Yesterday marked 30 years to the day that MTV aired its first video, and in that time the channel went from major cultural force to complete pile of worthless crap. Today, they no longer even call it "music television" because there's no actual music, except maybe during the credits before showing "Jersey Shore" or some other mindless dreck. MTV today is a grotesque mess, serving as a reminder that the future generations of this country are not even worthy of jobs in Chinese salt mines. (Something tells me we'll be beaten out for coveted serf positions by much more hard working Brazilians).
But, I'm old enough to remember that it wasn't always this way. Growing up, our house didn't have cable because my parents correctly believed I watched too much television as it was and didn't need encouragement. But whenever I had the chance at friends' and relatives' homes, the music video channel was the first one I'd flip to, hoping to catch the video versions of the latest rock songs.
The medium of music videos wasn't completely new in 1981--film created to accompany a popular song existed as far back as the 1960s and were shown in clips on programs for a couple decades--but the advent of a 24-hour channel dedicated to the music video meant that every artist wanted to produce one to sell their songs. At first, the video styles were primitive--some pasty new wave artists badly lip synching in a cheap soundstage--but as the '80s wore on, directors started to really put production values into their clips. Videos became stories, sometimes reflecting the song lyrics, sometimes not, but often worth seeing. Every genre became represented as new channels sprouted up to meet the demand--VH1 played a lot of older videos and soft rock, CMT played country videos. Then, in the early '90s, everything went to hell--but gradually.
It had its genesis in the late '80s with a game show called "Remote Control", which should have been our first warning since the show had nothing to do with music or music videos. But this was a hit for a while, and then came "The Real World", a reality show that demonstrated that Generation X was a group of whiny douchebags who probably would have found a way to lose the Spanish American War if they'd lived through it, to say nothing of WWII. Apparently there was some tool named "Puck" on there, meaning his parents were morons and should have both been incinerated for giving their kid such a suggestive name. I don't know--I avoided the show completely, since it looked so boring. But, the channel still mostly showed videos.
But this was only the beginning! "Real World" was, unfortunately, a hit, because people apparently like to mock Gen Xers and drink their sweet sweet tears. More dumb non-music related crap abounded on MTV, including "Road Rules", "Singled Out", "Jackass", "Jersey Shore", and the "MTV Movie Awards" which makes as much sense as the HBO Music Awards. (Also, Beavis and Butthead cropped up early in the '90s, and while this show was often funny, it really belonged on a cartoon or comedy network, not MTV). Clearly, the channel just wanted to whore itself out to whatever would get ratings, and before long, they literally stopped showing music videos. It is now a channel devoted to pure garbage television. It should change its name to GTV!
I note though that it is not just MTV that gave up on its original mission. Movie channels (like HBO and AMC and Showtime) now feature plenty of original serial programming at the expense of actual films. At this rate, Comedy Central could end up airing "Schindler's List". And this would be in poor taste.
So here's to 30 years. Up yours, MTV!