Dire Straits made Gen Xers and Baby Boomers want it, starting off rock classics with “I want my…I want my MTV…” Video Killed the Radio Star forever made one hit wonder band The Buggles a part of music history, offering them the first video timeslot to grace the cable channel. Teenagers stared for hours, barely blinking, while trying to mimic pop and rockstar fashion trends: fluorescent headbands, shoulder pads, a finger-less glove with no matching partner or stonewashed and ripped blue jeans and bandanas. Teenagers followed dance steps; their family rooms a self-made dance floor. Teenagers flocked to their tubes to watch debut videos like Thriller from pop icons, while hugging their records almost bursting into Beatles-fan screams.
MTV was the birth of a new wave of pop culture. In it’s early years, there were music video countdowns and VJs whose jobs we envied. It was a time when Rolling Stone magazine would fly off the magazine rack and not be shoved in the back behind yellow journalism. It was a time when “reality” was lived outside of our televisions. It was a time when we didn’t even know silver-spoon socialites’ names.
Now, MTV has suddenly dropped the M and become Teen Television. Silly, dare TV shows like Jackass and Ridiculousness matched with social media have given birth to YOLO. Shows about teen moms strive to serve up a positive, public service message, but the message doesn’t put much of a dent in a rising statistic. There are still music videos to watch, but you have to be a night owl or an early riser, because they’re only played at odd hours. The Real World has sparked a slew of spin-offs with Survivor-like challenges, binge drinking and fist fights.
For years, I have been highly disappointed in the executives at MTV. I have watched them take cheap shots to suck in our youth, just to garnish higher ratings and make more money. I have worried that the demise will hit a drop-off at the exact moment my daughter adds the word “teen” to her age. Instead of “I want my MTV”, it’s now “I want my MTV to go away”.
Don’t get me wrong, I still watch some of these shows and use my desire to stay hip with the times for my daughter’s sake as an excuse. I use the excuse that I don’t want to get out of touch with our youth. That I need to be aware of the “wrong turns” my daughter could take someday. Watching some of these MTV reality shows is the equivalent of a train wreck and I want to make sure she doesn’t even buy a ticket. All of that is true, but the shows are also a mindless, guilty pleasure. Yes, I am a hypocrite, but I am a mother and my daughter has fried a lot of my brain cells by wearing me out. It’s a catch-22. They’re a guilty pleasure for me, but a bad example for her.
Here is where I’m about to turn the beat around on my MTV-bashing and offer the channel some kudos for recent developments. Recent teen, coming-of-age comedies like Awkward and The Inbetweeners (a remake of the British version). The biggest compliment I can give: they remind me of the emotions I felt while watching John Hughes movies in my youth. The teens are imperfect. In fact, they’re outcasts. And, they’re just trying to make it through the toughest, social years of their lives, High School, with a side of comic relief.
MTV, please stop showing reruns of Ridiculousness and every version of bad dating shows and add more programming of this caliber. Although at moments they can be crude, they offer light-hearted empathy to our teens. There’s nothing wrong with laughing at our trials and tribulations in life. In my opinion, that’s a positive message for our youth.
I am most impressed with a recent show named Catfish: The TV Show. It’s a TV version of the documentary and it follows teens and twentysomethings who have started online, romantic relationships with others via social media outlets like Facebook. Nev Shulman, the original subject of the documentary Catfish and filmmaker Max Joseph follow a different relationship each week, prepping someone who hasn’t met their significant other in person yet.
I think this is a wonderful way to bring awareness to teens about online relationships. It shows that there can be deception in these relationships. It’s a way to inform the young and naïve to be proceed with caution. It indirectly asks a great series of questions. Why haven’t I met this person after nine months of dating? Can we do a Skype call? What does a Google search reveal about this person? Is this person really who they say they are and not a dirty old man or woman pretending to be a hot, young teenager? Does this person have a criminal record (okay, I just added the last two)?
Personally, my daughter will have to “friend” me on all social media, until I’m done paying for her college. When she’s 22+ and earns her own paycheck and manages her own life, she can “unfriend” me if she so chooses. Until then, I’m still a part of her decision-making and life choices. But, for those who are allowed to make their own decisions at an early age, this is a great show.
Bravo for coming back around and creating quality shows on your cable network, MTV. Keep up the good work in bouncing back…even if it is without the M.