Thursday, August 11, 2011

Culture Shock 08.11.11: Does anyone really still want their MTV?

"I am The Great Cornholio!"
Aug. 1 marked the 30th birthday of MTV, not that you'd know that from watching MTV. The network's birthday passed virtually unremarked.

Maybe that's because MTV, a channel identified with youth and youth culture, can't bring itself to admit it has entered adulthood. If real life were "Logan's Run," MTV would be running for Sanctuary.
Or maybe it's just that there isn't much to celebrate now that MTV is little more than the shambling zombie husk of the once vibrant, groundbreaking cable station that helped define the 1980s.

MTV has been on the receiving end of jokes for so long, it's hard even to recall, much less appreciate, just how relevant it once was. Professional "concerned parents" used to drum up hysteria about how "Beavis and Butt-Head" and racy Madonna videos were corrupting an entire generation. (Generation X turned out just fine. Thanks for asking.) Now, the most controversy MTV can manage is a few critics writing boilerplate articles about whether "Jersey Shore" makes everyone from New Jersey look bad or is offensive to Italian Americans.

Well, it does make Jersey look bad, but we've all got our stereotypes to bear, OK?

And if you are looking for a music video that tries way too hard to be edgy and "transgressive," well I suppose you can find some of Lady Gaga’s on the Internet. But you won't find them on MTV, which stopped airing music videos so long ago that the joke about there being no music on Music Television stopped being funny a decade ago.

But, hey, at least Mike Judge is back. After 13 seasons of "King of the Hill" on Fox — a successful run by any standard, but a wildly successful one given Fox's track record of canceling shows — he has returned to MTV with new episodes of "Beavis and Butt-Head." And this time around, Beavis and Butt-Head will be making fun on MTV’s current programming, including "Jersey Shore."

That merits repeating: Two animated cartoon characters once thought to be horrible, even dangerous role models for children will be dishing out insults at the expense of a cast of flesh-and-blood cartoon characters, one of whom looks like an Oompa Loompa.

What do you get from too much MTV? A pain in the neck and an IQ of three.

At 30, MTV looks old, tired, worn out. It's like 30 is the new 80. And for being MTV's signature show, "Jersey Shore" isn't even all that distinctive. Every cable channel has some fake "reality" show about awful people, whether it's "The Real Housewives" or "Mob Wives" or "Keeping Up with the Kardashians." It's all so homogenized, I had to double check that "Jersey Shore" is an MTV show. It could easily be on E! or Bravo or SyFy or History or any of a dozen channels that, like MTV, no longer have anything to do with their name or initials.

We're far removed from when MTV invented the modern reality TV show with "The Real World," which, now a quaint relic, is entering its 26th season — another zombie that just won't die.

And the days when MTV's music videos provided a new and exciting artistic format, which served as a proving ground for future movie directors like Spike Jonze ("Where the Wild Things Are"), Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") and David Fincher ("Fight Club"), are now the stuff of legend.

Thirty years after it shook the world, MTV looks like just another cable channel that has lost its identity. Sure, people still watch. But it's just not important anymore.

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