Selling the beat, visualizing the rhythm : MTV, propaganda films, and convergent media in the 1980s

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Montes, Christopher Daniel

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In the early 1980s, American media industries were changing at a rapid pace. New technologies and corporate structures influenced a new crop of media content indicative of an ever-diversifying mediascape. Influenced by this continuing evolution, the Warner-Amex corporation developed a platform to showcase a new kind of content form, music videos, that sought to mix the flow of radio broadcast with filmed popular music entertainment: MTV, music television. MTV stood as the go-to source for music videos in the United States and became a cultural touchstone in itself. The cable, recording, and advertising industries all had a hand in the channel's development and had to overcome the industrial tensions such an initiative would bring. How would profits be earned? Who produces what? And where will the money come from? Despite its successful premiere on August 1 1981, MTV still underwent a number of transformations, both industrially and culturally, to become the media giant it still is today. One result of this platform's rise in prominence was a need to produce content that would fit well on this new-look channel. Seeing this opportunity, a group of filmmakers formed Propaganda Films in 1986 in order to produce music videos and television advertisements for MTV and other broadcast platforms. These filmmakers, including Hollywood auteurs Steve Golin, Nigel Dick, Dominic Sena, and David Fincher, would have a profound influence on music videos and television advertisements, bringing a distinctive style and authorial vision to non-feature film Hollywood productions. My research details the formation of MTV, the founding of Propaganda Films, and the formal components of Propaganda’s music videos and television advertisements as a means to engage the convergent trends of American media industries during this period. Propaganda Films, a prolific and repeatedly well-regarded organization in the entertainment industry, has yet to have a comprehensive scholarly analysis of its involvement in American media history. My aim is to simultaneously detail a previously underrepresented historical case while providing an interdisciplinary means in which to engage various content forms that are an important component of our media-making cultures and traditions.



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