Does Anyone Really Still Want Their MTV?

Save us from the tyranny of blandly uplifting celebrities

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It’s safe to say that the only thing anyone will long remember about this year’s MTV Video Music Awards is Miley Cyrus presenting herself rearwards like an animal in heat. But lost amidst the please-God-make-it-stop spectacle of the Disney Channel artist formerly known as Hannah Montana grinding away like a coked-up stripper is a far-less provocative realization: The awards show had all the edge of an old Andy Williams’ Christmas special.

It’s not just MTV and the VMAs, either, folks. Mainstream pop culture, once a font of fear and trembling among everyday Americans, is as safe and good-for-you as skim milk. Elvis’ hips, the Sex Pistols’ sneers, Amy Winehouse’s in-your-face irony, and virtually all other symbols of Dionysian excess and unpremeditated antics have officially left the building.

The VMAs are a case in point. From the opening number by Lady Gaga, whose pleas for social tolerance and acceptance are as heartfelt as they are predictable, to the closing anthem by Katy Perry, the whole affair could have been mistaken for an Up with People rally. I’d argue that even includes Cyrus’ supremely asexual “twerking” with the son of TV sitcom dad Alan Thicke. Does anyone seriously doubt that Cyrus’ masturbatory gestures with an over-sized foam finger set back the average age of sexual initiation by a couple of decades?

(PHOTOSCelebs Hit the Red Carpet at the 2013 VMAs)

Perry’s “Roar,” which quotes from the Rocky III theme “Eye of the Tiger” and provides more lyrical uplift than one of the mechanical bras for which she is justly famous, was introduced as her biggest hit yet despite its recent release, thereby telegraphing the hopes of a recording industry that’s on the ropes. Another former Disney property, former Mouseketeer Justin Timberlake, didn’t bring sexy back or disrobe Janet Jackson as he did during the last (read: the only) memorable Super Bowl halftime show. In accepting an award for Video of the Year, he generously thanked his grandmother and grandfather (whose shirt he appeared to be wearing).

It’s all touching (really) and boring as hell (really). When it started out in the 1980s, MTV was railed against by the likes of Al Gore and his wife Tipper. Tipper, who started the Parents Music Resource Center and denounced raunchy rock lyrics, complained to Rolling Stone that her kids were “confused and alarmed” by Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” video, which featured a teacher stripping down to a bikini.

Maybe she had a point. Long before Madonna affected a fake British accent and started collecting orphans like so many Pokemon, she stunned fans and critics alike by rolling around the floor in ersatz wedding dresses, eroticizing statues of saints in videos, and publishing a book of graphic sexual fantasies. However misguided her SEX book might have been, such a gloriously risky act of artistic independence is unthinkable among today’s leading stars. Even shock jock Howard Stern’s stomach-turning, irreverent, and hilarious turn as “Fartman” – a bare-cheeked superhero given to flatulence – at the 1992 MTV awards is inconceivable in today’s scene. These days, Stern is more likely to talk about animal rights than mock the very idea of an awards show.

(MORE: Miley Cyrus Really Is the Girl Next Door: Predictable and Boring)

I’d argue that the taming of pop-culture creators stems from two basic sources. Part of it comes from the immense amounts of money at stake. Stars, their handlers and interlocking corporate interests are mindful that being too edgy or being way out there is often bad for business. “When you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose,” sang Bob Dylan, one of the few artists whose actions seem genuinely guided by his artistic vision rather than anything resembling cold calculation. The reverse is true too: When you’ve got a lot, you’ve got a lot to lose.

The other source of what might be called the blandification of pop culture? Ironically, artists themselves have internalized the argument long pushed by moral crusaders that they are somehow responsible for their fans’ ethical development and behavior. As Lady Gaga told MTV in 2010, “I find it so important now to be a role model and a figure.”

Well, no. In the end, artists are responsible only for their art; they should leave the preaching to, well, preachers. Those of us in the audience are responsible for our own thoughts, lives, and actions. And the more that artists and audiences acknowledge that, the better off all of us will be.

