Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Multiculturalism, Diversity and Containment on Muchmusic (Canada) and MTV (Us)1

Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Multiculturalism, Diversity and Containment on Muchmusic (Canada) and MTV (Us)1

Article excerpt


Since MTV and MuchMusic were launched in 1981 and 1984 respectively, both stations have been commended for their racially diverse video repertoires. As Homi Bhabha has observed, however, "multicultural" practices that encourage diversity should also be examined for simultaneous modes of containment and control (Bhabha, "The Third Space," 208). This analysis of both stations' video programming and rotation schedules from late 1995 suggests that as they expanded their repertories they established unique, carefully controlled, nationally-inflected relationships between dominant and marginalized musical traditions. Using examples by Euro-American and African diasporic performers, I explore how multiculturalism appears to be "celebrated" on MuchMusic and MTV while Western and non-Western representations are negotiated such that ethnocentric norms, which pervade North American cultural media, are never contested.


Depuis leur lancement en 1981 et 1984 respectivement, MTV et MuchMusic ont reçu des critiques elogieuses pour leur répertoire vidéo diversifié quant à la représentation raciale. Toutefois, comme l'a fait remarquer Homi Bhabha, les pratiques « multiculturelles » qui favorisent la diversité devraient être examinées sous l'angle des modes simultanés de répression et de contrôle (Bhabha, « The Third Space », 208). La présente analyse de la programmation et des grilles horaires en rotation de ces deux stations depuis la fin de 1995 suggère qu'en élargissant leur répertoire, elles établissent des relations uniques, soigneusement contrôlées et à caractère national entre les traditions musicales dominantes et celles qui sont marginalisées. En utilisant les musiciens de la diaspora euro-américaine et africaine à titre d'exemple, l'article démontre comment MuchMusic et MTV semblent « célébrer » le multiculturalisme, alors que la représentation occidentale et non-occidentale est traitée de telle sorte qu'on ne trouve aucune contestation des normes ethnocentriques, lesquelles imprègnent les médias culturels nord-américains.

For MTV, the existence of a culture of the mass is deeply problematic, since it questions the fundamental mode of its distribution and consumption. The domestic, rather than the mass, is the given on which MTV predicates its signification as well as its business practices. Its racism is not a simple prejudice but a product of a struggle over the mode of circulation of meanings in the suburban, atomised and monopoly-dominated model of cultural formation. Sean Cubiti2

It's the format.


"Pluralistic" is not an adjective that applies easily to the early years of MTV. Accusations of exclusionary practices date back to 1983 when MTV was criticized explicitly for excluding black artists. As Carter Harris argues, while MTV claimed to be playing "anything that could be called rock 'n' roll" in its early years, few black artists actually were featured.4 Richard Gold similarly criticized MTV's imbalance when he stated in 1982 that "r&b artists in general continue to remain on the periphery of the music video revolution."5 Rolling Stone's 1983 statistics corroborated both authors' observations: during MTV's first 18 months, less than two dozen videos-of the 750 aired-featured black artists.6 As a defense to these accusations MTV argued that black artists' music did not suit the desired format, meaning that white authences would not enjoy this music. As Bob Pittman, founder of MTV stated: "we turned down Rick James because the consumer didn't define him as rock."7 Les Garland, an MTV executive during the early 1980s, argued alongside Pittman for the merits of a narrower repertoire: "You cannot be all things to all people. You cannot play jazz and country music and funk. You lose your focus."8

As the now famous sequence of events goes, pressure continued to mount on the station to air more black artists; following David Bowie's 1983 interview with VJ Mark Goodman during which the marginali zation of black artists on MTV and the success of Michael Jackson's Thriller was raised,9 the "racial barrier" was chipped away to the extent that black artists were aired more frequently. …

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