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MTV Generation

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The MTV Generation refers to the adolescents and young adults of the 1980s to 1990s, a time when many were influenced by the television channel MTV, which launched in 1981.[1] The term is not to be confused with Generation X (as the network were targeting post-Millennials, or "Founders" as they're called, after years of declining ratings).[2][3][4][5] The development of MTV "had an immediate impact on popular music, visual style, and culture".[6] Through this impact, MTV has shaped the MTV Generation and a new "cultural force".[7]

History and background[edit]

The origin of the phrase has been attributed to the MTV Network itself "to describe the teenagers that dominate their ratings".[8]

The phrase came into general use more than two years after the cable network's 1981 debut. One observer notes that "By 1984, MTV was reaching 1.2 percent of the daily television audience, and more than a quarter of daily teen viewers. Children of the eighties would henceforth be known as 'the MTV Generation.'"[9] As early as its October 13, 1984 issue, Billboard was using the term in reference to musical preferences.[10] The phrase was later expanded to include the purchasing choices of a generation of consumers, with the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency describing the demographic in a 1985 presentation entitled "The New American Consumers", with one business columnist noting that "We baby boomers are raising what J. Walter calls the MTV Generation and these 12 to 19 year olds are unbelievably affluent..."[11] Bret Easton Ellis was called the "voice of the MTV generation" as early as 1985, after the publication of his first novel, Less than Zero.[12][13]

MTV broadcast a documentary titled MTV Generation in 1991.[14] Reviewing it, the New York Times described the group as "young adults struggling to establish a cultural niche for themselves, something that will distinguish them from the hippies and baby boomers and yuppies of times past." The documentary depicts the MTV Generation as characterised by cynicism, uncertainty, and an ability to process information quickly, and focusing on diversions and retro interests.[15][16] One article denotes how difficult teaching the MTV generation came to be and that during that time "today’s students have short attention spans, lower literacy rates than previous generations, and bore easily. They don’t hesitate to show their apathy and their looks, style, and age can be intimidating".[17] The MTV Generation was not afraid to demonstrate their newfound attitudes and characteristics.

"Much has been written about the so-called "baby buster" generation—the fairly anonymous group of 20ish young adults struggling to separate themselves from the shadow of the baby boomers ... The group's newest moniker, "the MTV generation," might be the most accurate description yet. For while much has been made about the generation's lack of a single unifying theme or experience, its members seem to have one thing in common: music videos."[15]

In 1991, author Douglas Coupland said of the label: "MTV would like to have us believe that everyone in their 20s is the MTV Generation. That's like going through life with a big product placement tattooed on your head, as if they're the only cultural influence on the entire planet." Coupland also said MTV had a mostly positive and profound impact on his generation. In 1991 he stated, "I was in Europe last summer and MTV is everywhere. It's in the bars, in the homes, in the coffee shops. I didn't realize how completely global it was and what it has done to homogenize youth culture."[15]

In addition to defining themselves within their own generational terms, the MTV Generation also inhabited some negative connotations and depictions. The MTV Generation did not see the harm in what was being expressed to them on television and what they believed to be "just entertainment"[18] was soon to be believed to be too mature for their generation.[18] As John Chapin denotes, "like most media innovations, critics soon warned of deleterious effects on unsuspecting youthful consumers: shortened attention spans and sexual recklessness. The network quickly began censoring videos for sexual content".[18] With raunchy music videos by artists like Madonna and explicit television shows like Jackass,[18] "MTV appears to be responding to the challenge by banning violent music videos and producing original news segments and documentaries addressing teen issues".[18]

The MTV generation also created new global economic trends and practices.[6] As writer Steve Jones states, "in an era of globalization, when local and regional cultures are unsettled, fluid, and challenged by global culture, it is not surprising that multinational advertisers and marketers would seize upon a youth-oriented global brand such as MTV".[6] The MTV generation equipped global industries to be able to fully adapt their marketing practices in order to successfully reach the MTV Generation that was media and television obsessed.[6] MTV is still successful at achieving customer success and influence with the MTV Generation and with future generations as well. "A quarter century later, the underdog venture known as MTV has expanded to become a branded space for visualized music, reality shows, and lifestyle programming – heavily influencing consumer choices all the while".[7]

MTV Generation Award[edit]

In 2005, MTV began honoring prominent actors of the generation with the MTV Generation Award.[19][20] Honorees include:

