August 1, 2006, - 7:27 am

25 Years Too Old: Unhappy Birthday, MTV

By Debbie Schlussel
Twenty-five years ago, today, MTV was born with the broadcast of “Video Killed the Radio Star.”
Radio is still here (though under mild attack by its satellite stepsister). But MTV is on life support. Internet killed the MTV star. And so did irrelevance.
At 25, MTV is an old fogie compared to the demographic the network is targeting. For years, there’s very little music left on the network. From IPods to YouTube, the young market MTV craves has found other, better outlets to get the music programming they want and weren’t getting in the myriad of inane shows like “The Real World.”
And even all the outrageous stunts of the last 25 years of “Music Television” combined won’t bring them back.

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Original MTV VJs Don’t Want Their MTV.

Twenty-five years ago, today, I was part of the first “MTV generation.” But MTV lost us. It simply wasn’t good for America.
Instead of keeping up with new trends in music, it chose another path–social engineering, left-wing politicking, and shock TV. Eventually all of us were turned off, and most of MTV’s “programming” died a quick death.
Remember “Beavis & Butthead”? Outrageous stunts on “Jackass,” that resulted in copycat stunts by children who ended up injuring themselves? “The Osbornes,” a reality show, which later turned out to be scripted? All of them are in the trashbin of MTV non-history.
“Yo! MTV Raps” is history, too. Unfortunately, the hip-hop culture it spawned isn’t. Both “Live Aids” and “Hands Across America” raised a lot of money for the poor. But the money didn’t go to them. Most of it went to administrative expenses and can’t be documented.
The most remarkable comments made on MTV are a thing of the past, too. Bill Clinton answering the “Boxers or Briefs” question (it was briefs) and saying he smoked pot but “didn’t inhale.” Al Gore saying he “smoked the herb on occasion.” Both of them have been out of office for at least six years. The last time MTV’s uppity “Rock the Vote” and “Choose or Lose” campaigns worked was in electing Bill Clinton in 1992. In 2000 and 2004, they backfired.
Boy George, George Michael, INXS, Duran Duran. All of these pop sensations created by MTV are over. Then, there are the more classless MTV moments, whose perpetrators have also bitten the dust in their show-biz careers:
* “Comedian” Tom Green masturbating animals on “The Tom Green Show.” Remember him? Today, looking for the former Mr. Drew Barrymore and his career is significantly more difficult than playing “Where’s Waldo.”
* Madonna and Britney Spears’ open-mouth kiss on the MTV Music Awards shocked the world. Today, it’s doubtful that even kept husband Kevin Federline wants to kiss Britney Spears, whose sexpot image and figure are long gone. Her career is down the drain, unless you count bizarre Matt Lauer interviews on Dateline. Madonna is entangled in pseudo-Kabbalah and can’t get radio airplay for most songs on her new album.
* Jenny McCarthy–The former Playboy Playmate host of the silly “Singled Out” dating show has no career, unless you count playing someone’s trashy mom in a bit part of a bad teen movie.
* “The Real World”–Watching 7 insipid 20-somethings (including the standard gay one) in a house got old. It spawned a lot of reality programming all over television. But that got old, too. And viewers fought back, by going to unreality shows like “24″ and “Desperate Housewives.”
* MTV’s 1999 “Woodstock” reunion wasn’t all that, either. Multiple women were raped by drunk men. Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit–another MTV creation now in the dumpster–is credited for provoking much of the violence.
* Do you remember MTV’s original movies, like “Anatomy of a Hate Crime”? Me neither. Apparently Naveed Afzal Haq didn’t either, when he committed the hate crime, Friday, at the Seattle Jewish Federation and shot six people.
* Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video mini-movie and his kiss with then-wife Lisa Marie Presley. Well, we know what happened to “them” and to him. They’re over. His MTV career is now safely under wraps, somewhere in the Middle East.
Even “Newlyweds,” the show about Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey’s marriage, the network’s most recent hit of note, is laughable. They’re now divorced.
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MTV Moments: Rapper Lil’ Kim (& Breast) in Pastie, Mug Shot

