Overthinking Everything: Happy Birthday, MTV, You Colossal Failure

Yes, it's official. MTV is as old as me today; we're both old farts, out of the golden years of our twenties with only impending middle age and the cultural irrelevance it brings.  In ten more years, MTV & I will sit and wonder what we did with our lives.

Only one of us will find that while our life trajectory has swayed, it has not been to our detriment, and it won't be MTV.

I can't pinpoint exactly when I started to drift away from MTV and realized that I wasn't its target market.  Was it when Daria turned from an insightful sarcastic comedy into another generic teen soap opera?  Was it when they let the awesome Cartoon Sushi anthology die on the vine?  Was it when every other day was a Real World or Road Rules marathon?  Was it when they decided that viewers wanted to watch strangers in Florida dry-hump each other to music every summer, all summer?  Was it the overemphasis on hip-hop, showing that for every artist who can weave spoken words & music to make poetry, there's three flat-voiced braggards who embody the worst urban stereotypes?  Was it dropping Kurt Loder, who brought a strange dignity to music reporting, in favor of younger talking heads from their MTV News updates?  Was it unleashing the horror of Jenny McCarthy on an unsuspecting humanity?  It was all of these and more, but it's hard to put it all into words.

I think, ultimately, I just matured faster.  Most viewers did.  But the channels flat-out refused; even VH1, which you were supposed to graduate to from MTV after finishing college as far as viewing preferences, has become little better than its mother network as far as staying on-theme and putting watchable programs on the air.  About the last show on MTV that didn't make me want to go on a killing spree was Bully Beatdown, because sometimes we need that sort of modern frontier justice.  But the less said about their line-up now, especially a certain show that's kindly dragged my home state's name even further into the mud, the better, and the same applies to VH1's roster of social disease farms masquerading as dating shows.  It no longers tries to be hip and intelligent; it tries to appeal to the sorts of perpetual thirteen-year-olds who think Twilight is the height of both literature and cinema, who want to be seen as tough/sexy (depending rigidly on your gender), and who have no goals in life other than being famous for existing.  It was created to cater to Generation X/Y (aka Cuspers), and instead, it has embraced every horrible stereotype we have been slapped with instead of trying to refute them.

MTV, much like Larry the Croc in Pearls Before Swine, is trying not to acknowledge its birthday so it can stay a free-wheeling twenty-something forever and ever.  Unfortunately, it's the sort of twenty-something that Blink 182 mocked in "What's My Age Again?", listening to the song without ever realizing the band was laughing at their boorishness.  It won't work forever, and ignoring this birthday is just drawing more attention to how badly it has failed to hide its decline.  It's not the most marked decline in quality for a television network (that dubious honor belongs to TLC, which went from futurist medical theory programs to shows about freak litters & hateful makeovers), but because it's so emblematic of a generation, it's probably the most painful.

I'd like to think ten years from now, when both MTV & I are middle-aged and grumpy, we can talk about how they pulled it out of the gutter and became watchable again, but that would be way, way, way too optimistic.

EDIT: Yahoo Music blogger Lyndsey Parker gives the same complaints as me, only much better. She's right about this "la, la, la, not listening" approach being worse for our age bracket, mostly because we don't get the option of ignoring how we age.  Why should something that was supposed to define us in popular culture be any different, dammit?

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