With the catchy pop song, Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles, a new era dawned: the era of MTV. 25 years ago, on August 1st 1981, just weeks aftger the first scientific report about AIDS, the music video station was born. And, one could argue, music, television, fashion, and pop culture itself have never been the same.
To many, MTV is synonymous with Beavis and Butthead, Spring Break, and Pimp My Ride – not exactly the most enlightening fare television has to offer.
But MTV should be commended for contributing much more to the lives young people in the US and the world. For many of us, our first real insight into the life of a person with AIDS came via MTV. During the third season of The Real World, set in San Francisco in 1994, the viewers of MTV became familiar with Pedro Zamora. Pedro found out that he was HIV positive in 1989, while he was in high school. After graduating from high school, he became an HIV educator. On The Real World, he explained to his roommates, and many others in the television audience, how HIV could be transmitted. We also got to see the stigma associated with AIDS and the medical hardships associated with this syndrome. Pedro Zamora died on November 11, 1994, one day after the last episode of The Real World aired.
While the 1994 season of The Real World certainly represents the most direct way in which MTV has educated its audience about HIV/AIDS, the network continues to provide important information to its viewers. Its parent company, Viacom, along with CBS and the Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation have produced numerous public service announcements about HIV and have included HIV themes in many of their shows. More information about this ambitious initiative can be found at www.knowhivaids.org. And a first episode of new documentary – think HIV, produced by MTV and the Kaiser Foundation will debut on August 18, the last day of the upcoming International AIDS Conference. More information about this show can be found at www.think.mtv.com.