WELCOME TO THE fantasy world of an adolescent boy:
Young, pretty, scantily clad women are dancing and wriggling. The young man is invited to watch. These women desire no conversation. They just desire him. These are not people with thoughts or feelings or personalities or ideas. These women are just bodies. They are less than human - just objects, really - but they don't mind. They are happy to be half-naked. Happy to be watched. Happy to be touched.His fantasy world is a pleasant, easy place to live. Because it feels good, it is the world that advertisers and makers of music videos seek to portray. This world sells jeans and it sells CDs. But it is not the real world.
In the real world, relationships are more complex. Humans are more than just the sum of their body parts. People, in general, don't want to be touched by strangers.
What effect does this other view of life, the view of life presented on MTV, ultimately have on the teenagers who watch it for several hours a day? Psychologist Dennis Ahern is going to take on this subject at the fourth annual Utah Conference on Violence to be held Sept. 13 and 14 at Utah State University in Logan. Ahern, who works at the McKay-Dee Center for Counseling, will be showing a video called "Dream Worlds," then leading a discussion about the dream world of MTV.
"Dream Worlds" is a product of the Media Education Foundation of Northampton, Mass. Executive director of Media Education is Sut Jhally, and the board of advisers includes feminists such as Naomi Wolfe and Susan Faludi.
"Dream Worlds" is a collection of clips from various rock music videos, intercut with a violent gang-rape scene from the movie "The Accused," all overlaid with the voice of a male narrator explaining that this is the world of an adolescent fantasy: This is a world in which women are nothing more than body parts. A world in which women are objects, waiting to be consumed. Just like the world in which a rapist lives.
"Dream Worlds" makes the point that there is little explicit violence against women on MTV. Still, it is the producer's premise that the objectification of women leads to violence against them.
But the subject is a bit more complicated than "Dream Worlds" would have us believe, says psychologist Ahern. Certainly the perpetrators he's known do think of their victims as objects. Certainly women are objects on MTV all too often for his tastes.
But we all objectify the people we love to some degree, sometimes, and he's not sure about the cause-and-effect link "Dream Worlds" proposes.
In a conversation with the Deseret News, Ahern talked about the old "beach blanket" movies that teenagers of the last generation loved. In those movies, scantily clad women frolicked on the beach while the young men surfed. The boys did things; the girls were just bodies.
Women were objects before MTV, and they are objects in other places besides MTV, says Ahern.
Ahern says he was surprised when he moved back to Utah, after having lived in other parts of the United States for several years, to see how many little girls are cheerleading for boys' Little League sports. Maybe that's not exactly objectification, says Ahern, but it is an example of girls standing on the sidelines while boys do the important stuff.
At the violence conference, Ahern says, he is interested in talking about subtleties. He would like to talk about objectification within a marriage: How when there is a lot of stress, it seems easier to stop thinking of the other person as a person, and start thinking of our spouse as an object we own.
While he's interested in expanding the discussion of objectification beyond "Dream Worlds," he does think viewing this video is a good place to start. He wishes all teenagers would watch "Dream Worlds" and begin to think about whether the world of MTV is really the place they want to live.
We tried watching "Dream Worlds" with two 16-year-olds, a boy and a girl. They start snorting with disgust after a few minutes. They both believe "Dream Worlds" is too heavy-handed to be taken seriously.
They are quick to point out that the narrator calls Rod Stewart "The King of Sleaze" and says another rock star has no talent. They are quick to say the narrator has an anti-rock agenda. "I like these songs," they say. They hasten to come to the defense of MTV.
The way they come to the defense of their favorite art form is not to say that it is harmless, but to say, "It's not just on MTV that you see this kind of stuff. You see this everywhere."
They are quick to say, "This is the real world."