USA Today listed “25 Key Moments” from 25 years of MTV. Was your life changed when you got to see the chubby, middle-aged, has-been rockers of KISS without make-up, for the first time? Or the now ex-con rapper Lil’ Kim’s exposed breast with a pastie on it? Or Janet Jackson’s nipple at the 2004 MTV-produced Super Bowl half-time show?
Was your life enhanced by whipped cream bikinis contests on MTV Spring Break or at the MTV beach house?
MTV celebrates its silver anniversary today. But in dog years, the network is far older and out of touch.
And a lot less relevant.
The saying that “everything old is new again” doesn’t apply to everything. Leggings, big hair, and Vans from the ’80s days, in which MTV was born, are in again.
But MTV isn’t. And that’s a good thing. MTV was a bad influence on America.
Like the bad tattoo you got in a moment of foolish youth, it’s a fad, whose 15 minutes–or 25 years–are up.
****
Read my piece from MTV’s 20th anniversary in 2001, here. Original MTV VJ Martha Quinn won’t let her kids watch MTV. Original MTV VJ Nina Blackwood won’t watch MTV, either.

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17 Responses

Debbie–
Excellent post, and the best ever essay on how MTV lost the muse.
Makes you *almost* feel sorry for them.

Red Ryder on August 1, 2006 at 9:12 am

Youth? People will remember “Cinderella Rockefella” long after MTV is histoire. True nostalgia is timeless. MTV is dated…what it has doesn’t shock any one anymore and its politics are not where I am. I’m still young but not foolish enough to keep up with the cable network’s pretense at youth… a commodity that doesn’t last forever.

NormanF on August 1, 2006 at 9:21 am

Kinda cranky today huh? You’re sounding like my Mother did back in the 60′s.

gregdn on August 1, 2006 at 9:53 am

MTV was OK when it actually showed videos. Now, you can barely find one, not that you’d really want to. The worst thing it did was destroy rock music. The bands now had to think of the video that would accompany the song. Also, it was important to have a “pretty” frontman. Thus, we got hairbands and power ballads, yech.

Blayne on August 1, 2006 at 10:34 am

Good article Debbie.
I was just thinking about the “I want my MTV” ad campaign that they used to run today and it got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be great if enough consumers got together for a “I don’t want my MTV” campaign and called their cable providers to ask them to remove the channel from their cable?
Occasionally I watch MTV in the morning as I get ready for work since it’s the only time they play videos in their entirety. But this morning as I was watching, I noticed they have a new “show” on called A.D.D. videos where they play about half of a song and then cut it off and start playing a new song right in the middle.
It’s crazy how they just don’t want to play music on MTV at all. And even when they do play music it’s the same cookie-cutter crap over and over.
…I will admit that I found Jackass to be funny, though.

Manatoch on August 1, 2006 at 11:14 am

“Video Killed The Radio Star” was the 1st video shown when Mtv premiered in 1981 (anyone remember the 3-straight-months of hype on the other 7 cable channels they had back in ’81 where they’d show the “I want my Mtv” promos, ad-nauseum during the commercial breaks?!); what was the 2nd video that Mtv played?! Anyone?? Anyone?? (Bueller??! Bueller??!)…
Pat Benetar “You Better Run”.
If you’re 2-for-2, then how about the 3rd video they played on 8/01/81?!?!
The Pretenders “Brass In Pocket”.
How’s that for a memory from 25 years ago?!