Year Image Recipient Nationality Notes Ref.
2005 Tom Cruise United States Presented by Katie Holmes. Inaugural honoree.
2006 Jim Carrey Canada
United States
Presented by Will Ferrell.
2007 Mike Myers Canada
United Kingdom
United States
Presented by Cameron Diaz.
2008 Adam Sandler United States Presented by Tom Cruise. First honoree to have award presented by a past honoree.
2009 Ben Stiller United States Presented by Kiefer Sutherland, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and Zac Efron.
2010 Sandra Bullock United States Presented by Betty White, Bradley Cooper, and Scarlett Johansson. First woman to receive the honor.
2011 Reese Witherspoon United States Presented by Patrick Dempsey, Robert Pattinson, and Chelsea Handler.
2012 Johnny Depp United States Presented by Joe Perry and Steven Tyler.
2013 Jamie Foxx United States Presented by Kerry Washington. First African American to receive the honor.
2014 Mark Wahlberg United States Presented by Adrian Grenier, Jerry Ferrara, and Kevin Dillon.
2015 Robert Downey Jr. United States Presented by Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, and Jeremy Renner.
2016 Will Smith United States Presented by Queen Latifah and Halle Berry. [21]
2017 The Fast and the Furious franchise Presented by Gal Gadot. First film franchise to receive the honor. During the acceptance speech, Vin Diesel paid tribute to the late Paul Walker.
2018 Chris Pratt United States Presented by Bryce Dallas Howard and Aubrey Plaza.
2019 Dwayne Johnson United States Presented by Zachary Levi.
2021 Scarlett Johansson United States Presented by Billy Porter. Johansson accepted the award by video message. Johansson previously co-presented the award in 2010 and 2015.
2022 Jennifer Lopez United States Presented by Vanessa Hudgens. Lopez was previously the recipient of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards, becoming the first entertainer to receive both honors from MTV. First ethnic Latin entertainer to receive the honor.


  1. ^ The 2020 award ceremony was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1995 animated film A Goofy Movie, Pete (voiced by Jim Cummings) calls Goofy's time in the spa as "taking a break from the MTV Generation" (referring to the latter's son Max).[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The term has been used by many media sources of the later 20th and early 21st centuries to refer to the youth of the day. Find here a selection.
    • "Colin Powell Joins MTV Generation". People Magazine. 2002.
    • "Obama Unplugged – Obama Talks With the MTV Generation". ABC. 2007.
    • Kolbert, Elizabeth (20 April 1994). "Frank Talk by Clinton To MTV Generation". New York Times.
    • "MTV: Rewinding 20 years of music revolution". CNN. 1 August 2001.
    • "MTV generation learns through fun". The Times. 2008.
    • "MTV Generation Takes on Social Security". Fox News. 2005.
  2. ^ "The MetLife Study of Gen X: The MTV Generation Moves into Mid-Life" (PDF). MetLife. April 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 December 2019. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  3. ^ Raphelson, Samantha (6 October 2014). "From GIs To Gen Z (Or Is It iGen?): How Generations Get Nicknames". NPR. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  4. ^ "MTV Study Shows Varying Attitudes Within Millennial Generation". adweek. Retrieved 2015-02-11.
  5. ^ MTV to Call Post-Millennials the Founders|TIME
  6. ^ a b c d Jones, Steve (2005-03-01). "MTV: The Medium was the Message". Critical Studies in Media Communication. 22 (1): 83–88. doi:10.1080/0739318042000333734. ISSN 1529-5036. S2CID 15589063.
  7. ^ a b Ovalle, Priscilla (2008-11-01). "Urban sensualidad: Jennifer Lopez, Flashdance and the MTV hip-hop re-generation". Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. 18 (3): 253–268. doi:10.1080/07407700802496009. ISSN 0740-770X. S2CID 192194845.
  8. ^ Brian Pauling, "Engaging the Digital Natives", in Terry Evans, et al., International Handbook of Distance Education (Emerald Group Publishing, 2008) p. 389
  9. ^ Steve Greenberg, "Where Is Graceland?: 1980s Pop Culture", in Gil Troy and Vincent J. Cannato, Living in the Eighties: Viewpoints on American Culture (Oxford University Press US, 2009) p159
  10. ^ "DeBurgh Drawing Teen Devotees", by Sam Sutherland, Billboard 10.13.1984, p. 51
  11. ^ "J. Walter puts out the word on baby boomers", Atlanta Constitution, September 27, 1985, pA-27
  12. ^ "The voice of the MTV Generation". Dallas News. 29 July 1985. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  13. ^ Picker, Lauren (14 August 1994). "TALKING WITH BRET EASTON ELLIS The Mark of Zero". Newsday. Long Island, N.Y. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  14. ^ MTV Generation|EW.com
  15. ^ a b c Lipton, Lauren (10 November 1991). "The Shaping of a Shapeless Generation: Does MTV Unify a Group Known Otherwise For its Sheer Diversity?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  16. ^ O'Connor, John J. (6 November 1991). "On MTV, Talking About the MTV Generation". New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  17. ^ Bobp, Maiy Ellen (1998-05-07). "Tips for Teaching the "MTV Generation"". College & Undergraduate Libraries. 5 (1): 91–94. doi:10.1300/J106v05n01_10. ISSN 1069-1316.
  18. ^ a b c d e Chapin, John (2005-09-01). "I want my FPP: Reversing third-person perception for the MTV generation". The Social Science Journal. 42 (3): 453–457. doi:10.1016/j.soscij.2005.06.004. ISSN 0362-3319. S2CID 143992088.
  19. ^ "Jamie Foxx to receive the MTV Generation Award at the 2013 MTV Movie Awards". UPROXX. 11 April 2013.
  20. ^ Lewis, Hillary (28 April 2017). "MTV Movie & TV Awards: 'Fast and Furious' Franchise to Receive Generation Prize". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  21. ^ "Will Smith Is Bringing His Big Willie Style To The 2016 MTV Movie Awards". MTV. 24 March 2016. Archived from the original on March 24, 2016.
  22. ^ A Goofy Movie (1995) - Jim Cummings as Pete - IMDb

External links[edit]