Then What Does The ‘M’ Stand For?

The other day it was announced that MTV is changing their logo, removing the script “Music Television” that has been below the iconic MTV pretty much since the channel’s inception in 1981. (I always find it interesting that MTV is only a few months older than I am.) The new logo is basically the same old logo, just cut down a little:

MTV logo

Apparently MTV has just know figured out what the rest of us have known for the last decade, and possibly longer: that they don’t show music videos any more. In fact, they have almost no programming whatsoever devoted to anything even remotely related to music. I guess by removing the “Music Television” from their logo MTV is saying they’re through the lie that they’ve become and they’re going to fully embrace themselves as the purveyors of, mostly, reality television. Yes, the horrible trend that started in the 90s with The Real World and Road Rules, continued to be blight on the world with The Osbournes and The Hills, and finally jumped the shark with the inexplicably popular Jersey Shore, has finally taken over the network that was once the most cutting edge thing available on popular TV.

For me, this is the ending to what has been a sad transformation. I gave up on MTV a long time ago, but it’s still sad to see something that was so vital to my teenage experience morph into an unrecognizable mess. MTV was beyond innovative, and what made it so likable was that they did something nobody else did, played music videos. As a kid, the great thing about MTV was that they played videos literally all day long, so you could just put it on and have it playing while you were doing whatever it was you were doing that day to entertain yourself. It didn’t matter if the video currently playing wasn’t something you liked, because you knew that in a few minutes something you would like would be coming on. I was watching the first time they showed the Thriller video, in its original eleven minute long version; it’s not only the greatest music video ever made, but, despite the fact that he transformed into a degenerate pervert, it featured the coolest person on the planet, Michael Jackson.

With this new MTV format great things like that will never happen again. The channel used to have shows devoted entirely to genres of music, and none was better than 120 Minutes. Every Sunday night you could sit and watch videos of up and coming rock/alternative bands and know about the next big thing before anyone else (or so was the thought, really you’d know about them roughly the same time as the other million or so viewers). Every huge name band from the late 80s and early to mid 90s was shown to the world for the first time on 120 Minutes. I’ll be honest, without a show like that, I know I miss out on a ton of great music. Sure, it’s all out there in the world for me to find, but I’m just not that savvy, I need a little help.

Not only is it sad that there haven’t been any videos on MTV for years, but the stuff they’ve been replaced with is awful. I’d rather have someone poke my eye with their finger for six hours than have to watch a half hour’s worth of current MTV programming. The stuff is just terrible; it’s a collection of assholes, bitches, crybabies, spoiled brats, and, well, assholes and bitches. They never show anyone likable, intelligent, funny, or interesting, and they never show anything that has even the slightest bit of redeeming value. Now, I’m sure that there was plenty of crap on back when I was a more than regular watcher of MTV (pretty sure I already mentioned The Real World and Road Rules), and I know it reeks of errant nostalgia to say “things were better in my day”, but the fact is, it’s true, MTV not only had it made with all the videos, but they had truly original, often brilliant programming as well.

There were a number of live action shows that were great, including the admittedly awful but undeniably enjoyable Undressed, but the cream of the crop was the sketch comedy show The State. Not as well remembered or beloved as The Kids In The Hall, though often just as irreverent and hilarious, The State was one of the most innovative and, frankly, weird sketch shows ever and it launched the careers of a number of comedians who would later create such shows and movies as Reno 911, Role Models, Stella, The Baxter, and, surprisingly enough, Night At The Museum. The show had the kind of talent and entertainment and complete lack of regard for convention that is just absent from current television. Here’s a great example of the show.

But where MTV really used to shine with original programming in the old days was with their animated shows. Long before Cartoon Network came up with their Adult Swim concept MTV was perfecting adult oriented animated content with series like Liquid Television and Bevis and Butthead. Aeon Flux is one of the most visually stunning cartoons ever created and as a viewer in my early teens the subject matter was so far ahead of my knowledge that it was nearly incomprehensible. It’s a show I’d love to watch again and see if I could understand because I’m fairly positive that the content was as intricate as the artwork. Here’s the opening credits, with the super cool fly in the eyelashes thing:

Another cartoon that was visually amazing, it changed animation style depending on the naratorial perspective, and ridiculously ahead of my time was The Maxx. As a fourteen year old watching this show I barely had a clue what was going on, but I was positive it was worth watching. I always had the sense there was a lot going on in the show that was never explained and it turns out (as I learned through some research) that that was the case. There were all kind of subtextual issues that might have been explained if there had been a second season. Still, The Maxx was an fantastic show and, like Aeon Flux, one I’d love to watch now as an adult. Just the preview for the show if fairly stunning:

This change of focus for MTV is sad, but it’s also sort of a non story, since the network’s ability to create interesting programming faded out over a decade ago. It hate to be the old fogey dousing everyone with nostalgia, but any time you’re forced to examine the demise of something that was an integral part of your personal experience, that’s just bound to happen. I guess now that I’ve gotten all this off my chest it’s time to wonder what exactly the ‘M’ in ‘MTV’ stands for now.

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