Music-Free/Free The Music

America used to have a  cable network that was on the cutting edge of cool , a network that was the trendsetter – and then some- of youthful pop culture. That network was called MTV. On it, stars were born, music was discovered, icons were created, cultures intermingled.  And from this network, a new medium – the music video – was unleashed upon America and spread worldwide.

Now, I understand that things change and no one and no thing can stay relevant forever. I also understand that what I’m about to say has been said fifty million times before and by people who say it better: but the fact that MTV has (all but) given up on music and buried itself in reality series of dubious quality is depressing. As it launches season 2 of the super popular “Jersey Shore,” MTV is, to me, more or less a trash heap of reality.


 I wasnt a big fan or viewer of the old network so I won’t go so far as to say “I want my MTV!”   (Thank me later…) And I can’t say that I watch the network much now or that Im the target it’s aiming at.  So maybe I’m the wrong person to write this. But I will say, when I do watch MTV or cast members of its various reality shows turning up everywhere else, one of MTV’s most famous videos to mind:  I’d like to take a sledghammer to the whole network . 

Like I said, it’s not big news or a new complaint that MTV barely plays music videos anymore. I was, out of curiosity, on the night of Jersey Shore’s second season premiere, looking at MTV’s daily schedule. There’s about 3 hours of music in the morning, and that’s it. Of course, one might argue, all the reality shows that follow “include” music. To me, that’s like ESPN saying “We’re not going to air games or matches anymore; instead, we’re going to show idiots behaving like idiots and have highlight films playing in the back round.”


But , in reality, no pun intended, MTV wasn’t always a “pure music” network  anyhow, or at least it hasn’t been in a very long time. The  MTV Music News was a big thing.  (Dude, Kurt Loder is 65!).  There was a movie show. And I’m sure everyone remembers game shows like  Remote Control?  Singled Out?   In recent years, shows like Jackass, Beavis & Butthead, and Punk’d were all fluff and funny (at least to their target demographic.) ‘Made’ was a  heartfelt makeover show. And of course The Real World has been around for a long time, long before reality took over MTV completely.  I’m not reality is a new thing or that MTV should be wall to wall video 24/7.

My problem isnt that MTV doesn’t play much music anymore, but that MTV has ceased to be about music and has replaced that focus with a much lower quality focus.  MTV seems now about pandering to people with  a bunch of crap that portrays young people -especially female young people- in a horrible light, almost all the time. And by pandering they also glorify this stuff, popularize it, and create more of a demand for it. It’s a viscious cycle.

When I say a ‘horrible light’, I mean shows like Jersey Shore, the super obnoxious rich teens of My Super Sweet Sixteen, the soap queens of The Hills (have to admit I have only seen it on The Soup…) or  The Real World (which , again, I realize  started about 20 years ago…) ,  the super rude girls and guys who come through Parental Control. …and whatever the hell Tia Tequilla is. I am talking about fame whores who add nothing and do nothing. I’m talking about the celebration and showcasing of vapidness, self-absorption, materialism, salaciousness,  backstabbing, melodrama, and imbecility. You know what I’m talking about.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think MTV was or  should become a family-friendly network. It has always catered to the young, and it’s always pushed the envelope with things like sexuality (sometimes in a way that’s been sexist…)  My claim isn’t that suddenly MTV has gone from clean to gross, and for sure, the advent of increasingly raunchier videos isn’t something recent. 

But the truth is now more than ever,  it seems like MTV isnt just ocassionally scraping the bottom of the reality  barrel; instead it seems like it’s more and more  making that  bottom of the barrel stuff  its “thing.”  Yes, there are some “harder hitting” reality shows about teen moms, some comedies. (I do need to check out Silent Library. ). But what they’re about now on MTV seems to be the Jersey Shore kind of lowest common denominator content.  The only competition to Snooki and The Situation is the VMA’s and the Movie Awards. MTV doesn’t seem to be about music anymore. And what it’s about is junk.

And that’s the second part of the problem.  Even if MTV isn’t about music any more, music hasn’t stopped being important. Music and musical artists stir controversy, launch fashion and cultural trends, start social movements and have an important influence on people including  youth. Of course music did all this before MTV, too, but MTV added something. And now it seems like MTV, by choosing the low road of  cash cow flash in the pan cheese reality, has decided it doesn’t want to add anymore. It isn’t an important part of the conversation anymore…not in the  culturally cool, we-got-people-here-who-kn0w-stuff-about-all-kinds-of-music, trend-setting way it once was.  Artists still make videos, they still covet VMAS.  But when people talk about what MTV is producing and offering viewers these days, is the conversation ever about music?

I guess times change, and certainly, MTV isn’t any different than Bravo, A&E, and TLC who have also rebranded and become pretty much all-reality, all the time.  And maybe when stars are launched on American Idol and youtube,  MTV has less power to be as key as it once was. 

But on the other hand, MTV was a billion times more culturally influential than any of those other networks, and for real, people haven’t stopped watching TV all together yet. MTV could have found a way to still count.  But it quit.  

MTV was once a  Rolling Stone Magazine-ish, diverse, hip, fun,  crazy, smart music or at least music-related  network. I want that kind of network somewhere on cable again.  I want it for today’s youth who deserve more than all this reality waste of digitial space.  So maybe   I do want my MTV, the one I remember. Not the one I want to take a sledgehammer to.


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