30 years of MTV: A personal chronology


Straight up: I love MTV, and I hate MTV, but mostly I can't believe that MTV is still alive and kicking at 30, i.e. the age when it's definitely time to quit wearing sports jerseys, settle into a semi-permanent career, and move out of mom and dad's crib. Wags have been predicting the station's demise for as along as Gimme Noise can remember, but like an especially sturdy cockroach, it's still alive and kicking -- mostly because MTV executives realized, well ahead of the trend of pop-music stars shrugging off studio sessions and tours in droves and the rise of YouTube and file-sharing sites, that there's no future in music.

Music, they reasoned, is ephemeral; buzz, on the other hand, is forever. Ergo Punk'd, Cribs, Pimp My Ride, Dead At 21, et al. Ergo everyone's inability to recall any point in the last 10-15 years when the phrase "MTV video-premiere event" meant anything.

In honor of this dubious milestone, I figured I'd take a stroll down my own personal MTV memory lane. Won't you join me?

[jump] 1981-1993 The 1980s were an interesting era. If your parents weren't divorced (mine were), you were thought of as a freak. If you weren't rocking Jams or Jellies, you were nothing. If your home wasn't cable-equipped (mine wasn't), there was no hope for you. All around me, Blossom-hat wearing twits and Thrasher-subscribing jerks moaned "I want my MTV!" and I had no clear understanding of why this was. What was MTV?

1994 I spend the summer, or part of it, in the basement of my grandmother's house in Baltimore, watching MTV pretty much constantly with my younger cousins. The videos that ran in a never-ending loop seemed to mock our urban boredom, the secluded, musty darkness of our surroundings: the extra-dimensional improbability of Coolio's "Fantastic Voyage," the reality-torn-asunder weirdness of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," the washed-out sepia-tone S&M/industrial alien tableau that was Nine Inch Nails' "Closer." There were others I've forgotten now, but I do remember the constant flood of videos and those little acid-trip station-identification clips, a dazzling reprieve from reality.


1995 I exchange zines with a brainwashed punk purist from central Pennsylvania, and am unwittingly introduced to the term "eMmtV," used in partial reference to Green Day.

1996 I am ushered into the Mad Max-meets-pre-Matrix-meets-James Bond world of Aeon Flux by a college friend who, at that time, I consider a surrogate big sister and best friend forever. My fascinations with the true nature of Trevor Goodchild and the blurred intricacies of the Bregna/Monica civil war ultimately outlast the friendship.

1997 On a solo vacation to Ocean City, Maryland, I spend a lot of time watching Fiona Apple's "Criminal" video. Alone. A lot of time.

1997-1998 In these years I made a point of not returning home from college or traveling for Spring Break, Thanksgiving, or any number of other minor holidays. It wasn't necessarily that I was a slave to the grind of academia, or that my animus to family was that intense; in retrospect, I think I just wanted to enjoy the relatively quiet, small hamlet of Chestertown without the noise and anxiety that came with having 1,000 other undergraduates around. It was a chance to savor the silence and live within the illusion that everyone else was dead, except for me. A fellow Philosophy major - a close friend of some friends of mine, nothing special - had the same idea, and occasionally, late at night during these staycations, I would wander to her room at 2 or 3 in the morning, where she'd be chuckling at MTV, and I'd join her and we'd just watch Beavis & Butthead for hours, and laugh and laugh. Don't ask me what it all means; I don't know.

1998 All I can remember about watching 120 Minutes back in the day, with my semi-erudite muso pals, is that Matt Pinfield was totally spear bald.

1999-2001 I had the unfortunate (?) luck, in these years, of living in places without cable.


2001-2006 An inordinate amount of personal energy and attention is devoted to the goings on of hot, sexy young things on The Real World and hardcore fratboys on Jackass. I regret my interest in the former, if not the latter.

2004 Eric Roberts in The Killers' "Mr. Brightside" video: the most sinister, vaguely metrosexual video bad guy ever? You decide.

2007-present MTV somehow continues to exist, as my interest in popular music continues to wane. 


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