For a few months back in 2006 we had free MTV. Turns out with cable internet access, I could splice the wire, connect one end to the television set and get decent reception a clutch of channels. Regular network fare, including b-listers like TBS, CW and My 9, plus PBS and some random foreign shit. There were a few better-than-basic channels—like Comedy Central and History Channel. But they didn’t last.
A few others disappeared at times, sometimes for a while, but often for good, and at the ass-end of the reception spectrum were odd bits of televised flotsam such as horse racing and random Big Brother traffic cam. Oh, but we really needed five friggin Queens Public Access channels (now reduced to one for some reason; maybe it’s the recession) to serve up local culture in all its glory.
At first I thought, “Free MTV? Cool!” But soon discovered just how unkind the years have been to it and how unbearably bad MTV had become. Worse than the graveyard of syndicated sitcom crap, the Buy More Shit for Your House Channel or endless PBS beg-fests.
MTV had become utter trash.
First of fall, there was no music in Music Television. Just 10 second snippets wedged between reality shows—insipid tripe that showcased the worst underagers, from rancidly spoiled brats to misanthropic mongrels. And when they weren’t broadcasting an actual program, it was promo after promo for other, equally abysmal shows. No sensationalism, just mind numbing. The kind of junk they’d pipe into detoxes, psycho wards and jury waiting rooms to tranquilize and desensitize. When it was no longer available I couldn’t care less.
Too bad because as a youth I was obsessed with MTV, from my very first glimpses in the early 80s at my cousin’s Long Island house, the lucky bastard. Growing up on the ass edge of American culture, however, it wasn’t until 1986 that this primordial multimedia invaded my home, with its rousing, three-chord guitar. It was the promise of freedom, a call-to-arms to awaken me, a nascent consumer and hormonally aching teenager.
I vividly remember when MTV finally “went on the air” (or whatever the cable company did to send the signal down the line). It was the morning of a school day and I kept checking the tube to see if it was on yet. Each time nothing but white snow. Minutes ticked by, inching closer to the time when I had to leave for school. Still nothing but that goddamn snow.
I started doubting MTV would ever come, believing that I was condemned to lap at the stagnant edge of the cultural backwater I lived in. To be unhip in the 80s was far more socially debilitating than now. These days, everyone’s “quirky” or “free spirited”, nestled in cozy little social networks of our own creation. These days, only psychopathic loners have no social lives. But I bet if they tried hard enough, they too could find a blog or chat room or internet torture site connect them with other deranged beings.
At the last possible minute that I could dawdle and (God forbid) be late for school, my wanting at a fevered pitch, I turned on the tv one last time. There it was… A little hazy and distorted maybe at first, but unmistakable: images in dark futuristic tones, an ardent synthesized tromping and a lithe young thing in a leather bodysuit and crazy alien helmet.
Could it be? Yes, a music video! This is what I watched on that momentous morning:
Pretty horrible, I know. I even had a brief twinge of disappointment. But this was Emm Tee Fucking Vee, baby! Breathing life and relevance and music and sex into a house and a town I absolutely dreaded living in. Screw the haters and their puerile, self-righteous whining that had been bubbling up from time to time. MTV had been commonplace in their enclaves of cultural privilege for years. Now it was my turn.
Later on, there wasn’t much MTV to be had. Not in college dorms, and definitely not afterward when I couldn’t even afford a television let alone cable. Aside from the brief shining moment of “Liquid Television” MTV was already going downhill as the channel began to lose its relevance and its monopoly on hipness. Then there was the internet, which started to muscle in on both the television and music industries. I suppose during this interregnum was when MTV got really shitty and stayed there.
I had completely forgotten about MTV until I learned that they have begun putting their entire video library online. Obviously a work in progress, but they seem to have a good representation of video nostalgia already available. Best of all, it’s totally on demand so “I want my MTV!” has now become the more relevant “I want my MTV!”