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MTV Insists 30 Is The New 20

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 1, 2011 6:20PM

2011_08_mtv_logo.jpg Thirty years ago today a little channel named MTV debuted that would end up changing the way the world experienced music. Music videos weren't new -- there were weekly programs that featured these promos before MTV came along -- but the idea of a channel devoting itself wholly to music was something new. We stumbled across VH1 Classic's programming of highlights over the past 30 years and were struck by how, well, sharp and playful the channel once was. There's an entire generation that knows the station primarily as a generator of countless reality shows and we think that's kind of sad. heck, back in the early days MTV's original reality program The Real World was actually something of a social experiment. Now it appears as if that programs primary purpose is to provide 20-something with a hot tub and plenty of booze.

No, back in the '80s, and even much of the '90s, MTV was about the music. Granted in the early days there wasn't a whole bunch of video content so you did get a little tired of a seemingly endless rotation of The Who, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen; in retrospect it seems kind of amazing that bands like that were actually relevant to MTV at one time, huh? in fact one of the most striking things about early MTV promos and interviews is that new wave upstarts were treated with the exact same attitude as musical legends. There was a playfulness that ran through the station's programming that while not exactly true rock and/or roll attitude it did its best to play so on TV. Even it's game shows -- remember Remote Control? (And Kari Wuhrer? (And a very young Adam Sandler?)) -- were a joy to watch. Don't worry, we're not making the argument that the station always was pure and simple and full of attitude -- one painful look at Club MTV or any most of the video content circa 1989-1991 and 1996 or so onward -- disabuses any notions of that.

So the other striking thing about watching footage throughout all thirty years of MTV's existence is just how much it will end up serving as a time capsule. There's almost no better archive that better reflects mainstream cultural tastes, both good and very, very bad, throughout the years. And there's no better example of just how much mainstream music has fractured and grown ever more difficult to directly market to than MTV's slow move away from actually featuring music.

While one could hope and wish that the station that once claimed "too much is never enough" might return to that aesthetic we know that'll never happen. So happy birthday, MTV, it's too bad we no longer really want you. But we did have some good times so we'll always cherish those.