So, MTV is 30. I don’t know any other channel that has had the ability to make one feel both old and completely out of touch with modern, pop society as MTV. The station has been in existence for the better part of my life. At this point we’re a lot like a divorced couple without kids still living in the same town—I know it’s still out there, I know it’s dating but couldn’t tell you word one about what it’s up to now.
My relationship with the channel has always been tricky. I was never part of its real demographic to begin with. When MTV started in 1981 I was a little too young (9) for it to really be a part of my viewing schedule. I think I was in sync with the channel for about 5 minutes when Thriller and Beat It were produced but was never really part of the youth culture it chased so I lost interest quickly. The station began to capture my attention again when Headbangers Ball and it’s children the Hard 30 and Hard 60. From there I watched some Remote Control, 120 Minutes and a few other programs. I was never a P1 viewer though (that’s industry talk for those that are considered primary viewers, check out my useless knowledge!!)
There was a lot about the station I liked. I loved the Randee of the Redwood clips and that deranged cab driver; I totally dug the Dennis Leary clips and the vignettes of author’s works being read/acted out by famous actors; I thought some of the cartoons were pretty cool as well as a lot of the in between segments. I guess I liked a lot about the channel that made it part of the New York scene it was so in touch with for the first decade or so. Once it lost that, once it started to spread its tentacles and become a network I lost interest. I really think the station was best when it was gritty and real. It was an artsy little station that felt like the Bowery of the television neighborhood in the early 80’s. Bands like The Talking Heads and Blondie seemed so at home on the station because they were part of the same post punk art scene, they could have been hanging out at CBGB’s together.
Once the station figured out that there was real money—that it could change it’s dirty, syringe filled streets into lofts that could be sold for millions of dollars to stock brokers in search of a hip neighborhood all bets were off. MTV saw a new music scene, hip hop and rap, and took it for all it was worth. They shoved it down the throat of teenagers and were as responsible for its rise as UTFO’s Roxanne battles or the West Coast vs. East Coast dramas ever were. I think it’s no coincidence that they exploited this music. It came of age as the same time as the station. It wasn’t as mature as rock, had no elder statesman or older brothers looking out for it so it could be exploited quickly and easily. The station sided up to the new genre offering to buy it’s cold water row house. It wasn’t until much, much later that the true worth of that flat would ever be known and then it was too late. And that is where I parted ways with the station. Shortly after co-opting hip hop, the channel started to produce reality TV and lost all interest in its art experiments. Soon, even marginal shows like Beavis and Butthead and the Tom Green Show were pushed aside for Real World and Jackass marathons. The “M” became nothing more than part of a name it refused to drop when it divorced.
I know that the station now airs shows like Jersey Show and Teenage Mothers or something like that. I’ve never seen any of them. I stopped watching the video and music awards programs at least 10 years ago. MTV stopped being a cultural touchstone for me when it stopped commenting on culture and decided to influence it, to push it where it felt it had the best chance to exploit it. Ad dollars now influence every decision I’m sure.
When the channel was airing Quiet Riot videos and had contests where it would come to your house and broadcast it had no idea what it would become. It was a precocious teenager—loud and obnoxious, rude and real. Unfortunately it’s now an adult with all the stress that goes along with it. It has people counting on it now, has a paycheck to earn. Like so many adults it’s a little lost. It still wants to remain hip. It hasn’t remarried so it’s still hanging out at single bars with friends like Jersey Shore. The problem is, at that same single bar are so many more sexy options for kids like You Tube, Facebook and a million other social and entertainment outlets, all without the baggage of having been married at least once already. Netflix might not be as hip but it doesn’t have the lines on it face telling the story of a misspent youth.
MTV and I divorced years ago. I started dating its cousin VH1 Classic Rock. VH1 Classic never felt the pressures to try and be young or look sexy. It’s secure in its identity. I can see in it what I first liked about MTV. All of this makes it so much more attractive than MTV could ever be. I know that I’m not going to wake up one day and see Jersey Shore on VH1 Classic Rock. It’s never going to call me old and tell me I’m out of step. It’s never going to leave me for a young gun without a beer gut. MTV turned 30 August 1. Maybe it’s time someone told the station to start acting its age.