MTV Generation

The MTV Generation refers to the adolescents and young adults of the 1980s and early 1990s, a time when many were influenced by the MTV television channel.[1] The term is often used synonymously with Generation X[2][3][4]


The origin of the phrase has been attributed to the MTV Network itself "to describe the teenagers that dominate their ratings".[5]

The phrase came into general use more than two years after the cable network's 1981 debut. One observer notes that "By 1984, MTV was reaching 1.2 percent of the daily television audience, and more than a quarter of daily teen viewers. Children of the eighties would henceforth be known as 'the MTV Generation.'"[6] As early as its October 13, 1984 issue, Billboard Magazine was using the term in reference to musical preferences.[7] The phrase was later expanded to include the purchasing choices of a generation of consumers, with the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency describing the demographic in a 1985 presentation entitled "The New American Consumers", with one business columnist noting that "We baby boomers are raising what J. Walter calls the MTV Generation and these 12 to 19 year olds are unbelievably affluent..."[8] Bret Easton Ellis was called the "voice of the MTV generation" as early as 1985, after the publication of his first novel, Less Than Zero.[9][10]

MTV broadcast a documentary titled MTV Generation in 1991. Reviewing it, the New York Times described the group as "young adults struggling to establish a cultural niche for themselves, something that will distinguish them from the hippies and baby boomers and yuppies of times past." The documentary depicts the MTV Generation as characterised by cynicism, uncertainty, and an ability to process information quickly, and focusing on diversions and retro interests.[11][12]

"Much has been written about the so-called "baby buster" generation--the fairly anonymous group of 20ish young adults struggling to separate themselves from the shadow of the baby boomers ... The group's newest moniker, "the MTV generation," might be the most accurate description yet. For while much has been made about the generation's lack of a single unifying theme or experience, its members seem to have one thing in common: music videos."[11]

In 1991, author Douglas Coupland said of the label: "MTV would like to have us believe that everyone in their 20s is the MTV Generation. That's like going through life with a big product placement tattooed on your head, as if they're the only cultural influence on the entire planet."[11]


  1. The term has been used by many media sources of the later 20th and early 21st centuries to refer to the youth of the day. Find here a selection.
  2. "The MetLife Study of Gen X: The MTV Generation Moves into Mid-Life" (PDF). MetLife. April 2013. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  3. Raphelson, Samantha (6 October 2014). "From GIs To Gen Z (Or Is It iGen?): How Generations Get Nicknames". NPR. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  4. "MTV Study Shows Varying Attitudes Within Millennial Generation". adweek. Retrieved 2015-02-11.
  5. Brian Pauling, "Engaging the Digital Natives", in Terry Evans, et al., International Handbook of Distance Education (Emerald Group Publishing, 2008) p. 389
  6. Steve Greenberg, "Where Is Graceland?: 1980s Pop Culture", in Gil Troy and Vincent J. Cannato, Living in the Eighties: Viewpoints on American Culture (Oxford University Press US, 2009) p159
  7. "DeBurgh Drawing Teen Devotees", by Sam Sutherland, Billboard 10.13.1984, p. 51
  8. "J. Walter puts out the word on baby boomers ", Atlanta Constitution, September 27, 1985, pA-27
  9. "The voice of the MTV Generation". Dallas News. 29 July 1985. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  10. Picker, Lauren (14 August 1994). "TALKING WITH BRET EASTON ELLIS The Mark of Zero". Newsday. Long Island, N.Y. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  11. 1 2 3 Lipton, Lauren (10 November 1991). "The Shaping of a Shapeless Generation: Does MTV Unify a Group Known Otherwise For its Sheer Diversity?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  12. O'Connor, John J. (6 November 1991). "On MTV, Talking About the MTV Generation". New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
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