Cultural approaches to the rhetorical analysis of selected music videos.
The rhetorical acts of a society, particularly those conveyed by popular or mass media, are the social record of its culture. Music has long been recognized as a form of popular culture with a certain potency for communicating rhetorically (Denisoff, 1971; 1972 and Rybacki & Rybacki, 1991). The two authors of this essay are of a generation described as "raised on the radio." Our sense of message in music takes us in an aural more often than a visual direction. Eleven years ago, the manner in which popular music was experienced changed as video became a staple for the "MTV-generation."
At first a not-so-subtle way of stimulating record sales, music videos are now a communication genre in their own right and a potent source of ideas for a new generation. Beyond its genesis as a promotional tool, music video has become more than an adjunct of marketing for the music industry. Pat Aufderheide (1986) recommends that despite its commercialism, music video merits serious consideration:
"it is particularly important because it is in the vanguard of reshaping the language of advertising--the dominant vocabulary of commercial culture--in a society that depends on an open flow of information to determine the quality of its political and public life. Consideration of music video's form also implies questions about the emerging shape of the democratic and capitalist society that creates and receives it."(p. 59)
Important to the dissemination of music video has been the rise of MTV, a narrow-cast cable channel aimed at the 18-34 year old demographic segment of music consumers. MTV redesigned and delivered rock to a TV generation that replaced the use of the radio as the medium for rock. As David Szatmary (1991) suggests, the MTV generation has no personal recollection of Elvis, the Beatles, Vietnam and seeks its own musical identity apart from us baby boomers. "In the 1980s, MTV designed and delivered rock to the TV generation" (p. 250). MTV plays a central role in the shaping of culture as D.S. Miller (cited in Abt, 1987) indicates:
"While the MTV format performs a "bardic" function of converging before its audience an array of possible (competing) youth subcultures and lifestyle options, at the same time it negotiates these subcultures and channels any reflective or participatory energy on the part of the audience into the act of consumerism. In this sense MTV functions as a negotiator in the hegemonic process by amplifying and absorbing elements of oppositional culture, while ultimately legitimizing and naturalizing their relationship to the dominant institutions of a consumer society." (p. 103)
MTV's "bardic function" as such a negotiator produces what Aufderheide views as a response to the generational search for identity of those "raised on the video."
"Music videos are authentic expressions of a populist industrial society. For young people struggling to find a place in communities dotted with shopping malls but with few community centers, in an economy whose major product is information, music videos play to the search for identity and an improvised community." (p. 63)