[This article contains highlights from an interview with MTV Chairman and CEO, Bill Roedy to Al Jazeera television, broadcast April 5, 2008. Throughout the film, he reveals the political nature of MTV, which reaches youth in 162 countries in 32 languages. Roedy is a former army ranger, involved in overseeing nuclear bases.]
If you think the culture creation industry exists solely to make money, perhaps this comment by Bill Roedy will change your mind. Asked why he left the military to pioneer MTV, he replied, ‘I realised there was more influence and power with television than with weapons.’
Odd. The goal of warfare isn’t to titillate our senses; rather it is the annihilation of all opposition.
Bill’s military background is significant because there is no record of him making a plausible transition from the military to television. After leaving as a decorated soldier, he moves straight to the top of MTV. From the onset he was using the channel to make a political impact. He speaks about the fall of the Berlin wall:
‘I joined in Late 88 or 89 and there was tremendous sea change of political events happening in Eastern Europe culminating with the wall coming down in East Berlin. …We were actually distributing in Eastern Europe [as] these changes were happening… I was invited to give a speech in East Berlin about East meets West and it just happened to be the same week the wall came down and we were going to a reception with the politburo attending and great celebration and they didn’t attend. They all resigned and that was 24 hours of when we hooked up MTV and we had this great picture of East German soldiers on the wall with an MTV umbrella.’
You were a NATO soldier but you ended up standing on the wall while it was being torn down. (Little smile) ‘Yes there’s tremendous irony in that…I’ve had these privileges of being in Eastern Europe with NATO at one point and then fast-forward twenty years later with television.’
When asked why he was attracted to television Bill again makes no mention of business motives.
What made you gravitate towards MTV which was a very young channel at the time? It was disruptive technology, …what made you think you had a career there?
‘Well, I always loved television. The power of television, the power to reach mass groups of people and then if you do it right, connect.’
What is this power? He gives us the answer when explaining how music is vital in the creation of a global culture,
‘Music can be a unifying force, it can be a vehicle for cultural exchange, it brings people together and it also elicits an emotional response that sometimes is stronger than political leadership, even religious leadership.’
The natural target is the young, who once mesmerised and programmed by the music permanently change their culture. Bill is asked if the music he promotes is harmful,
‘I think music by definition because it relates so strongly to young people is a little bit irreverent and therefore adults feel often unsettled with it. But I think the interesting thing about Rock ‘N’ Roll when it started it was very much that and people said ‘O my gosh!’ and obviously it seems very tame by today’s standards, but the young people growing up then have kept music in their lives more than that generation.’
MTV changes indigenous cultures by localizing their channels. During the interview he repeatedly stresses the importance of localization:
‘The defining characteristic I believe of our culture at MTV Networks is to respect other cultures… 2 billion people worldwide tune into the channel and we have this vertical connection with them, we’re seen as a trusted voice.’
An example is MTV Indonesia: ‘…we’re very visible in the Islamic world now, we’ve been in Indonesia now for many years, we have call of prayer on the channel in Indonesia 5 times a day and we do a portrayal of Ramadan in a youthful way so we have fun with it but we respect it of course.’
And when you’ve created a gateway into some exotic land, what do you do? You start modifying the behaviour of the audience to suit political ends, say by promoting the perils of…
‘Climate change has the potential to affect the entire world. It’s reached a tipping point more quickly than aids, it took years it seemed for it to be even covered by the media but the public seems to be ahead of the politicians and institutions on climate change…
but behavioural change is a challenge, I always say small pieces, with a network like MTV with almost 2 billion people small behavioural change on a large group of people equals a big thing, so if everyone turns their lights out it’s equal to a big thing, so we can have an influence.’
From the sex and violence in MTV videos, there is also an agenda to make traditional values obsolete. Take a recent video by current superstar Lady Gaga called ‘Telephone,’ where almost naked girls beat and kiss each other in a lesbian prison. Are 12 year-olds demanding this as entertainment?
After viewing this pornography, sorry, music, and considering Roedy’s comments, we can conclude that mass entertainment is weaponized.
More on Bill Roedy “Music Can make the World a Better Place”
UK citizen, David Richards, 22, teaches English in Northern China.