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After 30 years, kids still want their MTV
When I heard the news on Monday morning, I was instantly 18 again.
MTV, music television, turned 30 years old.
I closed my eyes and was transported back to my freshman year in college. Our after-dinner routine was to walk across the bridge in the center of campus, saunter into the student union, and sit, silent and rapt, for an hour or two in the dark of the television lounge. On those straight-backed chairs, aligned in rows, sat a couple dozen similarly transfixed college students, each letting the music sweep over them.
We neglected our books for this next big thing.
The idea of an entire television station aimed at streaming new, exciting music to the nation was electrifying. The videos, some telling stories, some simply concert footage, were unlike anything we'd ever seen.
And, for a farm girl from northwest Iowa, at a small-town liberal arts college in central Iowa, the vision of Simon LaBon, lead singer of Duran Duran, skulking through the jungle in search of a tiger-woman in "Hungry Like the Wolf" was unlike anything I'd ever imagined.
This was ground-breaking.
Today, when MTV is most known for its Guidos behaving badly, train wreck of "Jersey Shore," and the no-holds-barred look at motherhood at a young age with "Teen Mom," it's hard to imagine at, at one time, it was all about the music.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, MTV brought us songs by bands that never ever made it to the playlists of our rural Top 40 stations. It expanded our view of what the world sounded like, and what people looked like.
U.S. music was of the light pop, and country pop genre (After all, "Betty Davis Eyes," by Kim Carnes was top of the Billboard 100 that year. How much rebellion and teen angst can be found in "Lady" by Kenny Rogers, number three on that list?)
That's why teens, and even more urgently, college kids, were looking for something edgier, wilder, more rebellious. We wanted to, like generations before us, scare our parents.
MTV helped open us up to a world view of music. The U.S. music industry was far behind Europe, and especially behind the U.K. when it came to promotion and videos. Since MTV had a 24-hour programming hole to fill, we got an overwhelming dose of Thomas Dolby, A Flock of Seagulls and Haircut 100, with very little Juice Newton or Kenny Rogers.
That explains my addiction to Depeche Mode and The Clash back then.
During its early years, MTV had influence on popular culture that's tough to imagine today. After all, it arrived before the internet, before the dominance of video games and before Facebook and Twitter. Cable television, in fact, was in its infancy.
At its core, MTV was about youth culture. It's goal was to excite youth and appall parents.
Now that I'm well past the age of its target demographic - the 13 to 24-year old, I guess it's safe to say it still does.
Five minutes of "Jersey Shore" scares this mother to death.
Which is, I guess, the point.