In 2013, MTV faced criticism for the cultural appropriation of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke's twerking-heavy Video Music Awards performance. This year, MTV hopes to start a different conversation by highlighting the continued unrest in Ferguson, Mo., after the Aug. 9 fatal police shooting Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, which has affected the entire country.
The ad set to air on Ferguson during the Video Music Awards is part of a larger campaign by MTV called "Look Different," aimed at starting conversations for young people around issues of race, gender, and sexual identity. The program was designed in partnership with Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and follows in MTV's commitment to social activism in youth programming, such as the pro-democracy campaign called Choose or Lose started in the early '90s.
MTV President Stephen Friedman told the Washington Post, "Eighty percent of our audience believes that bias is at the root of racism and prejudice. But when cultural explosions like Trayvon Martin, or the recent death on Staten Island, or what is now happening in Ferguson occur, our audience often feels paralyzed to discuss the issues." Friedman hopes the campaign works as a launching point for conversations.
The first PSA that MTV plans to air during the pre-show is an extension of the "Look Different" campaign and shows young people describing stereotypes.
The second PSA that will run during the show includes the mantra “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” that has emerged out of Ferguson as well as the James Baldwin quote: "Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is face."
MTV's president said young people are using social media not just for news, but also to create slogans, like "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" for youths to rally around and discuss.
"Memes and hashtags are the new megaphones," Friedman said to the Washington Post. "We believe that inviting the audience to define what they feel is positive action is an incredibly powerful way to help reshape norms around what equality and fairness mean today."