The rise and fall of MTV

 I grew up watching Adam Curry and Martha Quinn as they introduced me to the vibrant world of 80's hair metal. Watching Def Leppard and Scorpions videos had that taste of forbidden fruit that made them all the more appealing to a kid like me. MTV had become a symbol of youth culture by giving music a visual identity it had never possessed.

But, over the years, music played an increasingly diminished role on the network. But even when The Real World made its landmark debut, we still had shows like Alternative Nation and 120 Minutes. The lure of cheap reality TV proved too difficult to pass up, and by the mid and late 90's the only way to see videos on MTV was to stay up past midnight. TRL was possibly one of the greatest tragedies in MTV history, by eschewing full-length videos in favor of clips, many of which lasted only moments. It's been years since I've watched anything on MTV, and the last time I looked through the schedule (courtesy of my Dad's satellite TV subscription) it was just one patronizingly stupid reality show after another.

Today, the LA Times brought the news that MTV is dropping "Music Television" from their logo. It certainly comes as no surprise, but for those of us who grew up with the network being a symbol of the incredible power music had to shape us, it's a bit of a somber day. All we can do now is reflect on the fact that the MTV we knew and loved is gone, and will never be back.

And maybe that's to be expected. The reality is that music videos are delivered through the internet, through sites like YouTube and MySpace. When I was a kid, I'd watch MTV for hours just hoping to see that one totally awesome video. Now, I can just hop on the internet and watch that video when I want, as many times as I want.

Yet I can't help but feel like MTV is taking the easy way out. Their head of marketing, Tina Exarhos, said of the logo change, "Why have we been so scared when the channel itself has evolved so much over the years?" From where I'm sitting, MTV has done anything but evolve. Instead, they've degenerated into a symbol of what's wrong with modern television – a collection of cheaply made, exploitative reality shlock. It's no wonder that they've been in a years-long ratings decline. But there's still so much music-centric programming MTV could offer beyond mere videos. What about documentaries of touring bands, live concert broadcasts, or even American Idol style showcases for talented young musicians? MTV has long forgotten that it became a relevant network precisely because it brought music to the world in a way that had never been done before. That may be a little archaic now, but rather than reinvent themselves and influence popular culture in new ways, they've allowed the worst money grabbing garbage to become the defining element of their network. They shouldn't just drop "Music Television" – they should drop the name entirely.


  1. Excellent post. I've had similar thoughts about MTV for a while now. I grew up on MTV. I used to love MTV. I wanted to marry Martha Quinn and have her babies. MTV really was about the music back then. Now MTV is a joke, and I can't remember the last time I actually watched something on MTV. It was probably back when "The State" or "Beavis and Butt-Head" were on.


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