From 1981 to roughly 2000, MTV became a cultural institution known for its often-controversial promotion of diverse perspectives through its videos and programming. Consequently, an unprecedented number of musics representing cultures marginalized by race, gender, and/or sexuality, received exposure to mainstream audiences. In these two decades where conservative Reagan-era politics and financial growth gave way to post-industrial unemployment and Clinton-era scandal, MTV programming became a catalyst at various stages for social movements and conversations that proved important to the lived experiences of the nation’s youth.
In this course, students analyze a variety of primary sources—including videos, images, films, albums, interviews, trade press, and television programming—that address the nature and limits of these texts. Students encounter historical texts and critical theory from a variety of disciplines that include musicology and studies of the music industry, film, sociology, gender and sexuality, religion, and race. Students also learn rudimentary musical and video analysis and to formulate, advance, and properly document historical arguments about the texts they study.
Each student has choosen a “classic” music video that appeared on MTV during its heyday (roughly 1981-2000) and traced the influences of its performers, music, visuals, and/or politics to a video in the present day (within the last 5-7 years). Their pages combine academic research with musical and visual analysis to reveal the effects (and affects) of specific historical, social, and political agendas conveyed by MTV artists and their musical successors.