth service provision to girls in Britain for providing the initial impetus behind my identification of these two categories of sign types.

7. A fuller discussion of the videos described below and other female address videos from 1985 and 1986 is included in Lewis, 1987 (Dissertation).

8. Kleinhans (1986) adds to my analysis of WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? the suggestion that the video continues a tradition of black woman's blues. "As black feminist critics Michelle Russell and Michele Wallace discuss, black women's blues insist on the woman's integrity — she won't love someone who doesn't love her" (p. 30).

9. A recommended analysis of this video is Brown & Fiske (1987).

10. Carter (1984) cites the work of Hoggart (1957), Cohen (1972), Hall and Jefferson (1976), Hebdige (1979), and Willis (1977) as examples.

11. Kuhn (1984) suggests the use of the term "social audience" to refer to the group of people (social subjects) who actually view the media texts under discussion. I adopt the term to make a distinction between actual viewership groups and target audience, the term used by media industries to signify a perceived or projected audience.

12. Pricing information for Madonna ready-to-wear clothing and accessories obtained from an article in Seventeen ("Funky Frills," 1985).


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