The Conversation

The Decline and Fall of MTV

In response to I'm Single Because of MTV:

At the expense of appearing a codger, I was excitedly camped out in front of the Philco TelePictoPhone for the debut of MTV, and let out a cheer when The Buggles heralded Video's slaying of the Radio Star. (We wore onions on our belts, as was the fashion in those days.) It seemed like watching a pop culture version of the Big Bang, and as a punk/new-wave devotee I was thrilled that this new revolutionary medium was actually giving significant air time to the likes of Talking Heads, rather than the obsolete Woodstock mellow mewlings of CSN&Y. It seemed for a time like a massive force for good; plus, I had the hots for Nina Blackwood and Martha Quinn.

I sorta stuck around for 120 Minutes and Headbangers Ball and Yo! MTV Raps and Beavis & Butthead, but haven't non-accidentally watched it in 20 years. I doubt that bothers MTV programming execs, any more than it bothered a 1987 FM album rock DJ that my dad wasn't listening. What ought to bother MTV is that my kids don't watch them either.

Those kids are now in the age cohort I was at MTV's birth, and for them the network is an antiquated TV curiosity with absolutely no cultural relevance. Not because I programmed them to be Quaker prigs. Quite to the contrary; they grew up around music festivals and musicians, attended summer rock camps and after 13 faced few restrictions on their TV consumption. Yet my blue haired, tattooed, Wicker Park hipster 21-year old fashionista daughter seldom if ever watched MTV throughout her adolescence. Likewise my 17-year old son, an accomplished gigging musician who fancies himself the new Thom Yorke. To the degree they watch any network TV for entertainment, it's Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Music is consumed through Spotify and live performances. MTV? They consider it a babysitter for subliterate voyeuristic 12-year old latchkey kids.

The long, hard fall from U2 at Red Rocks to Jersey Shore and Buckwild is better left to a dissertation than an internet post. Suffice it to say that, like government and education, MTV is yet another American institution that squandered away its cultural capital.


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