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MTV, the good kid that went astray

August 1st marked the 30th anniversary of MTV, a cable channel that used to mean something…a channel that used to be important. While MTV has become cliche and used to classify everything except music, MTV is an important marker in television history and has most certainly affected all of us, myself quite a bit.

The embarrassment MTV has become

At least the logo hasn't changed
At least the logo hasn't changed

When I learned that MTV was celebrating 30 years I figured they would have a nice birthday special or something happening on the channel, yet I was somewhat angry to see that the only thing MTV has planned for their momentous day are reruns of Jersey Shore. Instead, to enjoy classic MTV moments I had to flip to VH1 Classic, which ran a marathon of vintage MTV clips including the first original hour of MTV programming. I found it entertaining (and sad) that I had to watch VH1, a channel which wouldn’t exist without MTV, to enjoy MTV. We know that MTV hasn’t seemingly cared about music in 20 years, but this moment proves it without a doubt.

As we were sitting watching and remembering when MTV made a difference to us, it really hit me that MTV started to fall apart pretty quickly, within 10 years. I’m too young to remember the launch of MTV in 1981, so MTV to me starts around 1984, which is when it started to get good anyway. Michael Jackson, Madonna, hair metal and everything that made MTV good pretty much started around that time. MTV continued adding music programming into the 90s and then we started to see the demise. Watching hours of “best of” showcasing programs that I remember vividly like “MTV Sports” and “House of Style” really showed me that the channel had started to give up on music in the early 90s, even before the “Real World” came in to view and changed everything.

The impact of MTV

But hindsight is 20/20 and while we can easily sit here 25 years removed from everything and complain, we should remember that MTV did make a difference at one point in time, even well into the mid-90s when I regularly watched MTV like every other good teenager. During the birthday highlight shows, I thought about all the things that MTV did for me, both in influence and just in being a kid at large.

The animation

MTV and Nickelodeon were one in the same back then and both channels had incredible animation that they used for their station IDs and commercials. They were often stop motion and, frankly, just weird…very 80s, as it would become. To this day I believe they are some of the most distinct spots ever created for a cable network. They were certainly memorable and seeing some of them replayed brought back a bunch of memories and reminded me just how much time I spent watching MTV (and Nickelodeon).

Music news

Since we weren’t quite all hooked up on the internet just yet, MTV News and The Week in Rock were our portal into the world of music and celebrities. Kurt Loder was the respected journalist while Tabitha Soren provided me with one of my first TV crushes (it was the hair). Despite the talent, I’ll never forget two moments in which MTV News directly impacted my life.

First was a sunny day in April when I learned about the death of Kurt Cobain. I wasn’t a Nirvana addict or anything, it wasn’t like I was balling over his suicide, but the night of his death there was an after-school band event and when I showed up everybody else was crying. That moment in music history has since come to be important and I’ll never forget learning about and then seeing everyone’s reactions being broadcast for 24-hours on MTV.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Hl2pBVv9EI[/youtube]

The second contribution MTV News made to my life was the introduction of Moog music. Actually, it was a Week in Rock episode where I first saw The Moog Cookbook perform their cover of “Buddy Holly” and I was mesmerized. It was part video game, part techno and part rock-n-roll, and it was awesome. Based on that one 2-minute appearance I searched out more Moog music and that started a huge phase in my life where I just fell in love with it. That music is directly responsible for my early web site ventures and online identity, and for that I must thank MTV. I really have no idea how my life would have been different without being exposed Moog music…although I’m sure my wife and friends wish otherwise.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Pn3vGGpE5k[/youtube]

Liquid Television

Yet another thing MTV contributed to my sense of self-worth in the 90s. Liquid Television was a late-night show that featured random, and often weird, animated shorts. Most of the shorts flew way under the radar and were very “indie” but without Liquid Television we wouldn’t have been given the likes of Beavis & Butthead or Aeon Flux, the latter of which made a huge impact on my early creative writing and art.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_U99mvm1kRQ[/youtube]

At that time Aeon Flux wasn’t the cartoon you may have seen later on. When on Liquid Television, Aeon Flux was without dialogue. There was music and sound effects, but no talking and it was awesome, actually better than when the cartoon got speaking parts. The lack of voices made 7th grade me really inject my own story into the cartoon and inspired me to write my own short story that ended up being rather epic, especially for a middle schooler. It wasn’t Aeon Flux fiction or anything and it had nothing to do with Aeon Flux, but the cartoon showed me that stories don’t need dialogue to be entertaining and enjoyable…and as a result, my creative writing was nearly all action with little to no actual dialogue. Aeon Flux helped me discover how much I enjoy writing and in the long run thus probably directly contributed to my desire to start blogging. So again, depending on who you are, you may once again hate MTV for motivating me, although I would like to think my writing is more tolerable than Moog music.

How much I dislike rap and enjoy metal

My childhood was filled with oldies and radio pop, so MTV did a lot to show the ways of heavy metal and rap. Thanks to shows like “Yo! MTV Raps,” I was shown early that I just do like enjoy rap or hip-hop. Sure, I enjoy some of the one-hit wonders and so-called “important” hip-hop songs of the time, but all in all, I just don’t like it. In that way, MTV certainly helped hone my musical tastes. At first, most of the heavy metal on MTV turned me off as well, after all, I was coming a world of Madonna and Bryan Adams, but as MTV kept hitting me over the head with Guns N Roses, Megadeth and Anthrax, it started to sink in and I saw the light.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwyxIZ3v4Ew[/youtube]

The videos!

Perhaps the most obvious thing MTV gave us were the videos. MTV finally gave us a chance to see our favorite artists outside of a talk show appearance or live concert. If you wanted to see Bon Jovi or Van Halen, you didn’t have to wait long on MTV (often to the point of exhaustion). The channel highlighted the medium and helped turn it into something bigger and better. You can cite videos like Sledgehammer and Money for Nothing as some of the best artistic videos, but don’t forget that because of MTV we found ourselves in the middle of videos that told us complete stories, all wrapped around a song or two. Thriller is the best example, obviously, but look at all the videos were basically mini movies and remember how much you loved to see them. High on my list are ones from my beloved Guns N Roses…November Rain, Don’t Cry, they had a small collection of videos that were incredible to watch as much as they were to listen to.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRIbf6JqkNc[/youtube]

MTV is beyond repair

It’s sad seeing the current state of MTV when it used to be such an authority and source of music entertainment. It’s easy to forget how good MTV used to be when we sit in the shadows of New Jersey bimbos and pregnant teenagers, but we need to remember the historical significance of MTV and appreciate what it contributed to generations of kids. Thanks MTV…for at least 10 years of good programming.

2 Comments

  1. Jen Jen August 1, 2011

    I know you were a fan but I consider Liquid Television to be part of their downfall. I won’t deny that things like Liquid Television and the Real World had an impact, but it wasn’t music and that’s what the “M” stood for.

  2. Brian Brian August 4, 2011

    I agree completely. Things like Liquid Television were definitely the beginning of the end for MTV. Although, at that time MTV had a decent balance of music and non-music programming. They still showed videos, the had shows like 120 Minutes and Week in Rock and Ball, but they also had Sports, Style and animation like LTV. You never had to wait long to get music but they still catered to the audience’s other tastes.

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