[16 July 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Coming to Wherever You Are: Muchmusic, MTV and Youth Identities is purported to be a cross-cultural look at music television. Kip Pegley, an associate professor at Queen’s University School of Music in Ontario sets out to compare and contrast the US-based MTV music channel (and its affiliates worldwide) with Toronto’s MuchMusic and its international stations.
Pegley asserts that Canada has long resisted MTV as a primary music video channel (although there is an MTV Canada affiliate) both because of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) policies prohibiting new stations that replicate existing channels’ content, and because MuchMusic is viewed as addressing its audience as distinctly Canadian by providing cultural content reflecting a distinctly Canadian aesthetic.
But are the two representations of popular culture really so very different? Pegley aims to answer this through a comparative study of each station’s musical programming and non-musical branding. She also examines how each relates to issues and perceptions of gender and nationality, racial diversity, and an overall sense of cultural identity.
Early in the book, Pegley outlines the purposes and parameters of this study. She intended to study the broader identities of MuchMusic and MTV, and their respective audiences, as well as specific content, including ads, rotation schedules, program titles, hosts and VJs, and music videos. For the purposes of comparing the music video content, Pegley chose to sample playlists for the week of 4-11 November 1995. (This week was chosen because it fell between the “important” events of Halloween and American Thanksgiving. Why these events were deemed so important is unclear.) The study parameters included musical genre (genre designations were based on the song’s sonic qualities, the video’s visual style, and the relationship between performer and audience as depicted in the video); the gender, race, and nationality of the performer; the performance force, language of lyrics, quantity of lyrics, and the film qualities of the video itself, among others.
Pegley then devotes a chapter to each of the above-mentioned issues. Chapter two, titled, “It’s All Just Fluffy White Clouds”: The Extra-Musical Imagined Communities is an overview of each channel’s entire televised content. Chapter three, “Simple Economics”: Images of Gender and Nationality explores the connections between woman, instrumentation, and expressions of nationality by comparing the difference in instrumental performances by women. Pegley asserts that, during the sample week, two markedly different coherent subgroups—the female Euro-American and the female Euro-Canadian—were presented, and that these two groups represented and reinforced separate national narratives (videos informing this assertion included those by Hole, Smashing Pumpkins, and Alanis Morissette).
Chapter four Multiculturalism, Diversity and Containment is perhaps the most interesting because it addresses the subject in a more in-depth manner than other chapters. It explores how each station expanded and changed, from the 1980s into the 1990s, in relation to the concepts of multiculturalism and ethnocentricity. This section provides detailed discussion on the underrepresentation and marginalization of black artists on both channels, and how the issue has, or hasn’t, been addressed over the years. (For instance, consider the change from MTV’s early claims that these artists weren’t picked up because of the perception that a white audience wouldn’t think of them as “rock”, to Yo! MTV Raps.) It is suggested that MuchMusic isn’t criticized for racial marginalization perhaps because it has received less attention overall, but also perhaps as a result of the CRTC’s early cultural inclusion policies.
Pegley follows this section with MuchMusic and MTV: The Finnish Context, which presents each station’s international marketing strategies, analyzing how such strategies reshape the local markets and music scenes as well as viewers’ attitudes toward their environment. Pegley cites a case study in Finland, where MTV Nordic and Jyrki (a MuchMusic brand and format airing in an after-school time-slot) were direct competition. She discusses how both the local and global tensions in video music production, dissemination, and consumption caused cultural fluctuations which had measurable effects on the Finnish youth population of the period. The ramifications of this are unclear. However, it’s still an interesting look at how each of these—by now accepted as entirely divergent—entities operates and wields influence in an international setting.
The concluding chapter essentially reiterates everything Pegley stated in the introduction, not only the step-by-step of her study, but the less thinly-veiled championing of MuchMusic. She also states that her original goal was to analyze MuchMusic, merely using MTV as a secondary source. In this then, perhaps she has succeeded. In closing paragraphs, she writes, “I, too, appreciate MuchMusic’s unique contribution to popular culture within Canada, its spontaneity and its accessibility.” She then qualifies that this should not exempt the station from cultural criticism. As Coming to Wherever You Are: Muchmusic, MTV and Youth Identities is sure to be included in future popular culture and music studies curricula, it’s sure that MuchMusic won’t be left out of the discussion anymore.