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MTV Upholds the Status Quo

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I saw an episode of a MTV series, called MADE, last night. In it MTV helps a person to achieve his or her ambition. Last night it was an overweight teenager called Jordan who wanted to compete in a triathlon. An ambitious goal, and a very worthy one for someone who needed to shed some pounds and establish a modicum of fitness.

Except, Jordan is a whining, annoying character, who pissed off his fitness coach, Kirk – an ex-marine – and his swim coach by his despicable attitude, victim mentality, and gluttonous appetite. He was one of the most irritating people I've ever witnessed on TV, and my hat goes off to his coaches who stuck it out with him and finally put the boot in by giving him an ultimatum: either stick with the programme or quit.

In the end, Jordan did succeed in completing a triathlon, one of the toughest competitive sports, in a reasonable time. It's obvious that much of Jordan's problem stemmed from a feeling that he would fail no matter what he did, combined with a huge inferiority complex. Completing the triathlon proved to him that he could achieve a major goal, and I hope that experience sticks with him, because the boy likes his pancakes, cheese dogs and other artery-clogging products. He also had to put up with some pretty nasty ragging from the Athletics team, which proved to me that the myth of the High School Jock is not so much a myth as a raging and unpleasant reality in America.

So, kudos to Jordan for completing his task; he may be as irritating as ever but he lost a lot of weight, added years to his life by getting fitter, and did something that most people would never conceive of doing.

However, why I mention this show in the first place is that MTV had a voice-over throughout the episode that was particularly nasty. OK, the kid was a bit of an asshole, but hey, he's a teen, and who wasn't a idiot sometime during that time of your life? My suspicion is that the commentator was the kind of kid who made fun of others while in school to divert attention from his own personality defects. Yes, Jordan had a screeching voice, and was childish (note, he's not an adult), and was ungracious at times. But he didn't deserve to be ridiculed and shamed throughout the proceedings. Worse still, the commentator mocked both of Jordan's coaches, and his family as well. That crossed the line. MTV hired the coaches to do a job, and I'm sure they weren't expecting that their characters would come under assault in the programme for the entertainment of others. Of course, some of what was said was funny, but by the end I wanted to watch the proceedings without someone else making derogatory comments.

I couldn't believe that MTV would air a programme in which they were willing to demean a kid for entertainment. It's not cool, it's not funny, and it left an extremely bad taste in my mouth. Whatever Jordan's problems, he did get it together in the end and completed the task for which he trained. Considering he couldn't even run a mile when he started, that's a major accomplishment. I'd like to see most people cope with a restrictive diet, two training sessions a day, six days a week, for ten weeks, without breaking down at some point.

In the end, the MTV commentator was another form of the High School Jocks. They rag on kids as part of the intense hierarchical structure of the school environment, to remind everyone of their position in the social strata. When someone like Jordan, especially because he's so annoying, attempts to break out of his assigned role (nerd), they descend like a pack of wolves to prevent his success. The rule is: don't step out of place. No wonder so few teenagers can face the often crippling peer pressure to do something different. What MTV did was to reinforce this notion: even if you achieve something worthwhile you'll still be humiliated. I find it incredible that a television company that targets teens and young adults has presented such a negative message to its viewers. Jordan's crabbiness and resistance spoke volumes about his character and internal issues, and we didn't require a voice-over pointing out the deficiencies that were plain to see. What's disturbing is that at no point was there any heartfelt congratulations of Jordan when he did succeed. I guess MTV didn't think that's so funny.

To hell with MTV and their smart-ass commentators. Let's see the guy behind the microphone deal with the diet and the training sessions, and complete a triathlon – I wonder if he'd find everything so laughable then.

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About Maura McHugh

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Maura, I totally agree with your assessment: more cruel “reality.”

  • I actually think this is a fairly decent bit of programming from MTV. They do tend to accentuate the negativity of these kids or pick overly negative kids as subject matter, and you’re correct in that it’s the kind of thing that people *expect* to see. But I like that they’re at least giving these kids that might otherwise have never been able to break out of the shells they’ve surrounded themselves with. This is the only thing on MTV I even bother with anymore, because I think, at its core, it’s still a fairly positive show.

