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I want my old MTV

Published: October 5, 2007
Section: Opinions


The recent MTV Video Music Awards show was notable, but not for the catastrophic performance by Britney Spears, nor for the fact that it was held in the Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Instead, the VMAs were interesting due to the unusual and unnerving format in which they were presented.

MTVs producers seldom allowed anything, performance or presentation, to run all the way through. Songs were interrupted (with some exceptions, such as Ms. Spearss trainwreck) and arresting visuals were disrupted by a cutaway to a completely unrelated location.

Justin Timberlake, who won awards in addition to performing, could not accept one of his awards because his performance was in a room of the hotel far away from the actual ceremonies. However, Timberlake got his licks in at MTVs expense later in the evening.

When accepting the Quadruple Threat of the Year award (whatever that may be), Timberlake challenged MTV to play more videos, and said that we dont want to see the Simpsons on reality television.

Although he is not a media scholar, Timberlake made an excellent point with respect to the direction that MTV has taken since its popular reality television show The Real World premiered in 1992. Since that time, MTV has added a staggering number of reality shows;

a short list of notable members includes Road Rules, Date My Mom, Laguna Beach, The Hills, Maui Fever, and the audaciously extravagant My Super Sweet 16.

At the hotel, the producers of the awards show would cut from venue to venue for no reason, often abandoning a song performance midway through without any warning at all. One of the most promising performances of the evening (Akons Smack That with DJ Mark Ronson and a horn section) was lost in this manner. Even the MTV website, which claims to show the entire VMAs to the viewer, shows less than thirty seconds of that song.

Marshall McLuhan, the great media scholar and theorist, once famously wrote that the medium is the message. With that in mind, the helter-skelter nature of the VMAs was not only an assault on MTVs viewers, but a depressing commentary on the state of our nations collective attention span.

Even years ago, when the primary content on MTV was focused on music, the longest any segment would run was roughly four to five minutes;

on the once-ubiquitous program Total Request Live, videos would frequently be interrupted by a teenaged fan screaming about why they were there in the first place

While MTV may have gotten away from the roots that made it Music Television in the first place, it is clear that the fault is not in our television overlords, but in the viewing public. We have grown accustomed, perhaps unfairly so, to our freedom of choice, switching channels at ease and never allowing our attention to be held. The proliferation of YouTube and the internet in general has hastened this disturbing trend, albeit by our own consent.

The VMAs represent an attempt by MTV to appeal to the YouTube generation, condensing material past sensible boundaries and sacrificing substance for style. The recent assertion by Kanye West that MTV allowed Ms. Spearss performance to air specifically to boost hits on the website, where they streamed videos of the performance on demand, serves only to lend credence to this idea.

This is not a new phenomenon, nor is it one likely to disappear within the coming years. Shows with interesting viewpoints and good writing like Arrested Development and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip are cancelled, while mindless reality television continues to flourish. We owe it to ourselves to move away from worthless programming like Pimp My Ride, and to pay more attention to the news and the events of the world. We have a wealth of opportunities at our collective fingertips to learn more about the world around us, but we are more interested in the events on The Hills are than those in Darfur or Iraq.

As it turns out, those who warned that television was making the people of the world less intelligent were right. What nobody realized is that the people did it to themselves.