Pop at MTV has reward for teen

Her written crusade against the network's influence earns a $1,000 scholarship.

Published May 29, 2007

WESLEY CHAPEL - Claire Elmblad is no pop culture prude. She watches television on a 32-inch flat-screen Zenith. Scully, the family's part-chow mutt, is named for half of that Maglite-toting, trench-coat-wearing X-Files duo who still search in syndication for the truth that's out there.

But when the subject turns to MTV, the 18-year-old Wesley Chapel High School salutatorian goes into criticism mode. Too much talk about sex and drinking.

In her view, it promotes a hedonistic lifestyle and a search for hipness driven by wearing certain clothes or driving certain cars or using certain products.

"Teenagers are impressionable," she said as MTV played in the background. "It's like MTV defines our whole lives if we don't have anything else to tell us."

Elmblad's disdain for the network that gave America such shows as Punk'd and Pimp My Ride won her a $1,000 college scholarship and an MP3 player in an essay contest.

The competition, sponsored by Middleton Lawn and Pest Control, was aptly themed "What's Bugging You?"

For Elmblad, who said she avoids watching MTV but knows a lot from friends and the Internet, the topic was a no-brainer.

"They have sold purity for debauchery, honor for disgrace, virtue for vice," she wrote. "One of the most frightening things about this process is how effective it has been with this generation."

Just a few minutes of MTV on Thursday morning provided her enough examples of its appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Overheard on one show: A young woman talks about "what my vagina feels like doing."

The Real World Denver reunion special logo includes the double entendre, "Welcome to the Mile High Club" and features cast members reflecting on past hookups.

In a Verizon commercial, a cell phone screen sports the song title Clothes Off!

"They know what will sell," Elmblad said.

An MTV spokesman didn't take issue with Elmblad's opinions, but instead pointed out positive programs the network produces such as Made, a show about teens who want to improve themselves, and The Amazing Break, which spotlights students who spend their spring break doing service projects.

There was a time when Elmblad herself looked to others to determine her cool quotient.

She was raised in church, even baptized at the megachurch pastored by Rick Warren, who penned the bestseller The Purpose Driven Life.

But in middle school and part of high school, she hung with a crowd with a "punk attitude" that defined coolness as making your own goth-style clothes.

Kids who showed up at school wearing stuff from the mall store Hot Topic were derided as "posers." Sex was an expected part of a relationship.

Elmblad even made her own skirt of black fleecy fabric attached to a wide elastic band. She had a spiky belt adorned with duct tape.

"It was too short in the front and too long in the back," she said. "It looked ridiculous."

She thought she needed a boyfriend to make her feel worthy.

Then, the day before Elmblad started 10th grade, she cried. Then she prayed.

"I was ready to let go of the search for popularity. I was just going to follow Christ with all of my heart."

After that, Elmblad no longer worried about what she wore or what her friends thought. She was okay without a boyfriend.

Now she plays bass guitar in a band called Soul Pants. She founded a youth newsletter for Cypress Point Community Church and plans to attend Union University, because it's a Christian college with an engineering program.

Instead of making their own goth outfits, her friends dress up in formal wear and go bowling. To limit physical contact in dancing, they took swing lessons.

"I started to feel the joy (Christ) gives," she said. "You don't have to be anything."

Lisa Buie can be reached at (813) 909-4604 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext 4604. Her e-mail address is buie@sptimes.com.


On the web:

What's on MTV

For general information about MTV, visit www.mtv.com. For information about social issues MTV tackles through its programming, visit www.think.mtv.com.

For information about the 17 essay contest winners, visit www.middletonpest.com/whats-bugging-you-winners.asp.