Picture it, children… 30 years ago yesterday. When TVs outnumbered home computers. At 12:01 am, a clip of the Challenger launch curiously appears. The countdown nears lift off. And just then, a disembodied voice matter-of-factly announces “Ladies and Gentlemen: Rock n’ Roll.” This was the Genesis of a new generation. For MTV was born!
It wasn’t the first time that music video-based programming appeared on TV, but it was the first devoted to music all day, everyday. It was your radio and video and concert tickets and subscription to Rolling Stone all wrapped into one convenient cable channel. And, it truly was as ground-breaking as the Apollo mission featured in the original logo. For one, MTV standardized a new medium in music, sparking plenty of experimentation with visuals (hence all those weird music videos in the early 80s). And, before it turned its focus to the most profitable musicians, it was an opportunity for up-and-comers to gain some exposure that they might not have on radio (or at least, radio alone). Because most importantly, MTV was a centralizing taste-maker. Your much hipper friend that whipped your pathetic musical repertoire into shape. And at times, that hip friend also encouraged you to be more politically and socially active.
But now, that friend is the least respectable person on the planet. No longer hip. No longer wise. Just a skirt-chasing frat boy with a bowl cut. Minutes after MTV went live, VJ Martha Quinn promised viewers music, non-stop. 30 years later, Music Television has become anything but. Programming is instead dedicated to making superstars of narcissistic 20-somethings and beautifying teen pregnancy.
The executives have worked hard to distance themselves from the network it once was, even preferring to call it by the acronym rather than the obvious misnomer of the full name. Even the 30th Anniversary appears to have been mentioned by everyone but MTV. The commemorative classic footage will be instead run on its sister channel, VH1.
MTV’s 30th anniversary is met with both nostalgia for what it was, and contempt for what it has become. But why mourn? MTV was a lot of fun in the old days (even through most of the 90s!), but it will never return to that. Why not just find a new outlet for a similar concept if that’s what people want? There is loads of great music out there for it (and yes, good music is still being made!).