MTV at 25: Generational mood swing

As MTV gradually spread among cable systems in the early ’80s, it was a wonderland for kids of my generation. The variety far surpassed anything available on radio at the time — you could see Eurhythmics, Dio, Rod Stewart and Rush in the same hour. The VJs were easygoing and likable, and they made you feel like part of the community. The videos, often shot on a budget that might not buy you the gold on display in three frames of a typical video today, were quirky and fun. Late-night weekend fare included concerts, 120 Minutes and eventually The Young Ones.

As MTV celebrates its 25th — or doesn’t, since such nostalgia might remind viewers that the network is older than they are — the channel has changed. The old joke is that they no longer play music, as told in a song that shouldn’t be popular by MTV’s logic, Bowling for Soup’s 1985.

Beneath the surface is a change that I find sadder. Gone are the comfortable days of Martha Quinn casually chatting with a musician in a cozy studio that looked like a fun hangout. Today, it’s mostly reality TV, which is pretty much the opposite of a friendly face talking about music. (No, I don’t watch it much, but I can read a TV schedule.)

I can’t blame MTV for wanting to stay young, I suppose, though I never minded seeing J.J. Jackson on the air even though he easily had 30-40 years on me. But does young necessarily mean snarky and self-absorbed?


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