    The best Made by far was the one with the young band who wanted to win the local battle of the bands contest. It was four dorky kids who actually could play, and I got a kick out of the bassist’s reaction to the “instructor” he was paired up with. The teacher attempted to get him to move his bass from where he should and did wear it (across the body, up high) to slung down low around his pelvis – because that looks cool. He then berated him when he refused, telling him he looked like he played in the “dorkestra.” The next scene of them playing showed him proudly wearing his bass in the position he was most comfortable with – right where it always was. Good for him.

    They didn’t win, by the way, but that was more because they were a dorky ska band up against a bunch of metal bands with large, loud followings.

  • Hi Tom,

    In some ways the show was beneficial, because Jordan did make a huge change in his life.

    However, I don’t think that he will ever want to watch that MTV episode again, or want his peers at school to see it. Can you imagine what his schoolmates would say to him after seeing the show? It won’t be to congratulate him on what was a monumental achievement, but to berate him for it, as MTV’s commentator did.

    I do not enjoy cruelty being packaged as entertainment. I think Jordan is the kind of kid that is a soft target for teasing, and he’s probably put up with it all his life – hence his protective behaviour. Why did MTV have to contribute to putting him down? That’s my problem with this episode. I’m glad to hear from what you’ve said that other kids got better treatment.

    I do think that MTV is about protecting the status quo, and making kids think that there is some kind of way they “should” be. It’s a far cry from the rebel TV station it started out as in the 80s. Now, it’s soundbites dressed up as wisdom, and superficial treatment of important subjects. And there’s that relentless commentary, always telling us what MTV thinks is funny, hip or cool.

    I think teens today have never had it so hard.

  • Alissa Johnson

    I’m curious if you’re watching this show in another country and MTV over there did something with the voice over? Because there is no narrator in the show I watch other than the kid who is being “made.” He/she will discuss what’s going on, how they’re feeling, tell us who people are, etc. I find this show highly entertaining and enjoy seeing these people who don’t appear to have a chance in heck of succeeding make it anyway. There appears to be no mean-spiritedness at all.

  • Eric Olsen

    I’ve never seen it, BTW, just responding to the review.

  • Yes, I saw it on the MTV UK network. And the commentator had a British accent.

    I did wonder if the American version of the show had the voice-over, because it’s obviously not necessary, other than to demean the kid.

    It certainly shows extremely bad judgement on the part of the MTV Europe team, and I wonder why they thought the episode would benefit from the addition of a nasty diatribe?

    Because, without the voice-over, most of my problems with that episode are gone.

    I might have to drop MTV UK a line over this.

  • I think comment #4 (yes, my wife, and NO I’m agreeing with her just because she’s my wife!) is on to something. I took a look at your site, Maura, and you’re in Ireland. I wonder if MTV Europe doesn’t adapt these shows for you by adding a voiceover to explain things? Or perhaps to perpetuate a stereotype of Americans as whiny brats? Now I’m really curious – I’d love to see a European example of Made.

    Jordan, however, was easily the most whiny and irritating of all the subjects the show has had. Give a few other episodes a shot, they all weren’t as bratty as he was.

  • And I wonder, do the participants know that a different version of the show is being broadcast in Europe?

  • Eric Olsen

    Very interesting, glad we got that straightened out – I’ll never watch MTV in Ireland.

  • Yeah Tom, I’m thinking the same thing as you.

    For example, I wonder if Kirk would like to know some of the comments made about him that were less than complimentary – and he was no way a whiny teenager but a trained and efficient professional.

    As I pointed out throughout the review, my major issue is the voice-over. As I well know, a commentary track, and even the choice of music, can radically alter your perception of the material.

    I really have to question why MTV UK decided to change the American version.

    I don’t have a problem with the kids in the show – I always admire people who try to achieve difficult ambitions. Even if Jordan was a whinger, he still did something worthy of celebrating. My problem is that the version of the show I saw didn’t do that.

    Hmmm, it’s all very interesting.

  • Eric, the MTV we get is the UK version, nothing to do with Ireland (except for one or two presenters) at all. 🙂

  • Eric Olsen

    Indeed – it was a small, poor joke. Har har. Were I to be granted the fortune of visiting Ireland, I doubt it would even occur to me to turn on the TV.

