Z Music offers an alternative to MTV

June 05, 1995|By Marc Gunther | Marc Gunther,Knight-Ridder News Service

Turn on MTV or VH-1, and before long you'll enter a teen-age male's fantasy world: one where women are young and beautiful, scantily clad and sexually available.

This isn't exactly new. Critics have complained for years that music videos portray women as little more than sex objects.

Now, though, some people are taking action to counter the attitude of music videos.

Kenneth Yates, a businessman and TV producer, runs a music video channel called Z Music Television that promises music videos with Christian themes that won't degrade or exploit women.

Sut Jhally, a Massachusetts College professor, has produced a 55-minute educational video tape for students and parents designed to challenge the images delivered by MTV and VH-1.

Mr. Yates says: "Television today carries so many negative images, images of violence and immorality. Z Music Television offers the positive alternative."

Mr. Jhally adds: "We need to start educating kids about the cultural environment we live in."

But Carole Robinson, an MTV vice president, says MTV and VH-1 reflect a pop music culture that has always been partly about sexuality -- going back to Elvis.

"There's a big difference between sexy and sexist," Ms. Robinson says. "Sexuality has been a part of music forever, and it will continue to be."

Perhaps so, but Mr. Yates, 47, who produced the "We Are the World" video, hopes to offer a wholesome alternative in Z Music.

The 24-hour Nashville-based network premiered in 1993, and now reaches about 27 million homes, although some cable operators run it for just a few hours a day.

Z calls itself "positively radical."

"It's music that provides answers," Mr. Yates says. "The lyrics provide hope and encouragement. It's music that makes you feel good and inspires you to look within yourself and your own resourcefulness to deal with your problems. Look to improving your life by giving to others. Acknowledge that there are spiritual values in life that you can turn to that provide comfort and strength."

"It's a radically different message. It goes against the grain," he says.

The channel isn't preachy, though. Take the name, which grew out of research that found most people think Z is the most exciting, liveliest and distinctive letter of the alphabet. (Q and K aren't far behind.)

"If the network were to be called Christian Music Television, that probably would turn off a lot of youth," Mr. Yates says.

The music is entirely contemporary. There's an afternoon rap show and a late-night program called "Brimstone Chronicles." It is aimed at youths in their teens and 20s who are attracted to what Mr. Yates calls "the music nobody else can stand."

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