Thursday, August 10, 2006

Happy 25th MTV

There have been several, but not a ton of retrospectives about MTV turning 25. Just driving around, I did a quick personal inventory of MTV's impact on me: watching MTV for three solid hours in hopes of catching Michael Jackson's video "Thriller" when it first came out, watching "Headbanger's Ball" with Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden hosting, Bill Clinton's "boxers or briefs" statement and watching "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time at around midnight on "120 Minutes."

Ever since it came out, MTV has been bashed by its critics for various reasons. Today, they're bashed for promotion rampant materialism with such shows as "Cribs" and "The Hills" and not showing videos. When it was showing videos, MTV was criticized by showing the wrong videos and for forcing artists to make videos to get an audience - hence the praise that was leveled on Pearl Jam when they stopped making videos.

Two major items I give credit to MTV: it arguably gave the election to Bill Clinton in 1992 and it changed the way information is presented in everything from commercials to classrooms.

First, the election of 1992. MTV decided to become involved on a civic level and started to campaign to "Rock the Vote." Though they tried to maintain balance, it was clear to see they were pushing for Clinton. The rare occasion that Bush was interviewed, the questions were far more confrontational than the ones tossed at Clinton. Bush didn't do himself any favors. In a memorable segment during U2's Zoo TV tour, a clip was played with Bush sr. poking fun that Clinton was taking foreign policy hints from Bono. He quipped that he would consult the experts and Clinton can consult Boy George. With Bono meeting with scores of world leaders (and even Bush jr.), it was goof on George Bush's part. MTV also subtlely incorporated "change" in their voting drive, alluding to the fact that not only get out and vote, but vote for change (e.g. get Bush out of the White House). Still, Bush was doomed with MTV. If he courted the MTV vote, he would seem dated and out of touch, pandering to the MTV audience. As a result of MTV's push, more youth were mobilized to vote and helped Clinton get into the White House (Ross Perot helped out a bit as well).

Now the second impact... the way information is presented. MTV's hyper-editing and use of several, brief cuts - a chop suey effect - has been co-opted everywhere. It used to be youth-oriented products, but now even Right Guard incorporates this type of "extreme editing." Classroom videos have had to adopt such an approach to "compete with the MTV generation." It's led to charges that we're raising a nation of kids who have ADD.

Like it or not, MTV's impact has been enormous. From giving us Madonna to shaping foreign policy, it has arguably changed our cultural landscape more so than any television network in the history of the medium.


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