One Hour of MTV

There is something different about this present generation of teenagers and I've been trying to figure it out. I used to think I could relate to them by remembering what things were like when I was in high school. No longer. These kids are living in a different world, coming from a place that I never knew existed.

   It's not necessary to be a sociologist to realize this. Popular music has always been a fairly accurate test of a generation's values. Now, with the aid of music video, we can get a cultural reading very quickly.

   One hour of MTV can teach us a lot about our teenage generation.

   The first thing I notice is the absence of a generation gap mentality. There's nothing unusual about seeing musicians over forty playing alongside teenagers. Paul McCartney sings with Michael Jackson. Elton John is "still standing." Cyndi Lauper's parents appear in two of her videos and her mother is treated with touching love and respect in "Time after Time." Thomas Dolby's father plays a major role in "Hyperactive."

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   Believe me, things have changed. Can you imagine Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1972 on the front lawn, surrounded by their smiling moms and dads?

   The second thing I notice is the absence of "cool." You can be anything you want and still be accepted. Bobby-sox fifties, hippie-radical sixties, cool-down seventies, punk, square, leather, three-piece-suit businessman, or even Christian are all in. It doesn't matter; anything goes — as long as it hits the senses and makes some kind of impact.,

   That leads to the third, and what I feel is the most important, observation of youth culture today: For all intents and purposes, this is an amoral generation.

   My generation grew up with a sense of right and wrong, good and evil. Our parents may not have remembered why they did it, but they held to the traditions with which they had been raised. However, it wasn't long before we discovered that those traditions were built on a traditional Christian faith that had eroded away. With the foundation gone, we found the building was a pushover.

   Oddly enough, my generation is now rebuilding the very structures we destroyed — not out of any revival of faith, but merely out of the need for survival through the preservation of order and sanity. The social pendulum has swung far back to the right, but teenagers who grew up during its arc to and from the left are still feeling the consequences of that leftward swing. They were raised in a moral vacuum.

   This is an essential insight for those who are communicating to youth today. According to many conservative evangelicals, today's youth are pitifully trapped in Satan's grip. Their approach to contemporary youth culture is to carry a rocket launcher and blow everything away.

   But amoral isn't necessarily immoral. Evil is unquestionably present. An hour of MTV will most likely offer a self-glorifying, masochistic song by Billy Idol or the sexually violent Innuendos of Ratt. But that hour will also contain a positive celebration of life by Howard Jones or an inspiring encouragement to run the race and "you will surely cross the line" from Manfred Mann's Earth Band. There most certainly will be at least one statement an hour against the evils of war and, perhaps, a warning like "Don't pay the ferryman 'till he gets you to the other side" (Chris DeBurgh).

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   Let's face it: Satan not only has to fight God and the forces of light, but he also has to fight common sense as well. These kids are not dumb; in fact, some of them are figuring out a lot for themselves. Some have taken a long look at the gates of hell and decided they aren't interested.

   I saw a video by Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul titled "Out of the Darkness." The looks on the musicians' faces told me they had seen enough. They were imploring everyone to reach out . . . take a hand . . . make a stand . . . come out of the darkness.

   A surprising number of positive songs right now have a fresh, innocent appeal — almost as if the writers and singers had just discovered goodness. Perhaps they have . . . for themselves. There's definitely a new fascination with morality in our culture. We only have to read a few reviews of the Star Wars trilogy to get the impression that George Lucas invented good and evil. If this generation thinks he has, it's because young people haven't found it painted clearly anywhere else.

   That's why we need to bring them the truth of Jesus Christ. They're ready and hungry, but we don't need rocket launchers. We don't need to be cool or beat around the bush. All these are unnecessary methods. Thank God! We can finally say goodbye to religious surveys, "I Found It!" campaigns, and youth group burger bashes.

   Teenagers today are as open to those who carry the message of God as they are to the messengers of Satan. The only question is, who will reach them first?

Chapter 48  ||  Table of Contents