One of the signature pop culture channels of television is technically middle-aged, and judging from its ratings is desperately seeking attention like everybody else nearing their 40s by leasing a sports car and cyberstalking ex-girlfriends on Facebook.
MTV turned 35 years old this week. It hasn’t aged well, sort of like this guy. Or this one. I couldn’t tell you where it is on my satellite package. I know it still exists, kind of like MySpace. But the last thing I knew about anything or anyone from MTV was that some girl on a show called “Teen Mom” did pornography. I still don’t know her name, although I admit I remember some other stuff about her now.
The most annoying thing about MTV’s sudden disappearance from relevancy is that everybody from my generation knew it didn’t have to happen. We knew it. We didn’t like it. We begged them not to do it. MTV didn’t have to be as forgettable as pogs. It had the formula to constantly reinvent itself like Pokemon Go.
Because music always updates. Janet Jackson begat Beyoncé. Duran Duran begat New Kids on the Block begat Justin Timberlake. Public Enemy begat Lupe Fiasco or Pharoahe Monch. And so on.
Nobody has given a satisfactory explanation why MTV stopped playing music in the first damn place.
I want to give you a window into my youth. Outwardly, to my friends at San Gorgonio High School, many assumed I listened only to hard rock. I was a bit of a private sort, but I assume part of that was how I dressed — jeans and T-shirts. And to be honest, I would tell my friends that other genres of music sucked.
Only I was a fraud. When I went home, MTV opened my eyes and ears to all genres of music and I consumed it. Pop. Grunge. Hip-hop. Dance. And then, charlatan that I was, I would stash that music in my backpack right next to my rock collection, return to school and tell my friends that music sucked.
The channel also touched on social issues, as did the music. The videos the channel played included acts that we now refer to as from the LGBTQ community. I’m not saying my generation is responsible for civil tolerance of that community, but something had to start chipping away at that wall and I believe music was a sledgehammer.
Here’s the thing: I suspect many of my friends were quietly like me — claiming allegiance to music their friends liked and then watching everything they could on MTV. Recently, I’ve found some friends who were into rap privately liked metal. The homecoming queen of my high school saw Guns N Roses this week. (Maybe she did it to be a supportive wife, but possible that she knows the lyrics to “Welcome to the Jungle”? OK. I’ll take that bet.)
That makes me smile. It signals to me that all of the people I knew growing up had more in common than we cared to admit back then. Music was that link.
Over time, my generation knew what happened. The channel started to branch away from music videos into half-hour programs. They didn’t always stink. I loved “Jackass” and “Beavis and Butt-head,” but the times, they were a-changin.’
Reality TV killed the video star. It’s a bit of a complaint, but it’s definitely a regret.
I’m sure the men in suits who crunch the numbers thought it would be a profitable move, only it supercharged MTV into complete irrelevancy. Imagine if MTV had kept that original formula and we kept watching. To be honest, I probably would have. I love music that much. I want current hits on my iPhone as much as the stuff I enjoyed as a teen.
But instead, MTV shut me out and everyone else in the process. And it forged its own generation gap instead of bridging it.