Wednesday, August 3, 2011

MTV Apparently Wants To Be 29 Forever

On Monday, August 1, MTV turned 30 years old. Media outlets across the country, including Yahoo!, celebrated this auspicious occasion in pop culture. All but ONE media outlet, that is: um, MTV. Like the ungracefully aging Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd. or titular character in Logan's Run, MTV bizarrely refused to celebrate its own 30th birthday, and just treated it like any other day.

The above screenshot depicts what the homepage of looked like on August 1, 2011. No moon landing. No Martha Quinn. No Nina Blackwood. No Buggles. Nothing to acknowledge that MTV even existed before December 3, 2009 (the date that "Jersey Shore" first aired). outsourced all of its 30th birthday coverage to the more demographically appropriate, and the network itself dumped its retrospective coverage on its lesser-watched sister stations, MTV2 (the same station that recently brought Matt Pinfield back for a "120 Minutes" relaunch) and VH1 Classic.

"MTV as a brand doesn't age with our viewers," explained Nathaniel Brown, senior vice president of communications for MTV, who confirmed that there were no plans for an on-air MTV celebration. "We are really focused on our current viewers, and our feeling was that our anniversary wasn't something that would be meaningful to them, many of whom weren't even alive in 1981."
While the point is is well taken, it doesn't seem like MTV has much issue with NINETIES nostalgia (as evidenced by the network's recent "120 Minutes" and "Beavis & Butt-Head" revivals). So even a tribute to MTV's later shows ("Club MTV," "Headbanger's Ball," "Yo! MTV Raps," "Unplugged," "The Week In Music" with the impeccably smarmy Kurt Loder) could have provided enough fodder for a month-long celebration of MTV's genuine importance in youth culture (and would have been a welcome reminder that the "M" in "MTV" used to stand for "music"). Heck, I would have even been okay with recycled footage of "Singled Out" and "Celebrity Deathmatch." Anything but the network's usual endless rotation of "Jersey Shore" reruns and glamorization of knocked-up teens. What a missed opportunity this was.
Of course, I take this snub a little personally, as MTV was a huge part of my own childhood--which was, I admit, somewhere around 30 years ago. It's no exaggeration to say MTV actually changed my life. I'll never forget the fateful day when I flipped on MTV for the first time and my sheltered peepers feasted on the video for some peculiar song called "I Melt With You," by some exotic Brit band I'd never heard of before, Modern English. I was way too young to understand how, exactly, one person would melt into another. But I knew I did NOT watch to touch that dial. The lightning-quick images that flashed before me--A Flock Of Seagulls' topiary/aviary hairdos, Dexy's Midnight Runners' worn-out overalls, the Human League's inch-thick Cleopatra eyeliner--were more interesting to me than any kiddie cartoon, and they made me realize that rock 'n' roll wasn't just background noise on my mom's station-wagon radio. No, rock was an entire world, with its own clothes, haircuts, language, lifestyles. And thanks to MTV, this brave new world was now accessible to little old me, 24 hours a day. Maybe I was still too young to go to concerts or hang out in clubs, but with MTV I felt like I was a part of something huge and exciting without even having to leave the safety of my girly pastel bedroom. Becoming part of MTV's rock 'n' roll world pretty much became my life goal at that point, and it was only a few years later that I was breaking my mom's heart my putting burgundy streaks in my hair, double-piercing my ear, and dating guys with tattoos. And I owed it all to MTV!
This might make it sound like MTV was a bad influence on me. On the contrary. MTV is the reason why I am a music journalist today. I wanted to be the next Martha Quinn, or Downtown Julie Brown, or Duffy, or Kennedy. Like I said in the above paragraph, I wanted to live in their world. Now, I sort of do. But what about today's teens, watching MTV in 2011? What world do they want to live in--Seaside Heights? Maybe they instead aspire to be "16 & Pregnant," or they just dream of a DTF life of gym/tan/laundry. Maybe these kids could have learned something from a three-decade MTV retrospective. Oh well.
So it's too bad that MTV was so reluctant to celebrate its own legacy, and so willing to assume that younger viewers wouldn't be interested in the network's storied past. Did the powers-that-be really worry that turning the dreaded age of 30 would make MTV seem antiquated and uncool? Or were they just worried that reminiscing about MTV's old video-centric format would only draw attention to the network's lack of actual music video programming today? (If the latter's the case, then they better cancel the MTV Video Music Awards, stat.)
I'm not sure, but I wasn't the only longtime viewer who was disgruntled about the lack of fanfare. When I finally unearthed a rather underwhelming blog about MTV's 30th anniversary, after no small amount of digging, almost all of the comments echoed my sentiments. "Y'all don't seem excited at all. VH1 Classic is doing all the celebrating & y'all are just acting like it's a regular day on air showing stupid 'Teen Mom' & 'Jersey Shore' & all those silly reality shows," read one comment. Griped another commenter: "I'm so VERY disappointed with MTV that they couldn't even recognize your 30th anniversary on any of your TV networks. If it weren't for your original programming 30 years ago, you wouldn't be where you are now. Sadly, you've lost your way."
Hey, I understand that networks have to evolve, and as much as I want my (old) MTV, I admit that I do tune in to MTV nowadays to watch Ronnie and Sammi's domestic quarrels or witness the transformation of some kid who "Used To Be Fat." It's not like I'm boycotting the network, or expecting it to still air Modern English videos (though that would be kind of awesome). But August 1, 2011 should have been different.
So, it appears MTV killed the video star. And when given the chance to resurrect it for just one day, for a big 30th birthday celebration, MTV programmers opted not to. And that was a shame, for viewers of all ages.


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