MTV's Shock Value Lessons

The MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn had some highlights (Justin Timberlake winning the coveted Video Vanguard Award) and some anticlimactic moments (the abbreviated *NSYNC reunion). The most talked about performance during an evening that included Lady Gaga and Katy Perry was the tongue-wagging gyrations of Miley Cyrus

Some critics already started lumping the former child star in the same category as other celebrities who spiraled down a vortex of controversy -- Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes. Such behavior is nothing new, though.  I'm not just talking about Miley, who's made headlines many times over the last few years for her skimpy attire to her obsessive twerking to her pot-smoking innuendos to her shaky romantic relationships to her poorly received photo shoot with her dad Billy Ray.

How much is it all examples of a young entertainer careening out of control and how much is it all carefully orchestrated to remake her image from a sugar-coated child performer to an adult singer/actress?

The bigger, more legitimate question, is whether MTV keeps raising (or lowering) the bar on what is acceptable behavior. The fact that MTV claims to aim its content at a "younger crowd" makes its more adult content all the more disturbing. I remember when Andrew Dice Clay was banned from MTV for dropping F-bombs and telling his dirty nursery rhymes during one of their awards show. MTV has always gone for shock value so this is nothing new (I remember watching their Spring Break coverage when I was younger and thinking that I've been going to all the wrong vacation spots!) 

It's no surprise that these young ladies started out as more innocent personalities (Selena Gomez, Amanda Bynes, and Miley Cyrus all began their lives in the spotlight on kids' shows). Now they're trying to show the world that they can do "edgier" more adult roles and material to broaden their audience and to convince jaded younger fans that they're not boring or old-fashioned. So Selena does sexier movie roles, Britney humps a snake and kisses Madonna, and so on. They all have to top each other to be more outrageous than the next. Cher wore a skimpy feather outfit at the Oscars and Lady Gaga wore a meat suit. Next?

Some of these outrageous personalities might indeed have serious addiction problems or maybe even some psychological disorders, but for the most part I think it might all be well-thought-out acts to bolster their careers.  Pop culture audiences are playing right into their hands.