In the 1980s and most of the 90s those of us of a certain age wanted our MTV. Now, not so much.
What began as an incredibly cool, creative expressionistic expansion of music has become a vacuous and utterly contemptible sham of drivel.
In the next few days I will watch MTV in bits and pieces and try to ascertain what the hell is going on. I know this much: if you want to know why the kids are not alright these days, MTV would be a good place to start.
I was almost thrilled to discover that MTV still runs videos in its programming. This is a surprise...because when the network dropped "Music Television" from its logo, all hope was assumed lost. But fear not, MTV still plays music videos...albeit crap ones in the early morning hours. When I noticed this I tuned into AMTV (their music video block) to see what was going on. It started off with the video for "OMG" by Usher, which was a pretty straight ahead typical video. Christina Aguilera's fetishist fantasy, "Not Myself Tonight" hearkened back to the days when Madonna went for the jugular of shock. However this is pretty tame stuff by those standards. Nonetheless it was a video that followed all of the traditional traits of the classic MTV, it had the dark lights, and lots of dancing and glittery pop stars moving to and fro.
Later in the hour they had this stupid band called Cobra Starship on MTV News talking about how cool it was that they saw this film called Space Jam. WTF? What a bunch of dummies. They looked as ridiculous as they sounded. The Diddy interview for Greek was interesting but only lasted about a minute. There were two MTV News segments (the same one ran twice) for Downtown Girls, a new show starting on the network. Hello? That is an advert, not news. Plus, it is the stupidest subject for a show in recent memory. I mean, who wants their daughters to get relationship advice from a bunch of mall goblins? Please kill me. I cannot believe I am saying this, but give me back the bourgeoisie cool of Kurt Loder and the annoying snobbishness of Tabitha Soren please. Somewhere John Norris is dying a little bit at a time.
After the last news break of the second hour came a run of people I had heard of. There was a new Alicia Keys video followed by a video from Britney Spears. I did see the Jay-Z video for "Young Forever." This made me think that maybe Jay-Z did watch MTV back in the day because his video had the feel of those old black and white grainy 90s videos we all watched. As a pop record it works well and transfers to video well. After Jay-Z things cycled back over again and many of the same clips ran again. They did throw in some stuff I had never knew existed from people who should not be making records. It was scary.
It was hell.
One of the things I loved about MTV when I was a kid was they had VJs to break the action up. Sometimes they actually talked about the stuff they were playing. Now MTV has no on-air presence at all between clips. This is really sad.
It is pretty clear that anyone over twenty-five is simply not in their target demographic. This is a tragedy because most consumers of music and products do so...after twenty-five. One of the great things about "Classic MTV" was that it made music accessible to a broad demographic of people. This in turn led them to but the music they first liked as a video. This also, to a certain extent, taught the viewer about all kinds of music.
Note to MTV: people over twenty-five do buy things and can be into popular culture enough that you do not need to dumb down your "product" to the lowest common denominator. Excluding an older audience is just asinine. Now, I am not advocating running Celine Dion videos or anything, but at least try to not make me feel like a complete pile of goo when I watch this crap. The way you're insulting the intelligence of your viewer is heinous.
A case in point is "Classic MTV." It ran soul, metal, dance, pop and hip hop videos in a big collective gumbo and threw in some cool visuals as well between them. I miss the man on the moon goddammit! Although the old MTV did pigeonhole formats it never talked down or insulted viewers. At times it was even funny, informative and moving. Alternative music was relegated to 120 Minutes and metal was on Headbangers Ball.
Yo! MTV Raps was hugely influential in spreading hip-hop to the suburbs. However, despite this segmentation, videos that were popular from these genres eventually got mixed in with the "regular" stuff in rotation. As a result we learned something and heard new things.
Another peeve is that there are no ugly people on the new MTV. Back in the day even the ugly people got in on the action. Now the network sells a sort of "this is how you should be" ethos that is really scary. Now I fear the kids are learning how to be whores, stupid, dumb and ignorant. The real crime here is that there is no substance to any of this.
With MTV we were trained to look for the information about the song and the artist in the lower left hand corner. Nowadays, you can't miss the wording; it's in large frakkin' letters in a style similar to those crap glossy magazines we skip over at the newsstand.
It is interesting to note that the medium of the music video is still interesting and inventive. It is just a shame that the presentation sucks so much. There also are limited outlets for the medium. Like it or not, MTV is responsible for this medium. They gave birth to it, nurtured it and then abandoned it out in the cold in favor of a shiner, more slimmed down branding.
After three hours I had had enough. No caffeine could save me. I now know what it feels like to be a zombie. One thing is for sure; the revolution will not be televised. No sir, I have seen one of the means to the end of Western Civilization as we now it, and it is MTV.