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for whom the boob tolls
please be the death knell of mtv
by dan gonzalez
pop culture

You'd think this horse would be dead by now, but it's not, so I've got my steel-toes on. This oft-written-about incident has evolved into a story about the country's reaction to the incident, so I thought I'd go ahead and try to clear up the initial controversy so we can move on to the real issues.

People seem drawn to one of two camps, reflective of the false dichotomy the Democrats and Republicans have roped us into these past few decades. Most people seem blind (perhaps by the tendrils of silvery light which radiated out from the nipple in question) to the real obscenity in my eyes.

On one hand, many folks feel that Janet Jackson's infamous breast disclosure, intended or not, was a fairly harmless malfunction of wardrobe and/or judgement. Unworthy of scrutiny, it was least of all evils during a 4-hour broadcast of violent sports bespeckled with vulgar, sophomoric commercials. It's especially harmless considering the wanton violence and other tripe that passes for acceptable television programming these days.

On the other hand, some people feel like the bejeweled bosom was practically thrust into their very living rooms, a taunting obscenity threatening the sanctity of their homes and their moral sensibilities. They require a swift, severe response to clearly demarcate the supposed line that was so heinously crossed. They're mad as hell, they're not gonna take it, and all that.

The fact is there is no controversy about the boob. It popped out on live national tv before 9PM. That shouldn't happen, period, even if it was an accident. It's worse than violence and other tripe depicted on fictional shows, because those shows are fictional and they are on later than sensibly parented formative ones should be watching. On the other hand, we don't need a costly investigation to tell us any of that. Above all, tightening up decency standards won't fix anything. Even if you take out sex and violence, there will still be endless amounts of crud on tv to rot our brains. While there's no cure for lack of common sense, we must all somehow rise to deal with sex, violence, stupid ads, and even nipple rings. (Heck, on average I bet most of us even like three out of the four.) In any case, it's buyer beware, and you are in charge of your own remote.

But the one thing we should not accept is MTV's wanton desecration of music.

Consider the halftime show itself, pre tit-flash. It was, for lack of a better term, pure shit. Sure, I know, it's the superbowl and all, and it's cheesy and contrived, but this was the worst one ever. A short recap follows in case you missed it.

Bimbo Jessica Simpson kicks things off in a manner that should have been a harbinger of doom. Next, Puffy and Nelly alternately bark at each other backed by digitized music lifted from some actual recording artist. Then, Kid Rock pantomimes 4 year-old songs followed by Janet's lip-sync of Rhythm Nation (orignially released in '89) with Michael's dance moves from Thriller (originally released in '84). She then dry-humps Justin Timberlake (originally released born in '81) half to death before ending with the possibly contrived, definitely crass mishap which has since occupied so much of our attention. That it ended up being the high point of the show in my own weak mind does not console me in the least.

But what else can we expect from MTV? They who brought us the bizarre attempt at artificial career resuscitation that Madonna and Britney performed on each other just two months after t.a.t.U. committed the same exact faux lesbi-antics on practically the same show. (The former was on Video Music Awards, the latter was on MTV Movie awards, big diff.) They who brought us supposed 'reality tv'. They who brought us the unscripted Osbournes only to reveal that it was, in fact, scripted (once the ratings died and they had to milk it for The Making Of... episode.)

MTV, like some cultural variant of Mad Cow Disease, has devoured practically all value out of the popular Music industry. Since its inception, it has parasitically infected music and other popular entertainment industries in a surprisingly straightforward lunge for ratings and ad revenues. They themselves admitted it when they migrated from individual videos to 30-minute programs in order to obtain ratings. Why did they want ratings? To drive up ad revenue, of course.

But at what cost? We all more or less accept that big business will spend millions of dollars misinforming consumers about their products and the marketplace. We call it advertising. Some of us only watch the Super Bowl for that very purpose. And we all like the T.V. stations which accept gratuitous amounts of money to publish said misinformation without any responsibility for its content. They are unscrupulous, but we don't mind because their shows entertain us and we detest boredom.

However, a media empire that bombards our most vulnerable consumer demographic with complete hokum, consistently shifting its content to appeal to the lowest common denominator of said group, with greed as its sole motivation is a different story. And obscenity standards and censorship aren't going to fix it. I don't know if it can be fixed. Someone may have to put a stake in its heart. I'm pretty sure it has no soul.

MTV is a machine designed to increase ratings at any cost in order to continue earning fortunes for people who pimp products and ideas to anyone stupid or weak enough to watch. (Don't be offended, I've watched it recently.) It cares nothing for value in arts and entertaiment. It pretends at having cultural awareness by sponsoring ads which encourage voting, safe sex, and whatever else furthers its own self-preserving agenda. The fact that said agenda (based almost entirely on juvenile politics which haven't changed at all since the 60's) encourages empty-headed liberalism in its viewers is a happy side-effect. It allows MTV to continue to manipulate them and expose new vulnerabilities. And that is what is intolerable, but it neatly hides behind the first admendment and therefore must be tolerated.

