I Want My Art TV

Thirty years ago when I was a culturally sophisticated six year old, MTV was born. My little, peanut of a brain was already forming criticisms and running an internal ticker that beeped along kind of like my own pre-version of THE SOUP long before the idea of TALK SOUP actually became THE SOUP. I’d watch sharply cut video after sharply cut video (they used to show lots and lots of music videos back in the day) and form long-lasting opinions about artists based upon looks and mannerisms alone. Suddenly, Image and Vision became an extremely important part of the package.

(I’m soooo sophisticated!)

Those poor, hairy, ugly bands that scored huge hits in the seventies were instantly irrelevant. Though murderous for the unwashed masses with stars in their eyes, this shift in popular media was / is a good thing and a bad thing. Ugly artists have to work all that much harder (which makes sense – they probably should work harder to make up for their lack of sex appeal). Pretty, but talentless confections keep registering as embarassing blips on our cultural barometer (making excellent fodder for MTV / VH1’s I LOVE THE 70s, or 80s, or – insert decade here – trash talking shows). No worries, though. Some of the pretty ones may not deserve the success, but the lasting stuff will stick whether you look like Lyle Lovett (what was Julia thinking?) or Will Smith (who is so likeable he can mug his way through any video and make it worth watching). So then, our musical landscape may have shifted, except what we have lost in primal, raw, unshaved talent, we’ve gained in the advancement of the visual arts.

(One of thousands of MTV logo art installations used over the years)

MTV, God love ’em, has been pushing visual artistry since day one. I love their promo packages, odd commercials, and mini bits of the avant garde. Everybody gives them credit (and then derides them) for bringing technique like fast-cutting to films and television (which again is a good thing and a bad thing), but they’ve given us much, much more than hyper-kinetic camera work. The wide berth of interesting projects from cutting edge animation, to sketch comedy, to reality TV, all intercut with clever, sometimes alienating (depending on age and taste I suppose), but always eye-catching pop art, has shaped the way we look at our world and live our lives. We have become MTV and in return MTV has become us.

Tuning into today’s MTV as opposed to say…1986’s MTV is quite a bit different. You more likely to catch an episode of SIXTEEN & PREGNANT than see the latest video hits, but that dedication to art remains. The title credits tilt askew, or the underground, lo-fi, ultra-hip garage artist laying down the pulsing soundtrack behind the dust-ups and love-ins on their reality productions, hum along to to the beat of their own, futuro-art drummer. The between-show-stuff that seems head scratchingly weird or too strange will probably continue to feel odd in the distant future, but the unnerving abnormality doesn’t date itself. It’s too kooky to age. That’s art, Loyal Reader, take it or leave it.

(Changing the world. Heck, Beavis taught me how to dance!)

VH1Classic (best channel ever) is running thirty years worth of MTV nostalgia all weekend long and I can’t pull myself away (and I suggest you tune in). They’re running extended clips and full shows from REMOTE CONTROL (an episode featuring a younger, punkier RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS as contestants no less) to the ever unimpressed DARIA, to memorable performances from the network’s annual Music Awards. I watched an old segment of THE MAXX, some of George Plympton’s trippy facial animations, FASHIONABLY LOUD with Kid Rock and runway models doing their thing during spring break, Jimmy Fallon opening an MTV Music Awards with a medley of spot on musical impressions, and Chris Rock telling another MTV Music Award’s audience to “Get to church!” after watching Marilyn Manson perform The Beautiful People (in a thong – which is sooo not pretty).

See for yourself…


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