MORE: 4 Reasons You’re Still Hearing About Miley Cyrus’ VMAs Performance

81 comments
tmmrwllcme
tmmrwllcme

Your article was so tedious.  If everything you are bashing is so "boring" as you claim..why do you even write an article about it? Your summation is especially boring and wow..we are all better off if artists just make art and don't try to tell us how to live our lives.. maybe dense and overly cynical columnists should try the same.. 


chrstphrmtthw
chrstphrmtthw

You can probably blame MTV for starting reality TV.  Remember The Real World Season 1   (  I did like it tho  )

ChristineOlivares
ChristineOlivares

MTV hasn't been music television in years. It should be called Moron Televisions.  They need to stop even hosting the video award show because they haven't shown a video in years.  If you watched the show like I sadly did you hardly saw any celebrities like you did back in the day.  I can't tell you how many times they showed Taylor Swift.  Rihanna expressions captured it all... we were all bored.  I would say the only good part of the show was Justin Timberlake but than the audio was crappy.  VMA's just need to wrap it up and move along.  If you want videos go to you tube or better yet the artist's website.  As for Miley Cyrus I could really care less but I am curious about the whole tongue hanging out thing.  I would have preferred Robin Thicke to perform his song with her but someone who put the show together thought it was a good thing.  Goodbye VMA's I will remember you when you were popular and stars are actually cared enough to show up. Goodbye MTV, I will remember your first video The Buggles and all of my hours of watching Duran Duran.  You can keep your reality crap but I don't think I should pay for it.

cincinchili
cincinchili

@terranasaurus01 If you have a cable / satellite package that includes MTV - you are paying for it whether you watch it or not

selegiline
selegiline

Your column is totally off the mark,. Miley Cyrus has fans from when she was Hannah Montana, and those girls, who are now in their preteens and early teens, were watching. Although you may be blase about her vulgar performance, they should not have been assaulted by her attempt to show how "grown up" she is. Just exactly why should her parents have to explain that her performance is not the way her fans should grow up? You on the other hand, are complaining that all that writhing and stripping aren't "edgy" enough for you. Maybe the producers will take your advice and feature bestiality and animal sacrifice on next year's broadcast so you can be happy.

JawaidBazyar
JawaidBazyar

MTV stopped being relevant or interesting when they stopped playing music videos. Like, 25 years ago.



JohnBrown
JohnBrown

What Miley Cyrus did was so predictable and so boring.  Worse it was just schlock.  It looked like some amateur routine at a sleazy strip club, and it was hard to avoid noting that her level of talent is mediocre at best.  When will these folks realize that what really sells is talent?  I suppose when you don't have that the porno moves during family time are your best hope to create buzz.  If that's all she has Miley should have stayed a Disney sweetheart awhile longer.  Her 15 minutes are about up unless she takes that finger and digs deep to find some actual talent.

TomTuttle
TomTuttle

I was actually at the first 3 VMAs and it was an amazing event.  I was also sitting there as a 16 year old boy at the 2nd show watching Madonna doing he "Like a Virgin" debut sitting next to my mother.  It was incredible and extremely uncomfortable.  In the end though these events were edgy and there were different types of performers and entertainers doing their thing.  MTV was relevant and would have been even without Madonna or some of the other acts.  Now it is barely in the consciousness of the public.  It needs this thing to get any airtime or to try an be relevant in what is a dying industry.

TexasTruBlu
TexasTruBlu

I liked MTV back when they just showed music videos. Now they are an outlet for a series of slime filled reality TV shows. I don't know how they even give awards because the videos are so seldom seen on the station. I'm also tired of no talent reality "stars" being the arbiters of what is cool. I don't like Snooki or any of these other freaks and frauds this programming elevates. Miley Cyrus is just one  more in a long line of talentless child stars fostered by Disney until they outlived their usefulness. Most music professionals realize that the music industry has become stale and shallow because of the cookie cutter style of production and performance promoted by the big labels. There's no originality outside of jazz and alternative. And while the bands in LA and NY get on Leno and Letterman, they are not there because they are any better than bands in the outlands of America, but just because they are the bands who play at bars the shows' writers frequent.

PaulFrantizek
PaulFrantizek

The statement that pop celebrities 'should leave preaching to the preachers' misses to point.  Many of these people ARE preachers, evangelizing for a hyper-relativistic, hyper-hedonistic variety of libertinism that's become a secular religion.

VivianBennett-Cohan
VivianBennett-Cohan

Seeing Will Smith and his family act so "shocked" at Cyrus was laughable.

Everyone knows what MTV is , and if you risk taking your kids, then be ashamed.

Shame on MTV.

RandyPizarro
RandyPizarro

The solution to the problem is to turn MTV into a paid subscription like HBO.  Then you can opt out-or just drop cable all together, nothing but trash on TV anyhow. 

Pop culture doesn't care about talent or originality anymore, it's about who can be the biggest attention hoor.  All the performers and music are interchangeable, the difference being how badly they mangle their street names.  Same old tired routine.

