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MTV takes the cake

Posted by Joanna Weiss  August 1, 2006 02:04 PM

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It's MTV's birthday -- 25 years today -- and it's hard to know what that means, beyond the fact that I'm officially old. (That actually dawned on me a few years ago, when I went to the set of "TRL" and realized I was twice as old as the audience, and less than half as interested in the show.) The obvious: the network has been on the leading edge of all that's vapid and compelling in pop culture: the rise of Michael Jackson, the "Spring Break" franchise, "The Real World," "The Osbournes," and all manner of lurid celebrations of bling. Without MTV, there might not be a place for Paris Hilton in the world, or the Nick Lacheys, or the Kristin Cavalleris, and some might suggest we'd be better off that way.

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Some might not; in today's Washington Post, Hank Stuever pokes fun at the doddering types who complain that "back when I was a kid, MTV played videos, and we liked it!" I'm with him, for the most part; I don't need to watch a lot of bump-and-grinding to feel in touch, so much as I need to figure out why, exactly, we're so obsessed with miserable heiresses and miserable pop stars.

There seem, today, to be two MTVs: the socially conscious one that sends its reporters to trouble spots to get the Real Teen View (I actually liked a Christina-Aguilera-in-Pittsburgh special timed to the 2004 election), and the voyeuristic one that glorifies teens who only care about themselves. But I wonder if they aren't generally the same. On MTV today, I'm most fascinated by "The Hills," the Laguna Beach spinoff that features young, pretty girls -- real-life versions of the type you see on "Entourage" -- making their way in the Los Angeles workforce, and sniffling when they have to do actual grunt work. Sometimes, I think it's all an act; sometimes I think it wouldn't be possible to write characters that convincingly inane. It reminds me of my all-time favorite MTV show, "Rich Girls," in which two heiresses rode around New York in limousines, complaining about how unhappy they were. Watching MTV, in short, is largely like giving yourself a hefty injection of superiority complex -- escape into the world of the ultra-rich, and realize you actually don't mind having real worries and a little less time to be tragic. That and a couple more Madonna publicity stunts ought to get me through the next 25 years.

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