Alas, it is a powerhouse that is here to stay. Perhaps consolidated media ownership has exacerbated the phenomena. I'm not the first to point out the obvious decline in Arts and Entertainment. Jael McHenry ably noted it in her column: It's All Your Fault). I agree that consumers have responsibility, but in general we have much less influence over conglomeration-sponsored greed than otherwise. In 2003, MTV's parent Viacom earned 25.9 billion dollars in gross revenue. 50% of that was ad revenue. 13 billion is hard to fight when voting with mere dollar bills. And in MTV's case, the targets for their ads (pre-teens, teens) are extremely formative and much more susceptible to media pressure. They do not have the wherewithal to resist.

I admit vitriolic bias against MTV. I'm old enough to remember a time before MTV. A drummer since age 8, I can remember putting records on a turntable and jamming to them. Letterman, SNL, and the Midnight Special were glorious opportunities to view live music. Admittedly I miss those times almost as much as I detest self-indulgent nostalgia. But I am demoralized at the thought that my children will not likely experience something like that. They will grow up thinking that a rapper or lip-syncer with a half-naked dance-troupe is a musical group. They will grow up thinking in-your-face sex and violence equivocates musical expression. They will have to sort through an enormous pile of pretentious fodder blowing around in a maelstrom of dishonest ads and product placements to find one small shred of soulfulness.

I don't like their chances. MTV will continue its erosion and it will be worse in 10 years' time.

I'll end up being that cynical, fastidious old fart of a dad that says "When I was a kid, we didn't have digital mixers, DJ's, and naked dancers. We played instruments in the garage..."


Maybe it's you, maybe it's Dan. Things aren't quite the way they should be. And now it seems Dan's peace of mind has come up for the bidding, and those that he respects and trusts must all have been just kidding. Dan's little world has lost control, but still it keeps on spinnin'...

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topic: pop culture
published: 5.10.04

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welcome to it suckers!
by dan gonzalez
topic: pop culture
published: 5.12.04


dan gonzalez
2.17.04 @ 9:02p

NOTE: I'd been working on this for week or so and struggling to hammer it out. And then I saw Matt's column come out. This is no reflection on his coverage and sorry for duplicating subject matter.


matt morin
2.17.04 @ 10:53p

No worries Dan. We may both be starting with Janet's nipple, but we go different directions after that.

Nice job.

tracey kelley
2.27.04 @ 12:33a

It breaks my heart that even for a "live" show, the music isn't enough anymore. For some reason, there has to be fireworks and dancers and flag waving to accompany a bad remake of a Bad Company song.

Bad Company, people.

When artists lip-synched on American Bandstand, at least the dancers had their own seperate face-time, the album was held up so that people knew what it was, and Dick Clark showed a genuine interest in the music. Night Tracks used to be an endless stream of music videos - no vj's, no cutsey downtown dance parties, no GNR trashing the set. Granted, most of the viewing for Night Tracks happened at 2:43 am, and everyone watching was stoned, but at least you got a good music fix of just about everything.

MTV was once innovative. One would think they could have parlayed that innovation into capturing and maintaining creative advertising revenue.

For what little programming hours are dedicated to music now on MTV, I don't see why they haven't changed their name to PapTV, because that's all it is.

And fercrissakes, will someone please put cadavers Kurt Loder and John Norris back in the cooler? Sheeeesh.

One thing I like about CMT, albeit just as formatted as MTV and VH1 and Fuse, is that they still list the songwriters at the end of the video, and they have programs like Crossroads, where two artists - usually one country, one rock - have teamed up together to perform each other's songs live. That's when viewers can see that true talent still exists.

trey askew
2.27.04 @ 7:49a

Ah MTV, music first....err second...err on another channel we had to create.

It is pretty maddenning these days. Friday Night Videos was much better back in the pre cable days. Looks like the erosion will continue though. Nothing better if you want a mindless timewasting activity.

juli mccarthy
2.27.04 @ 9:26a

It amuses me that MTV and VH1 have programs, rather than music videos, and I'll tell you WHY it amuses me: because every now and then they have a program that is actually music videos, run back to back, and people go crazy! "Wow! A solid hour of videos!" And they stick these random "straight video" hours in, people go crazy, ratings go up and THEY HAVEN'T FIGURED OUT WHY.

A lot of classic rock radio stations now promote themselves with the tag "more music, less talk." Someday, there will be a classic MTV station, mark my words.

jael mchenry
2.27.04 @ 10:27a

The music industry these days has so very little to do with music, it's sad. And I remember when VH1 started out, and they had pictures in a magazine discussing what sort of videos they would and wouldn't play -- I distinctly remember "YES!" next to Tina Turner and "MAYBE!" next to Madonna. Some of her stuff was apparently too racy.

And now they're showing Britney's "Toxic" video, which is nothing but a 5-minute episode of "Alias" with extra costumes and no plot. Oh, and shrieking.

