MTV turned 30 this week. When it started, the year was 1981, and the music industry had been good to us. The 60s gave us the best songwriters we have ever known, and the 70s brought us musicianship and skill that was unheard of until then. Musicians were experimenting with progressive rock styles, and every avenue of sound and tone was being explored. Artistic statements spanned entire albums and the song lyrics rivaled the words of our finest poets.
But not everyone was happy – and that’s where MTV came in. For example, what about those people who couldn’t be bothered to sit still through all eight minutes of Stairway to Heaven? And those poor souls for whom reading the words to Richard Cory was just too much work? And, of course, there were so many styles of music that one had to think for themselves when choosing something to listen to – what about those people who want someone to think for them?
It’s for mankind’s “lowest-common-denominator” tendencies that MTV was created. While watching MTV, the viewer could be assured of an endless array of flashing neon lights and quickly moving sounds that would keep even the most sluggish mind engaged. Songs lasting more than four minutes were rarely allowed, and the lyrics just repeated the same words over and over. Each song was about a romantic relationship, and this made the lyrics approachable to the sort of mind that abhorred deep thought and artistic expression. And, for some reason, videos featured dancing men gaily clad in tight spandex who wandered about a technicolor stage.
Rather than appreciate lyricism or musicianship, as previous generations had done, I was expected to clap my hands when someone moved their feet to different parts of the floor. “Hey, listen to this beautiful song,” had been replaced by, “Look, now his feet are over there!” I had spent my life appreciating every note that came from Hendrix’s guitar, and now I was supposed to get out my popcorn because someone was walking backward? (Oh, I’m sorry, I meant, “moonwalking.” Sheesh.) Heck, even this evangelical Christian singer can walk backward:
When I was a teenager, my country home finally got some cable channels, and MTV was included. All of my life I had been told that this station was “totally rad,” but I quickly disagreed. In a given hour it was possible to catch a whopping total of two music videos if you knew when to watch. And there was a slight chance that ONE of those two videos was not a cheesy pop song that probably belonged on Radio Disney.
But it got worse. Much worse. This odd show called The Real World showed up. I watched it. It was nothing but a few losers having dumb conversations. “Who left the bread in the toaster?” “You know it wasn’t me, dog, I’m just chillin’.” “Irregardless, it’s always you that leaves the bread in the toaster I’m just sayin’.” Then, the narrator would say, “We will return to The Real World for the stunning conclusion of The Toaster Talk.”
I proudly predicted that this sort of vapid entertainment would never catch on.
My faith in society was poorly placed. Thanks for breaking everything, MTV.
As you know, the “M” in MTV no longer stands for “music.” We all knew that ten years ago, but MTV recently decided to make it official. They claimed that the phrase “music television” was too “limiting.” I suppose that artistic expressions would be limiting for the sort of people who want to watch the worst of reality television, but for many of us there is nothing limiting about music. On the other hand, limiting the ways in which a musician can express themselves (by forcing them to compose quick simple songs meant for cheesy videos) is certainly a crime.