MTV could soon be a fixture of Portland State. Viacom is interested in bringing its college-oriented cable network, mtvU, to our fair campus. The company would pay for the installation of plasma screen TVs all over campus to show the network, and the operating costs to run the network itself would be paid for by advertising revenue on the station.
MTV could soon be a fixture of Portland State.
Viacom is interested in bringing its college-oriented cable network, mtvU, to our fair campus. The company would pay for the installation of plasma screen TVs all over campus to show the network, and the operating costs to run the network itself would be paid for by advertising revenue on the station.
No decisions were made over what, if any, course of action to take with the network, and no timeline for a decision has been made.
While such a possibility is sudden and out of the blue (I didn’t even know mtvU existed), and likely to provoke knee-jerk reactions among some, a closer look at mtvU reveals that the question of their presence is stickier than it might seem.
MtvU is a 24-hour channel available on over 750 campuses in the country, broadcasting “an alternative to standard music television.” While the term “alternative” has typically been anything but for a while, I have to say that upon my perusal of the music pages on mtvU.com, I had no idea who most of the featured artists were (an unbelievably creepy and mustachioed Dave Grohl notwithstanding).
MtvU claims to focus on up-and-coming artists and provide original programs for and by college students, such as The Freshmen, a show that features three rotating student panelists discussing music videos. Another popular (and intriguing) program is Stand-In, which films celebrities, from author and political activist Elie Wiesel, to rocker Marilyn Manson, teaching in a college classroom for a day.
Furthering their commitment to the academic, mtvU has a joint fellowship with the Fulbright scholarship program to “promote the power of music as a global force for mutual understanding,” according to their website. The winners of the fellowship “conduct research abroad for one academic year on study projects of their own design around an aspect of international musical culture.” Other features of the network, such as student film contests and regular spotlights on varied campus music scenes, seem to underline that this isn’t Total Request Live.
MtvU also pushes a large activism component, perhaps most notably the “Ecomagination Challenge,” which invites applicants to draw up plans to make their campus more environmentally friendly. The winner’s school gets a $25,000 grant to help put the plan into action.
Another welcoming aspect of mtvU, interestingly enough, is queer advocacy. This month, mtvU announced they have teamed up with HowDoISayThis.com, a site aimed at counseling students on coming out, to produce an original series for mtvU called How Do I Say This? I’m Gay. MtvU has also teamed up with the Point Foundation to provide two $10,000 scholarships for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students (provided, of course, that they are from an “mtvU school”).
On the surface, this all sounds pretty bitchin’. Yet, I can’t help but be a little cynical.
Kate Mahoney, mtvU’s affiliate relations manager, has admitted she has “encountered negative reactions at Oregon campuses,” though she claims that mtvU “outweigh[s] ads with general opportunities for students.”
MtvU also claims that they give airtime to each campus for individual advertising or announcements. However, at Rice University, which just agreed to take on mtvU last month, the Rice student newspaper The Rice Thresher reported that said student time is limited to just 15 to 20 seconds per hour.
Also, mtvU requires that its televisions be kept on at a normal listening volume in common areas during all open hours. Where exactly these televisions would be on campus, and how many, is yet unknown. One also wonders how long PSU’s initial contract would be with mtvU. I doubt they would be paying for plasma televisions if they were not sure they’d be here for a while.
MtvU has the appearance of a progressive entity with a genuine lineup of programs to offer students, yet we can’t forget that at the end of the day, all corporations answer to their interests, not ours.
It begs difficult questions, such as: How much influence, if any, do we want a corporate giant to have here at PSU? Are we willing to turn down such an entity that would cost us nothing, for an aversion to the corporate aesthetic? What kind of school do we really want to be?
These questions are not rhetorical. All concerned students should think about them, and so should student government if and when they come to a decision about mtvU’s offer. The implications it will have for Portland State reach far beyond Dave Grohl’s mustache.