When MTV goes virtually dark for more than 17 hours beginning tomorrow night, it will be due to two very different young men from middle America...
This excerpt is from an article published in the Boston Globe.
By Renee Graham, Globe Staff
When MTV goes virtually dark for more than 17 hours beginning tomorrow night, it will be due to two very different young men from middle America.
One is Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student robbed, beaten, lashed to a fence, and left to die on a Laramie prairie in October 1998. Shepard was targeted because he was gay, and his death outraged millions and galvanized attention on intolerance and hate crimes in America.
The other is Eminem, the Detroit rapper who despite toxic lyrics espousing homophobia and misogyny, has become -- with a healthy assist from MTV -- the best-selling hip-hop artist around today.
Those disparate images lie at the heart of MTV's yearlong ''Fight For Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Discrimination'' campaign, which begins tomorrow at 8 p.m. with ''Anatomy of a Hate Crime,'' an MTV original film about the events leading up to Shepard's murder. The 90-minute film stars Cy Carter as Shepard and Brendan Fletcher and Ian Somerhalder as Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, respectively, the menconvicted in Shepard's murder. It will be followed by a half-hour discussion, led by MTV newsman John Norris, with some of Shepard's friends and members of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) about the effects of discrimination on today's youth.
Then, for the first time in its nearly 20-year history, MTV will forego regular programming and commercials from 10 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Instead, the cable network will run a continuous scroll, featuring several hundred names of those who have lost their lives since the early 1990s due to ignorance and bigotry. The scroll will run in its entirety six times. During those hours, MTV will lose about $2 million in ad revenue, said Brian Graden, president of programming.
According to a recent MTV survey, 90 percent of young adults believe discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, religion, or gender is a serious problem. Yet, less than 5 percent admitted to having their own biases.
''Through MTV's unique connection to our audience,'' Graden said, "we want to provide young adults clear ways to identify and stop discrimination in themselves and in their communities.''
Though MTV has been involved with social activism before, most notably with its ongoing ''Rock the Vote'' and last year's ''Fight for Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Violence'' campaigns, this effort is particularly intriguing. After all, it was MTV that first introduced Eminem to the mainstream in February 1999 when it began airing the rapper's breakthrough video, ''My Name Is.'' Since then, his face has been as ubiquitous on the station as Britney Spears or 'N Sync. MTV was instrumental in launching his latest album, ''The Marshall Mathers LP'' last May, with Eminem given numerous high-profile opportunities to promote the album, including a performance on its 2000 Video Music Awards show.
All this happened despite increasing dissension from those disturbed by Eminem's verbal assaults on women (especially his wife and mother) and gays and lesbians.
Last September, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination (GLAAD) waged anti-Eminem protests outside the music awards show. ''For this kind of language to be put out there without any sense of responsibility on Eminem's part -- or on MTV's part -- is not something GLAAD can ignore,'' said Cathy Renna, a spokeswoman for the organization, at the time of the protests. ''We are disappointed that [MTV] continues to support him as heavily as they do.''
To counterbalance Eminem's video awards appearance, the station aired a public service announcement, featuring Judy Shepard, Matthew's mother, in a spot sponsored by GLSEN. But it seemed small consolation compared to the amount of exposure MTV has given Eminem in the past two years.
Now, Graden said that while MTV will still air Eminem videos which meet the network's standards, they have backed away from inviting the rapper to participate in its events since he was no longer ''an artist we wanted to get behind.''
''We began to feel in 2000 there was a particular shift happening and a lot of pop culture was beginning to cross the line in a way that was dangerous,'' he said. ''Can we protect the audience from everything? Probably not. But what we can do is get them to at least think about what they see and what the impact may be.''
Could the network have made an even greater impact in scheduling its virtual blackout had its most popular shows like ''Total Request Live,'' which airs at 4 p.m., been pre-empted? Certainly. MTV's core audience isn't tuned in at 3 a.m. or 1 p.m.
Still, for any network, especially one geared toward young people, to reconsider its social responsibilities in such a dramatic way, is extraordinary -- and long overdue. After fanning the flames of Eminem's success, MTV should be commended for at last acting to douse the age-old fires of hate.
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