Once innovative, MTV dumbed by reality TV

At midnight Aug. 1, 1981, 3 million people across the country turned on their TVs, to be greeted by the words, “Ladies and Gentlemen … rock and roll!” as the infamous “moon man” proudly raised

At midnight Aug. 1, 1981, 3 million people across the country turned on their TVs, to be greeted by the words, “Ladies and Gentlemen … rock and roll!” as the infamous “moon man” proudly raised the MTV flag. The face of cable television and the music world would never be the same.

MTV was here to stay.In 1981, I wasn’t even a thought in my parents’ minds, but I still feel like I grew up with the station.

In fifth grade, MTV was a thing of wonder
and curiosity. It was the definitive source for everything that was rad at the time, at least from an 11-year-old’s point of view. In the days before TRL, I watched the Top 10 Countdown at 7 p.m., full of classic videos like “1979” by the Smashing Pumpkins, “What I Got” by Sublime and Tupac’s “California Love.”

But if I heard my parents’ footsteps, I would quickly change the channel. Don’t ask me why. But I always thought of MTV as something taboo or too racy for my young eyes. Now, when I’m in my apartment watching a marathon block of lesbian “Next,” I do the same when my roommates come in – only out of shear embarrassment.

The fact is that over the years, MTV has devolved from something that was once in-tune with the pulse of the youth, to a shallow, greedy spectacle.

Not only are music videos harder to find on MTV than Osama bin Laden’s cave, but the station supplements its lineup with titles like “Date My Mom,” “Room Raiders,” “My Super Sweet 16” and ‘reality’ shows like “Laguna Beach,” “Meet the Barkers” and “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica.” (We all know what happened to those marriages).

Is this the type of reality we want our children to aspire to?

“Daddy dearest, where’s my new Range Rover I wanted for my birthday? The girl on ‘My Super Sweet 16′ got one!”

Even the long-running series, “Real World” parallels the decline in meaningful substance on MTV. Once a poignant commentary on life as young adults in America, it has become a ploy to get the sexiest, most drama-ridden cast under one roof.

Another new show, “My Own” actually
pits contestants against one another in a struggle to see who resembles Beyonce or Justin Timberlake, in hopes of gaining a date with the judger. MTV’s Web site describes the program: “Our uber-fan will inspect the six pop-star wannabes, searching for the one who looks, sounds and acts like their celebrity obsession.”

Obsession? MTV has always prided itself on giving its audience what it wants, stating that it is only airing programs that reflect the present-day’s culture. Maybe that says something about the state of our youth, but I don’t buy it.

The station has so much potential and influence, but it is abusing its power. Kids today, much like I did in my youth, look to MTV to see what’s new in music and what’s cool.

Can you imagine a third-grader tuning in and seeing the new episode of “Tiara Girls” followed by “Parental Control?” Do MTV execs have any idea how skewed these youngsters’ perception of the world becomes when all they see is Tessa from “Laguna Beach” frolicking around in her new Mercedes Benz after a pleasant brunch on her marble balcony overlooking the Pacific? Shows like that set unattainable expectations for young people and belittle their own condition.

If we want the next generations to have any sense, we need to boycott MTV until they return quality shows to the air and replace the “spoiled, momma’s boy” formula.

Instead of following well-to-do kids around Orange County like on “Laguna Beach,” I think they should mix it up and film next season somewhere a little different. How about North Philly? That’s reality.

Cody Glenn can be reached at codyglen@temple.edu.

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