Yiddish Steel on August 1, 2006 at 11:41 am

I doubt that pushing liberal politics killed the channel, let’s face it, usually when kids that age are political at all, it tends to be leftward-facing and they were just kowtowing to that (OK I know YOU weren’t, Debbie, but still). Now whether MTV should’ve been involved in politics at all is another thing.
But I agree with most of the rest, I think most of their shows are silly and stupid (especially “Jackass”), they were at their peak when they stuck to music videos, but admittedly that is pretty archaic in this downloadable, You Tube, Internet world now.
Ironically, MTV has no plans to celebrate or even note the 25th, realizing that few in their audience was even born back then and most of the people who watched back then now turn to VH1 (maybe have an “I Love the 80s” special on it :-)).
Nice piece, Debbie.

hairymon on August 1, 2006 at 12:04 pm

“Beavis & Butthead”? “Jackass,” “The Osbornes,” absolutely rocked. Ozzy doesn’t have the brain cells left to follow a script, any moron who imitates Jackass deserves to enter the Darwin awards through sheer stupidity. And even Debbie has to admit that the hippy teacher on B & B was funny = specially when he gets mauled by a bear.
“Yo! MTV Raps” was awesome, so was Headbangers Ball. ……The world would be so boring without Motorhead and EPMD.

Boli-Nica on August 1, 2006 at 12:18 pm

Forget the politics, the music sucks! I never see Rush anymore so I buy their DVDs. I don’t want my MTV

KOAJaps on August 1, 2006 at 2:13 pm

I loved MTV way back when they started, it was so cool. But, after about a year it got old very quickly. The VJs were goofs and their so called reporters Kurt Loder and Tabitha Sorenstam were smarmy pinkos. Plus, whenever someone keeps reminding you over and over how kewl and hip they are, they aren’t.
MTV deserves a prime lot in Hell for popularizing so called reality shows and making stars of the Simpson bims.
Their only redeeming value was the old “Remote Control” game show and #1 of all, Beavis and Butthead.

Jeff_W on August 1, 2006 at 3:11 pm

Spot-on observations on MTV. They tried too hard to be trendy with their message, when what they failed to realize was that it was their medium that made them trendy (back when they were). Media have outgrown MTV. I’ve been blocking it from my kids for the better part of a decade now.
That said, “Unplugged” was a good idea, and few can argue that it wasn’t a critical and artistic success. But then, that was back when MTV was still about the music.

gas28man on August 1, 2006 at 6:38 pm

Geez, the Rubix Cube, Whip It, Apple IIe, and Billy Idol stating he wanted his “MTv.” Devo to Duran Duran, Joni Mitchell to Nina Hagen…where’s the time gone? Sheesh. I couldn’t even tell you which channel “MTv” is now. Oh yeah, don’t forget “Frogger” and “Q-bert”. …Now it’s CDs and Sam Adams…whew.

SickBoy on August 1, 2006 at 8:25 pm

Bevis & Butthead was the only show on that MTV I could even watch. I couldn’t stomach even five mins of Real World. It use to amuse me to no end how hip and how cool MTV thought they were with all their multi-cultural crap but their highest rated show was often something as moronic as Bevis & Butthead. That’s probably why they ruined it by screwing the creator out of most of the control of the show.

CornCoLeo on August 1, 2006 at 9:15 pm

I’m getting old. MTV used to actually play music videos and HBO actually showed movies. Now VH1 plays the same hip hop rap crap and even CMT is getting into reality shows. Do they people in charge all share the same half brain.

DennyP on August 2, 2006 at 10:45 am

I can only hope that other “social-engineering” attempts by the liberal-left meet the same fate as MTV. It was a neat idea at first, but as Debbie so eloquently put it…they quickly became immaterial…a non-entity to society. I wish Ted Kennedy would hurry up and drink himself to death so he would become a similar non-entity. Pussy-liberal piss me off….

Ziggy Spaz on August 2, 2006 at 10:59 am

Well written and insightful piece. The problem with Bill Clinton though is that he never EXHALED. Years ago, I actually liked MTV but it turned me off, as well as my stomach, when they introduced what I believe was called “The Grind.” This was a half-hour “dance” show featuring simulated anal sex among other “hip” dance moves.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude and I’m not that old (30s). I like sexy. I don’t like raunchy. And that’s all it was. Treating the young “bitches” like nothing more than a sex toy to be used and discarded isn’t my thing.
Martha Quinn always seemed like a nice person to me. That she won’t let her kids watch that trash speaks well of her.

Eric on August 4, 2006 at 11:18 am

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