Monday marks the 30th birthday of the former Music Television, or MTV, and some of its partner channels are airing programs from over the original's lifetime. I surfed in during some footage from Live Aid, the 1985 two-continent benefit concert to raise funds to send food to African famine regions. Airing at the time I watched was part of the set by Queen, whose frontman Freddy Mercury managed to get nearly every one of the 72,000 people at London's Wembley Stadium to sing choruses with him. The late Mr. Mercury, a showman who really has yet to be equaled in pop music, strutted, stalked, vamped and air-guitared his way across the stage costumed in nothing more elaborate than a T-shirt and jeans. Among the songs played in the part I heard was "Radio Ga Ga." An aside to Ms. Germanotta -- the "Ga Ga" of the title is not a complimentary reference.
As "Radio Ga Ga" ended, original VJ's Nina Blackwood and Alan Hunter threw us to a commercial break, and the break from the Live Aid broadcast coincided with a real one. When we returned from break, we skipped ahead several years in MTV history to watch Ashton Kutcher snicker like a vapidly mean middle-schooler through an episode of his lame Candid Camera ripoff Punk'd. At least, I'm assuming that's what he did; I hit the channel button after about 15 seconds so I don't know how the rest of the segment went.
A music and pop culture writer for the St. Petersburg Times muses about the history of the channel, but since he's a real reporter instead of a guy running his mouth, he interviewed some original MTV people, including the perpetually cute Martha Quinn. Quinn points out that one of the real differences with the MTV of the days when it aired music videos and today is not just the difference in programming, although Jersey Shore and its ilk are a large part of why the channel is awful (I may have added that last part myself). Today's videos would be driven by what's popular in young ears -- meaning significant portions of the day might look like Glee re-runs. Quinn says that in her early time with the network, some of the rebellious attitude may have been manufactured, but a lot of it was real because the channel was something entirely new and no one could guarantee success. Today, with MTV a brand name, there is no edge to ride on and no risk is being taken.
I might disagree with how much of the rebel attitude was manufactured vs. how much was real, because popular music has carefully crafted its image since there have been images to craft. But she's right in that there is virtually no risk involved in MTV programming anymore. It breaks no new ground and rebels against nothing, going along with the flow and airing what it does only because people watch what it airs.
More's the pity.