Screen Shot 2023 05 18 at 4.12.32 PM 454b2

MTV News Just Ended Operations: Here are 5 of Our Favorite Feminist MTV Moments

by Faith Green

In a series of unprecedented events, MTV News ended operations this Tuesday after being active for nearly 40 years. Paramount Media Networks, (the cooperation that merged with MTV’s parent company, Viacom) announced last week that the company would be slashing its workforce by 25%, in an effort to “reduce costs” and maximize efficiency. Unfortunately, MTV News is one of the many casualties caused as a result of this decision, and other platforms like Showtime and Paramount+ are expected to be affected as well. Although the announcement was jarring, the news wasn’t unexpected. The initial MTV News, along with MTV News Update and MTV News: Weekend Update went off-air in the mid-2000s. Even after a mildly-successful rebrand in 2016, MTV News still struggled to compete with other news outlets like Vice (which also announced bankruptcy last week). After massive cutbacks in 2017, MTV News downsized significantly and continued to decline in popularity. But MTV News and its correspondents will always hold a special place in our hearts, and to celebrate Generation X and the likes of Serena Altschul and Kurt Loader, here are 5 of our favorite feminist MTV News moments, past and present.

Tabitha Soren Interviewing Liz Phair 

MTV News was the perfect intersection between music and hard-hitting journalism. Their extensive coverage of independent, underground artists via innovative interviews helped usher in a wave of new artists into the mainstream. One of our favorite instances of this is Tabitha Soren’s interview with grungy DIY singer-songwriter Liz Phair, for her 1993 album Exile In Guyville. Most interviews at the time took place in quiet, professionally lit rooms, but this one took place in the chaotic land of Luna Park. While laying on the beaches of Coney Island in New York City, the two explore what it means to be a woman in the 90’s. In between lounging on the sand and riding rickety roller coasters, Soren and Phair discuss feminism, sexuality, losing your virginity, and the raw content of Phair’s self-distributed debut album. This is monumental; MTV News saw the importance in covering a feminist-centered artist that wrote realistic (and thus subversive) lyrics about sex, heartbreak, and the limitations of the patriarchy. When Soren asks, “Do you consider yourself a feminist? Post-feminist? Post-post feminist?” Phair promptly responds, “If labels matter I consider myself all of the above; all I care about is that women have a better life in the near future. That includes everything: legal, social, emotional, sexual… It’s all part of it.” 

Madonna Rocks The Vote

Rock The Vote is a non-profit political organization that aims to increase awareness about issues in youth culture via political action like voting and protesting (they even founded the first ever telephone voter’s registration system!).  According to their mission statement, the organization was created by Virgin Music executives Jeff Ayeroff, Beverly Lund, and Jordan Harris in an effort to advocate against censorship in popular music. It has since grown into a massive grassroots movement that has maintained its popularity since its inception. Rock The Vote’s first ever partnership was with MTV, and with a little help from Madonna draped in almost nothing but an American Flag, they aired their first PSA in 1990. 

“Dr King, Malcolm X, freedom of speech is as good as sex! …Don’t give up your freedom of speech, the power of the people is in our reach!” Madonna says, before “de-flagging” to reveal a scandalous red lingerie set. This was incredibly powerful imagery at the time, as Madonna was often mocked for being outspoken about sex and politics. A couple years later she would be eviscerated in the press for her album Erotica, and the accompanying book Sex. Voter turnout was a topic that was rarely ever applied to younger demographics before Rock The Vote, but with the aid of these PSAs, along with MTV News, Rock The Vote managed to involve generations of young adults to go out and vote. Madonna even reshared the 30-year old video during the 2020 election season, with the hashtags #vote2020, and #nationalvoterregistrationday. 

#Vote2020 leading up to Election Day and #NationalVoterRegistrationDay #luis

— Madonna (@Madonna) September 22, 2020

MTV News Unfiltered

MTV News Presents: MTV Unfiltered (often shortened to ...MTV Unfiltered, or …Unfiltered) was a reality news series hosted by MTV News anchors Serena Altschul and Alison Stewart, and has been described as a DIY approach to local news. The short-lived show was a news segment program that featured a series of calls, video clips, and interviews from real-life teens, and offered news coverage for small-town, community based issues. …MTV Unfiltered shone a light on issues major news networks weren’t covering, like oppressive dress codes, LGBTQIA+ cruising, getting cancer, celibacy, and suicide. One such segment started with a daring phone call; a Penn State college student demanded something be done about the sexist hazing traditions on campus, stating: “I absolutely believe that this is institutionalized sexual harassment on the part of the university’s administration.” 

MTV News Presents: MTV Unfiltered was groundbreakingly revolutionary for its time, and was pivotal in showcasing real-life issues that young women and teens everywhere were struggling with, and it’s all the more proof that MTV was always for and about youth culture. MTV News gave many important topics —including feminism— a larger platform through ...Unfiltered, and we think that’s pretty badass. Check out this archival clip uploaded by Jess Weiner, the Penn State student who contacted MTV about sexual harassment on her college’s campus. 

The “Choose or Lose“ Campaign 

In 1992, MTV launched a now-defunct political news campaign designed to encourage youth participation in democracy, called Choose or Lose. This was different from Rock The Vote, which was initially focused on eradicating censorship limitations. Choose or Lose was a recurring news special hosted by MTV News for several election years up until 2012, when the network decided to ditch the slogan in an effort to more accurately reflect the increased cynicism within youth culture. But in its heyday, the Choose Or Lose special was hosted by former MTV News anchor Tabitha Soren, and through specials, conferences, and mobile organizations, the campaign encouraged youth voter registration turn-out. Through these televised specials, young people were often encouraged to ask politicians questions, including Senator John Kerry

One of the more notable moments was the Enough is Enough special’s interview with Bill Clinton, which went on to make headlines in news outlets like Time Magazine, and the Chicago Tribune. Many have argued that MTV secured the youth vote for Clinton’s presidency, including the Baltimore Sun in 1992. Even Soren speculates that MTV’s Choose or Lose Campaign widened access to media regarding the political landscape while setting the foundations for the current cultural climate in her 2016 article for the New York Times, titled Hilary Clinton and the Ghosts of MTV.  Check out this #ThrowbackThursday post Tabitha Soren shared the night before election day in 2018. One comment on the post, which praises the MTV News’ correspondents for their impact on youth culture, reads “Y’all indoctrinated me as a 9 year old [into thinking] that voting was cool, sexy, queer-adjacent, and somehow related to liking Nirvana and REM. Job well done.”

Although it’s difficult to see past MTV’s current non-stop bombardment of Ridiculousness and Teen Mom reruns, the channel used to serve as a launchpad for progressive and cutting edge entertainment. Women’s rights were a hot-button issue that MTV News made an effort to cover, and these clips are essential in preserving the history of third-wave feminism. MTV News made a point to uplift unheard voices through political campaigns, PSAs, and the overall power of music, and even though we’re sad to see them go, their legacy will always remain. 

Top Photo Credit: Screenshot from Madonna’s Twitter: Rock The Vote PSA, circa 1990.

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.