MTV at 30: Once Hip and Cool, Now Vulgar, Tasteless and Useless

I hated MTV’s beginning. And I hate its ending. Actually, it’s it worse than hate; MTV is already dead to me and millions of others, as if it no longer exists. Which, in actuality, it doesn’t. In the truest definition of its acronym — which stands for Music Television — the once ultra-influential station has been deceased for some 15 years now.

As a Gen Xer, I vividly remember sitting in front of the TV and bemoan the lack of familiarity with almost everything that MTV showed, with the exception of the likes of Hall & Oates. They played Hall & Oates’ R&B-brand of music for one reason only: they were white.

I cringe and recoil, much the way people do when they step on broken glass, when MTV officials and original deejays try to take credit for Michael Jackson’s meteoric blastoff into intergalactic and rarified territories.

And, mostly, I want to pluck out my eyelashes, one by one, with a pair of pliers when I hear former MTV execs and deejays become revisionist historians and not admit the fact that it simply did not play African American artists on its station for the first three years of its existence. They tried to claim that they only played rock music. But that excuse fails when you, again, think about Hall & Oates, whose music cannot ever be described as rock. And I resent the fact that, once they discovered just how popular Michael Jackson’s videos were – and subsequently Prince and Lionel Ritchie and Whitney Houston — they rode that rocket into prominence.

The original cast of MTV in 1981, who helped create the video playlist

I resented it even as I watched the MTV-Michael Jackson relationship unfold. In March 1983, they wouldn’t even give MJ’s glittering glove a second glance. But by December of that same year, MTV had devoted an entire hour to the premiere of “Thriller,” still considered the greatest video ever created. I was very young but still laughed at the irony of how, in less than eight months, the cast of MTV went from ignoring the King of Pop to kissing his derriere squarely in the crease.

I cannot deny MTV’s status as the ultra cool pop culture arbiter in the ’80s and ’90s. I was just as addicted to the format as the next adolescent. I know how it set the thermometer for what was hip, and how it really revolutionized “spring break,” how it premiered “Yo! MTV Rap” and how it is the godfather of all reality TV shows with the premiere of “The Real World.”

As it turns 30 on Aug. 1, 2011, the former influential station should change its name from MTV to RTV — Reality Television. And, what is encapsulated in the scandalous shows “Jersey Shore” and “16 and Pregnant,” it promotes narcissism, vulgarity, promiscuity, thoughtlessness and conspicuous consumption.

The show "16 and Pregnant"

I love this quote from blogger Alan Raible:

MTV has become limp and useless. It has become one of the most insignificant channels on your cable box.  It has lost its essence and lost its focus.  It has lost everything that used to make it great.”

What exactly is MTV now anyway? I don’t even think the producers of the station know what to make of it. The one thing that it has always done right is appeal to, cater to and influence youth culture. That is the only reason why it is still breathing, though it is clinging on life support.

But someone needs to pull the plug. It has no chance of recovery. –terry shropshire

Terry Shropshire
Terry Shropshire

A military veteran and Buckeye State native, I've written for the likes of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Business Chronicle and the Detroit Free Press. I'm a lover of words, photography, books, travel, animals and The Ohio State Buckeyes. #GoBucks



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