Whole nation is dumbed down to the point of following images, not content. 


Totoro0101
Totoro0101

Nick Gillespie, you are at least 30 years behind the times. It was the late 70's early 80's when the well-known fashion loop got stuck permanently on 60-o'clock driving the Punk Rock movement underground in this country. It was bizarre. Pop culture has been blandifying for a long LONG time as it seems to be owned lock, stock, barrel, by tone deaf micro-managing Philistines. Artists have not been in control of pop culture since probably around Walt Disney's time. 

Here's the thing Nick, art doesn't have to be a train wreck, nor does it have to be anything but art. I didn't see Miley's garbage dump but there is a certain amount of merit in demonstrating in memory searing fashion both where the industry is leading us and what it can jolly well go do to itself! If that was the intent then good for her, I underestimated her. I doubt it was anything of the sort though, but time will tell.

WalterAdams
WalterAdams

I've come to believe that music is like Biscuits. You can buy then in a can, or from McDonalds, but nothing can match fresh, homemade, buttermilk biscuits you can smell for ten minutes before you pull them out of the oven and set them, too hot to pick up barehanded, on a breakfast table in a warm kitchen.

Music should be heard, freshly made, on the spot, by people you know if not yourself.

People used to do that you know, some still do.

If you get used to making your own music, you eventualy find yourself turning the radio off because it interferes with your singing.

CindyMerrill
CindyMerrill

There's a better alternative: block out MTV,and/or drop them. if your kids want music videos, download them from you-tube online or check your local library for DVDs instead ( best videos of the 1980's,for instance): You'll save a ton of money. Money is the only language Hollywood & Disney understand.

JoeyFeir
JoeyFeir

then let's have andy williams instead.

memorious
memorious

Time complaining that MTV is no longer relevant. Oh, the irony.

Blastoff
Blastoff

The last time MTV was was worth anything was 30 years....sigh ~ I miss the 80's. 

LeslieLeeBell
LeslieLeeBell

Remember the days when pop music and porn used to be separate industries?

BenIncaHutz
BenIncaHutz

Billy Ray Cyrus failed as a father and the entire world knows it.

BlouHan
BlouHan

@TIME I read somewhere once that the young will rule the world. When a person wonders why...? It's everywhere. Parents indulgent/complacent

DubbleDhee
DubbleDhee

@TIME @LynRuiz The irony of MTV and VH1 is they are no longer music video channels per se. They show more Reality TV than anything else.

VivianBennett-Cohan
VivianBennett-Cohan

@Totoro0101 

MTV is trash, most music and TV is trash.

Lets bring back decency and morality.   Can't hurt can it.

Please, don't let your kids watch this stuff, it will rot their souls. 

TexasTruBlu
TexasTruBlu

@WalterAdams The sad thing is that there are very talented musicians playing for free in every city in the US. Denton TX has one of the top music schools in the WORLD and yet the DFW area has precious few live venues. My son has been in a band for years. His band is very good. Touring bands have asked them to open and commented on how good they are, but on a national scale, the music industry right now just wants bands and singers that sound exactly like the ones already out there.

HenryCrum
HenryCrum

@JoeyFeir I would rather have Andy William, or even Lawrence Welk than want come over MTV. 

LynRuiz
LynRuiz

.@DubbleDhee @TIME as an 80's and 90's child I whole heartedly agree. MTV as we knew it is gone and took music with it.

Totoro0101
Totoro0101

@VivianBennett-Cohan @Totoro0101 MTV, "Reality" TV, it's all garbage, we don't watch that sort of mind rotting nonsense. The stuff with an actual script is preachy and overly telegraphed enough. Don't even get me started on the subject of allegedly "Popular" music!

WalterAdams
WalterAdams

@VivianBennett-Cohan @WalterAdams 

The thing about the 50s and 60s music, is the people that came before those years and set the standards and taught all those musicians and singers how it was done.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@VivianBennett-Cohan @WalterAdams You mean as a moron,oh wait i meant a Mormon they re very much the same, christian my ass why cant you mormons just admit you are mormons, i know the answer do you.? 

VivianBennett-Cohan
VivianBennett-Cohan

@WalterAdams @VivianBennett-Cohan 

I used to so enjoy comedy programs WalterAdams.  I grew up on them in the  50's/ 60's.  Now, I refuse to watch any comedy shows because it is all raunchy.  And as a Christian, I don't do raunchy. 

That is all sit coms are, sexual perversion.