Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

Sex Appeal and Cultural Liberty: A Feminist Inquiry into MTV India

Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

Sex Appeal and Cultural Liberty: A Feminist Inquiry into MTV India

Article excerpt

This essay discusses findings from an ethnographic study of MTV India. After a brief feminist analysis of MTV India's content, the main body of the essay illustrates how MTV India programming is understood to affirm the primacy of the local and is perceived to provide an empowering "space" for young, middle-class women. To understand this perspective requires a consideration of the historical role women played in traditional versions of Indian nationalism and the ideological constraints they face today. A coda situates the findings of the study in terms of the broader effects of globalization.

Our study is based on interviews with feminist media professionals, feminist scholars and activists, members of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), and television producers in Delhi and Mumbai. Please see the full list of interviews that follows the essay. Also included in this study is a female student discussion group at Saint Xavier's College in Mumbai, led by lecturer Shilpa Phadke.

The study also incorporates textual analysis of selected programming, as well as results from two qualitative surveys with women students at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi and Saint Xavier's College in Mumbai. An initial survey, distributed and collected by college teachers at JNU and St. Xavier's, ascertained that the thirty-five women were from Indian middle-class families. We aimed our questions at the students' lifestyles. Questions ranged from queries about favorite music and clothes, role models, and whether students worried about their weight to questions that elicited responses about future careers and marriage. A section on television asked the students questions about their favorite shows, television role models, and their perceptions of images on television, including questions specifically concerning their sentiments about images on MTV India. Additional questions sought their ideas about influences on women by a variety of media (for example, magazines, film, newspapers, television). Participant observation took place in the MTV-India studio and in public spaces frequented by "the MTV generation." This latter method produced conversations with young women throughout our fieldwork, which we recorded in daily field notes and which, of course, informed our thinking. Unless otherwise specified, the word "informants" used throughout this essay refers to all of the groups described above. Our findings reflect those situations where there were overwhelming majorities of opinion with regard to specific questions. The aim of our research is to provide a transnational, feminist perspective on how young, middle-class Indian women might negotiate global television programming.

The original intention behind our case study of MTV India was to look at television images that might register to the viewer as "Western" and examine how they function in an Indian context. Our research, however, revealed that MTV India programming had been largely indigenized or "Indianized" so that MTV could stay afloat in the robust Indian television market. Furthermore, findings pointed to the emergence of a new form of cultural nationalism, seen in the "indigenization" of global media. This essay explores some of the implications of this new nationalism from a gender perspective.

Owned by Viacom in New York, MTV was launched in the United States in 1981 as a twenty-four-hour cable program service presenting a continuous flow of music videos that featured pop and rock songs. (1) MTV tried to distinguish itself from other channels by being unconventional. With hosts making on-air mistakes on messy sets and under poor lighting, programming came across as spontaneous and casual. (2) Vee-jays, or VJs, MTV's on-air announcers, are pivotal to providing the desired image of hip irreverence and relaxed informality. (3) MTV invented the self-contained music clip, something that has become entrenched in Western popular culture. …

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