It depresses me that I was born the same year MTV went on the air. Every milestone year in my life (15, 20, 25, 30) has been met with an equal milestone for a media outlet whose demographic has consistently shifted downward and whose standards have continually decreased. When I turned 15 this all was fine and dandy as I was then finally graduating into the target age group and was too dumb to know any better. But by 20 not only was I aging out, but the network had nearly completed its transition to teen-oriented lifestyle channel. My brother, 8 years my senior, didn’t have this problem – he was watching it well into his late 20’s without a trace of nostalgia. Now neither of us can watch it and feel anything but depressed.
MTV was the test case for cable television. When it went on the air, the benefits of cable were basically allowing you to double your channels (from 10 to 20, woo!) and getting TV out to rural areas that were undeserved by broadcast television. It additionally opened up new avenues for programming that was either not commercially viable to maintain a network normally (cable access) or were at the time too niche or too edgy for network television (MTV and Skinemax).
It’s been a long crappy 30 years since MTV premiered. There’s a lot more to its decline in the last half of that than just the transition away from music programming, about which enough has been said already. At the aforementioned age 15 I was more addicted to Beavis and Butthead, Daria, and The State than I was to watching Aerosmith or Stone Temple Pilots videos, so the music versus original content question doesn’t seem terribly relevant to me. Instead we’re talking about but the willingness to take risks and catering to an audience thirsting for something subversive, a mantle that has essentially been taken over by people with no interest in marketing to tweens.
This was a time when subversion was heavily marketable and prepackaged youth culture was in that lull between New Kids On The Block and N-Sync. We’ve moved past that now and have finally to a point where trash basically sells better than anything else. We’re not talking John Waters trash, which at least has the decency to wink for the camera and artfully render filth – this is real trash, trash solely for it’s own sake. Personally I can’t find anything socially redeemable about Jersey Shore or those godawful shows Liz talked me into watching.
I’d like to think I’m not turning into an old man who’s yelling at kids to get off his lawn but I’m admittedly kind of scared for what MTV will be like the year we both turn 40. I’m past feeling nostalgic for Duran Duran videos and David Lee Roth or the shennanigans of a fresh new outlet in a fresh new medium.
I can’t begin to guess what it’ll be like in 10 years. I’m guessing Celebrity Deathmatch only, you know, real. Tune in for a gladitorial match between Coolio and Meatloaf. Actually who knows – by 40 I might actually be jaded enough to watch that.