  • Wow, that’s too bad, Maura. Sounds like they’re ruining basically a very good show (may I reiterate that it is currently the only thing I find worth watching on MTV?) Interesting how the one change they make completely alters people’s perceptions.

    Maybe this is payback for taking all the great British shows and making horrible remakes of them in the US. 🙂 I’m really dreading the treatment BBC’s The Office, one of my favorite shows, is going to receive at the hands of NBC . . .

  • Arrgh, MTV.co.uk has the worst web site design I’ve ever encountered!

    I can’t even submit a query becuase of the advertisement lurking over the contact form.

  • For what it’s worth, I posted an inquiry about this matter to MTV.com, and I’ll let you know if I hear anything more about it.

    I find it frustrating that neither MTV.com or MTV.co.uk provide an email address to which you can send messages. You are forced to use their comment system, which is a pain on the American version, and unusable on the UK version.

  • “I couldn’t believe that MTV would air a programme in which they were willing to demean a kid for entertainment.”

    Do they have the show “Punk’d” on MTV UK? Just wondering.

  • Eric Olsen

    Most “reality” TV is entertainment via demeaning “civilians” one way or another and I despise it.

    Although American Idol holds contestants up to possible ridicule by the judges, at least it is a more or less meritocratic talent contest with an honorable goal at the end of the rainbow.

  • JR

    “Punk’d” is mild; do they show “Jackass”?

  • Yeah, we get them all. I generally dislike reality shows, but MADE appeared to be more about helping kids achieve something worthwhile, which is laudable.

    Reality Programmes are also the cheapest form of TV available, which is why it’s so popular at the moment.

  • shane159357

    what time is punk’d on in the UK?
    I think is really cool, but i dont know what time is on in the UK.

  • Charlie

    Just saw this show re-broadcast today. Wasn’t aware how old it was. It seems MTV is really scraping the bottom of their programming barrel to fill airtime. Hey MTV, here’s a thought. Instead of filling timeslots with 5 year old reality vignettes, why not show music videos of current artists? Wow, what a concept. A cable outlet that plays videos of current an up-and-coming musical acts – oh, wait – that was already done by MTV back in the ’80s and ’90s – oh wait again – you ARE MTV! Aren’t you?

    OK, enough ranting about what MTV once was and what it has evolved into. My whole point to posting this was to point out some blatant factual errors by the original author. First, and foremost, the name of the peson featured in this episode was Brandon, not Jordan. Where did you come up with that? It made me wonder about the validity of your entire “review” since you obviously don’t have the attention span or comprehension to at least get the guy’s name correct after watching an hour long show in which his name is uttered no less than 100 times!

    Reading on, you said “I couldn’t believe that MTV would air a programme in which they were willing to demean a kid for entertainment.” as if an MTV camera crew just happened upon this overweight gay kid in suburban Ohio and decided to follow him around with tape rolling. These people WANT to be on MTV. They send audition tapes to the producers. Go to YouTube and search “MTV Made Auditon” and you’ll see dozens of them. These people know what they’re getting into and even if there is some manipulation in post-production that’s the price they were willing to pay for their 15 minutes (well, OK, one hour) of fame. I’m sure even if a featured person on MTV’s “Made” had issues with how they were ultimately portrayed there would be no recourse because of the release they signed.

    “I find it incredible that a television company that targets teens and young adults has presented such a negative message to its viewers. Jordan’s crabbiness and resistance spoke volumes about his character and internal issues, and we didn’t require a voice-over pointing out the deficiencies that were plain to see. What’s disturbing is that at no point was there any heartfelt congratulations of Jordan when he did succeed.” Again, this speaks to you total lack of attention that was paid to this show. Did you not realize the “voiceover/commentator” you refer to in your review was Brandon (Jordan) himself? I’m sure much of it was scripted, but I doubt he would record commentary about himself that was demeaning or self-depricating. In the end, he was heartily congratulated for his efforts both by his coaches and friends. Did you even watch the entire program? After the triathalon they were all in the tent to greet and praise him. There were so many hugs being given out the poor kid could hardly drink his cup of water!

    In the end, I think you should reserve posting “reviews” of programs you have actually watched from beginning to end.

  • john

    Making fun of Americans is hilarious! I love the british version of MTV made!