I want my MTV.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m showing my age – still hanging onto the hope one day I’ll flip over to MTV and music videos from my youth will begin spilling out again. Instead, I get a rude reminder of how far removed I am those early days of MTV as characters in increasingly bizarre reality shows burst into my living room.
Somewhere along the line, one of the most important defining features of my youth was hijacked.
MTV, which actually stood for Music Television, took to the air on August 1, 1981 revolutionizing and transforming the music industry for an entire generation. While music is always a powerful force in culture, laying down the soundtrack for each generation, MTV pumped out music videos out 24 hours a day, seven-days a week. While Elvis spent a few brief minutes on the Ed Sullivan Theater, MTV was the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Ask people who lived though this cultural revolution of the 1980’s and you’ll find we all share a collective history of particular videos or how they evolved from simple one-shots to more complicated story-telling vehicles. Forget what you know of the cartoonish Michael Jackson of the couple several decades – on MTV he was the master. If ever a venue was created for an artist, Michael Jackson was a man for the times. When Hollywood director John Landis teamed with Jackson for the epic Thriller video, the world of music culture changed overnight much like when Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles.
Even fashion was dramatically impacted as the MTV culture fueled the outlandish styles of the 1980’s – a world where big hair, florescent colors, and gothic punks styles all peacefully coexisted in one world. Even Hollywood got into the act by producing movies based on the different subcultures (Breakfast Club, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Valley Girl, etc.). MTV, in many ways, was the most powerful kingmaker of a generation.
Granted, sometimes timing is everything – and MTV came into the world as cable television penetrated into homes and video cameras allowed for lower production costs. Add to that the arrival of VCR’s on the scene that allowed people to time-shift for the first time, MTV could be recorded and played over and over again on demand.
Most of us from the heyday of MTV are a fountain of trivia: what was the first video broadcast? (Video Killed the Radio Star), or who did the voice work on Michael Jackson’s Thriller? (Vincent Price). Granted, this won’t earn us discounts at Starbucks, but we hold some of these like a small club with a secret handshake.
So today as I find myself rummaging through hundreds of channels on today’s cable screen in a desperate search of something to catch my attention, I continue to yearn for the days of my MTV – the one absent of reality television shows.
But for now I continue to find old habits are hard to lose. Like an itch that will never go away, I will continue to find myself pausing on MTV in hopes of discovering a weekend long marathon of the videos that defined a generation and changed the world.
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