I don’t really think MTV is worth activism. Worth anyone’s time, really. True, MTV gestures towards non-violence and gay tolerance. Also, it airs the faces, bodies and voices of young people, people of color and women.
But to make up for that, it spawns things like Say What Karaoke, featuring people who can’t sing; Global Groove, featuring people who can’t dance; and The Real World, featuring people who lead exceptionally artificial lives. It gives Christina Aguilera, a record-deal puppet who is pitifully immature and utterly lacking in charisma, her own relentlessly aired and re-aired half-hour show, during which she self-consciously preens with some jealous high school friends and gushes lamely in a vague, home-video voice about the least interesting aspects of the least interesting videos, ever.
“Oh my gosh, like, I just rully love this video, Jennifer is so hot in this video, it just. Ooooh. I like can’t even handle it. Ack, it just gives me the chills.” (yaah, her friends all say. Super-pissed.)
Well, Jennifer Lopez is really good-looking. But we don’t want to hear about it like that. It’s embarrassing. It’s kind of depressing. At least let the articulation of Jennifer Lopez’s (body’s) finer points be a small, attention-justifying notch above something we could have said ourselves while engaged in the critical act of watching television.
Lately, MTV has been exceptionally wretched.
I mention this because a few small listservers on campus have been overrun with discussion of the particularly horrific lyrics of one of Total Request Live’s latest bands, who are apparently both really cool and really awesome, The Bloodhound Gang. The deepest offense comes from songs other than the one currently being requested, which falls far short of shocking with its relatively run-of-the-mill TRL bawdiness. (“Hi, I’m so-and-so from New York and I’d like to request ‘Bad Touch’ by the Bloodhound Gang because I like to do it like they do it on the Discovery Channel, baby!” Shriek.)
The lyrics of the (thus far) less vigorously aired songs are atrocious. There are posters up around campus with more examples, but high on the list of most disturbing is “Yellow Fever,” which boasts clever horrors like “I ride my slant-eyed slope like a brand new Kawasaki/Oh me chinky she’s so kinky got me hot like Nagasaki/Burnin’ up like napalm burstin’ like an A-bomb,” and so on.
There’s also one about liking it better when the stripper is crying, which I won’t go into. In spite of this, MTV somehow seems too pathetic to bother. Too low-grade and too superficial. I can’t really summon a whole lot of political indignation for an organization that sold whatever innovation and artistic nerve it had in the ’80s for the millennial opportunity to air (did I mention relentlessly?) such dismal things as The Real World-Road Rules Challenge, which continues to provide us all with the repeated opportunity to watch, for example, a small and hideously insecure girl dance giggling away from an even smaller “midget wrestler” who eventually pins her to the mat to win a point for his team.
I think it would be demeaning to waste socially responsible fervency trying to discredit a television station whose sole activity is making love to unadulterated banality and unabashed dehumanization of virtually everyone.
Except, I watch it. I know you watch it, unless you’re watching VH1. I know you’re not watching BET in this Adelphia backwater. The Bloodhound Gang: their revolting lyrics, their astounding popularity; this is genuinely appalling. And, they absolutely depend on MTV for their audience. MTV rules everything, as far as I can tell. Nothing gets aired except the things that make it onto TRL. And those things are invidious. And really bad, too.
Yesterday I was lazing around on a patch of lawn by the field house and these little girls walked by me. They were that size of kid that has a butt about as big as my knee and wears neon green spandex shorts with pigtails. One of them bellowed, “Let-me-see-that-thaw-wah-wong,” and the other chimed in (“tho-th-tho-tho-thonng!”).
They almost certainly had no understanding of what they were singing. No clue that thongs are profoundly uncomfortable (under)wears. Which points in a backhanded way to the problem, I suppose: meaning is startlingly absent from MTV’s daily lineup. Almost as startlingly absent as the music, and undoubtedly absent in direct proportion to the absence of music, music-related commentary or visual imagery of any kind that could seriously or tentatively be called art.
Almost certainly, MTV should be cleanly shot to put it out of its festering misery.
But it’s not a simple question. The familiar faces of at least two brave and dedicated people who support queer rights were visible at certain odd hours of the night and if you were skipping class last week, on MTV. Also, MTV gets young people to vote, which is a desperate cause. I don’t know how to dismantle or even disrupt the tight cycle of MTV/record label/pop (“artist”) commodity/irresponsible-public, but MTV alone cannot be condemned for the popularity of the Bloodhound Gang.
Nor, unfortunately, does it seem possible that MTV can be respected or trusted in the least. And since MTV determines what makes it into the conscious minds of so many young adults and children around the world, I find this exceedingly disturbing.