(And thanks for the plug, Dan!)

jael mchenry
2.27.04 @ 10:27a

Oh, and by extra costumes I mean more in number. They are actually smaller in size.

juli mccarthy
2.27.04 @ 10:37a

Occasionally you still see a really good music video. Coldplay has one called The Scientist that works beautifully. There are a billion crap videos, but that perfect marriage of media comes along every so often and it really does draw you in. When MTV first started, I remember a lot of talk about mini-films and concepts that could have been SO cool. Instead of pursuing that, we get "thirty dancers arranged in a triangle" shit.

jael mchenry
2.27.04 @ 10:42a

Is "The Scientist" the walking-backwards one, Juli?

I'm going to get beaten up for saying this here, but when I used to watch VH1 every morning, I could NOT turn off the TV if Nickelback's "This is How You Remind Me" was on. For some reason I found it fascinating.

tracey kelley
2.27.04 @ 11:00a

Heh! Funny image of Jael, HYP-MO-tized by the TV.

I'm hooked on No Doubt's remake of "It's My Life." Gwennie is sure promoting her movie debut, but few look as good in that period getup as she does.

And I'm positively hooked on Tony's bass in that song, which has nothing to do with the video except he exictes me.

daniel castro
2.27.04 @ 12:08p

I don't watch MTV for its videos anymore...to my taste, they all suck. I only watch one or two of their shows.

They did good on creating MTV2 because they knew they had to stay "true" to the channel's name, and of course, to create more revenue.

Then again, the only thing I watch on MTV2 is Headbangers Ball and the rock countdown. All the pop crap still sucks and will continue to do so.

mike julianelle
2.27.04 @ 1:39p

MTV2 is all hiphop anyways.

And Tracey, good call on Stefani. She's totally vamping it up period style for The Aviator.

jael mchenry
2.27.04 @ 1:59p

And doing a bang-up job. How big is her role in Aviator, though? There's a massive parade of ladies cast in that one.

mike julianelle
2.27.04 @ 2:08p

I don't think it's very big...who is she, Mae West? And Cate Blanchett is Katherine Hepburn...maybe we should move this to the boards.

jael mchenry
2.27.04 @ 2:36p

Well, in any case, Stefani is trying to do the movie thing after ages of the music thing, so more power to her. Will be curious to see how that goes.

The pop kids clearly aren't happy just making music (Spears, Moore, Simpson) but since music television isn't happy being a video network either, why should they be?

juli mccarthy
2.27.04 @ 3:54p

Jael - yes, walking (and singing) backwards. Very can't-look-away stuff.

In truth, very few videos have ever really been extraordinary or groundbreaking, but y'all remember the Police video with Sting doing slo-mo with candles (which was interesting for the same reason the Scientist one is, really) and Peter Gabriel's CGI stuff that was Just. So. COOL. There was potential there, y'know?

russ carr
2.27.04 @ 4:04p

For the record, Gwen Stefani is playing Jean Harlow.

mike julianelle
2.27.04 @ 4:23p

That Police one is "Wrapped Around My Finger". Love that song. The Cibo? video, by the two Asian girls, where one half of the screen is going forward and the other half is going backwards? Great video.

juli mccarthy
2.27.04 @ 4:33p

Thanks, Mike. All I could think of was King of Pain, and I knew that wasn't right.
But yeah, you see what I mean - music video had some decent potential as an entertainment medium, but it just never worked up to that potential. Maybe MTV was too far ahead of its time to really exploit that, and then they just gave up and started catering to 13-year olds.

jael mchenry
2.27.04 @ 4:37p

You consider me a young apprentice/Caught between the Scylla and Charybdis...

Police lyrics were always absurdly interesting.

I remember thinking "You Might Think" by the Cars was cutting-edge stuff. It was, but it was a pretty primitive edge. Ditto "Money For Nothing."

mike julianelle
2.27.04 @ 4:41p

Yeah, that's the best line, Jael. And the way he flips it:

I will turn your face to alabaster/Then you'll find your servant is your master/And YOU'LL be wrapped around MY finger

I also love all the devil references. Of course.


heather millen
2.27.04 @ 5:49p

For Nickelback's new song I can't turn away, Jael. It IS fascinating.

I have VH1 in the background each AM as I get ready. To my knowledge, this is the only time that there is music on either station.

joe procopio
2.27.04 @ 8:56p

Cibo Mato - holy smoke, I remember that from... 94? 95? They rocked, in their own way.

erik myers
2.28.04 @ 9:58a

That's about right.

Awesome stuff. I've got a couplea albums. I love that most of the songs on Viva! La Woman! are about food.

Oooh... and hey.. they're selling 'cibomatto.com!'

tim lockwood
3.2.04 @ 12:40a

Interesting little factoid roaming around my brain in search of a place to land.

On 9/11/01, MTV played videos all day, with the disclaimer popping up between each one (this is as close to a quote as I can get) - "Due to today's events, all regular programming has been suspended. Instead, we will be playing music videos until further notice."

I'm so old, I remember when playing music videos WAS regular programming for MTV. Pass me the Grecian Formula, and be snappy about it.

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