And then rerun, syndicated, streamed, and sold in a collector’s box set.
Cable: the blessing of the eighties. It allowed virtually anything. Sports (ESPN), 24 hour news (CNN), movies (HBO, Showtime), ppv, and, finally, the channel aimed at youth MTV.
MTV was a revolutionary channel. Sure there were music videos before MTV and there had been programming aimed at kids, but MTV took things to a whole new level. It was DEDICATED to youth, their music, their culture. Instead of your father’s host, Dick Clark, there were young VJs to introduce you to music you may have never heard before but God did we love it! MTV discovered fashions and music style that at the time we’re not mainstream and overnight made them superstars. Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson: MTV helped them all become household names. It signaled the decline of radio, established cross-marketing, and captured the blazing energy of that decade of Reagan. It helped metal come back into the mainstream, introduced suburbia to rap, and altered the landscape by giving airtime to Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alanis, and others.
But what started as a way for a generation to discover and establish their identities gradually gave way to marketing. MTV went from discovering to creating. They started producing original content, starting with reality programs and Avant Garde shorts that served as an inside view to youth. Liquid Television, Real World, Beavis and Butt-Head: these programs made the channel even more mainstream and increased it’s visibility. What it also did was reduce airtime for the channels main programming: music. This recession of music from the schedule only increased as the years went by. Corporate came to tighten it’s grip on the slack leash the channel had enjoyed for over a decade and a half and the transformation continued.
Music videos from new and emerging artists dropped as did the age of performers as the generation of well-rounded but creatively dead performers emerged. Britney, Christina, N’Sync, and other manufactured homes started saturating the channel as the main focus skewed younger. No longer were raw talent sought out but artificial talent fostered with slick production values with images so pre-planned that to call them sell-outs would be too kind; soulless would be more apt.
Reality programs proliferated with increasingly vapid and out of touch individuals. Jesse Camp, the rich boy who played poor, The Hills with actors pretending to be struggling teens making their way in the world, Fifteen and Pregnant, Ridiculousness; even the Real World metastasized and grew out of control with the sheer number of seasons pumped out. Even their award shows have become platforms for prepubescent platitudes. MTV went from giving youth a voice to telling them what to wear, how to act, what to think. MTV grew up and lost touch as the bottom line outshined all else.
Music now has found a new life via streaming and the internet giving voice once more to the struggling unheard. The independent music is thriving despite those outdated record companies fighting to retain control. The channel that challenged the status quo ended up joining it broadcasting to the lowest common denominator and insulting the very audience it was struggling to retain. The average teen rarely turns on the channel unlike the eighties and nineties when most households had a television with the channel perpetually playing. MTV has become a joke as well as a symbol of media illegitimacy.
The wild and raw days of the eighties are over, and it is with sorrow that I look back at the fun and discovery MTV made possible that is now lost. A generation of short attention spans and ridiculous movements still flock to it when they need reassurance in their shallow world views. I miss the channel that challenged those preconceptions, that gave people a valid voice, and allowed art to just be fun. MTV is now just a brand. If only the clock could be winded back. I want MY MTV.