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What Went Wrong With… MTV (& Music Television)?

A Whites Only Sign with an MTV Logo above it to show the channel's racist policies by What Went Wrong With

MTV is lame; plain and simple. It has always tried to give an impression of being “cool” and “underground”, with its colour-changing logo complete with a spray-painted graffiti-style “TV” against a solid-looking “M”. In reality MTV is far from cool. From the minute they played the mundane “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Buggles, this channel has preferred the mainstream over the underground, the popular over the untested, and more importantly; white over black.

Ever since its first broadcast, MTV has been guilty of many shitty decisions, the main one being; that it originally didn’t play any videos by black musicians. It was their unwritten policy not to play “black music” on MTV in the 1980’s, and even the biggest pop star of the time, Michael Jackson, went unaired for some time. MTV’s official excuse was that it was “a Rock music channel” (which translated as “a white music channel”) and even though its name was “Music Television”; MTV had a very narrow definition of what it considered music.

Certain songs by black musicians of the day, such as Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit”, were played only because Herbie himself did not feature in the video (he appeared briefly on a video monitor). Songs like “Rockit” were put on low rotation at first, thanks to this policy. But as popularity grew, MTV had to relent and Herbie Hancock went on to win numerous MTV Video Music Awards that year along with Michael Jackson. This I assume sent a pretty big message to an institutionally racist broadcaster; either that or they saw how much profit would be lost if they continued with a black music blackout.

Their pretence of suddenly “accepting” black music hit its peak with “Yo! MTV Raps”. MTV had originally labelled Hip-Hop music as a passing fad, but rap music was finally backed by the channel in 1988 over a decade after it began and only when it had become profitable. The show “Yo! MTV Raps” was probably only accepted due to the fact that it was created by a white Ted Demme. Even then; Hip-Hop music (predominantly a black art form at the time) was heavily censored and its imagery blurred and edited. This went on past the life of MTV Raps, where here in Europe, Hip-Hop was edited and censored even in late night broadcasts. Strangely, in Europe at the same time; Eminem videos were shown uncut with all the language uncensored. Double standards were rife with this network even into the noughties, and exceptions were made for a genre interloper by this horrid racist network.

Aside from all the prejudice, MTV despite being called “Music Television” has since the Millenium; moved toward airing banal shows rather than playing actual music. From the mid nineties, the focus of the channel has switched towards airing as much dire Reality nonsense as possible. Shite shows like The Osbournes,16 And Pregnant, and the pointless Snooki & JWoww, is what this channel has been pumping out for over a decade. Beavis And Butt-head and maybe Wonder Showzen were (by a fluke) the only decent shows produced by this wack channel, but the network has produced more misses than it has hits.

Instead of blatant racism and exclusion, the channel has more recently favoured mocking minorities. The show Pimp My Ride with the super-sellout Xzibit, was seen as acceptable probably because it stereotyped African-Americans and Latinos as gaudy and tacky. If a white person supes up their car, it’s called “Car Tuning” but if a black person so much as adds a dashboard air-freshener; they’re seen as a “Pimp” in MTV’s eyes. Why someone like Xzibit or even Rev Run took part in anything to do with this racist black-Hip-Hop-hating channel, I’ll never know. Even to this day they promote segregation thanks to their compartmentalised genre-specific channels.

With its history of racist policies and prejudice programming, MTV has probably helped destroy music more than the music industry itself. These days Miley “I think I’m punk ‘cause I’ve shaved the sides of my head” Cyrus with a foam finger is seen as the most controversial thing to grace their shit-stained fuckboy channel. I guess that twerking, along with Hip-Hop, House, and Grime is only acceptable when a white person does it.

It’s not as though, when it comes to music; we have much choice on television. In the UK, all of the music TV channels focus on mainstream white-controlled Pop music. The only alternative we had in Britain was Channel U, but even that got taken over, re-branded, and was eventually ruined. With all the UK TV music channels owned and controlled by Viacom, Bauer Media/Channel 4, and CSC Media, we are basically left watching three channels disguised as twenty something channels; all showing the same crappy videos, the same playlists, and the same shows. If it weren’t for the logos in the corner, I don’t think you could tell one from the other.

Empty V.

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16 replies »

  1. This was one of your best ever. It’s about time someone attacked MTV for their racism while many have been giving them hell for turning into a hellhole of reality shows over the last 15 years.

    I’ve always believed that they show little respect to the classic musicians before the 1980’s (with the exception to rock bands). You never see any documentaries on old Jazz greats or folk singers on MTV. They act like they don’t even exist in the world. Even when it is music they show it’s all ringtone rappers and washed up hair metal bands that sucked in the 80’s. Most kids know who Ozzy Osbourne is but don’t have a clue who John Coltrane was.

  2. MTV is what destroyed music. The minute it came out, every youth started to copy the styles and fashion trends that were in their favorite music videos. Looking back, you are shocked people even wore this stuff.
    This article is correct, I rarely if ever remember seeing videos of black musicians back in my day. They complained about the length of Michael Jackson’s music videos, and it was always the excuse of why they would not air it while piling up the garbage that I absolutely cringe at hearing again 20 years later.

    People complain that MTV turned into reality TV garbage in the 90’s, but really the writing was on the wall! It was going to happen eventually! They did not show quality music to begin with, and it was all about entertainment. People remember Duran Duran more for their videos than their music. The video was more important about selling than actual music.
    You know I don’t think I ever remember them showing rap videos until N.W.A. came out and all the gangsta rap phenomenon where they had to squeeze every last drop out of the lemon to cash in, and it has controlled the route of Hip Hop ever since.

    MTV is basically a big tool to the corporate music giants and they use it to a great degree to market and push their agenda. Music hasn’t had a free market of labels giving artists creativity since the 60’s and 70’s. Thankfully we have the internet today and it’s so much easier to find great music where in my young days it was incredibly difficult to discover the diamonds among the dirt. The internet is the best thing for underground music that is not corporate controlled and hopefully as time goes by more people will realize this and take advantage of it.

    • Totally agree. Mainstream radio and television has destroyed music. People seem to be more concerned with what a singer is wearing than the singing these days. MTV has stripped the art from music and the only place to find real music is on the internet… That is until the-powers-that-be figure out a way to create a “mainstream” internet and start overpowering the underground scene.

  3. Hi. Just was guided to this website via google (which I don’t know nothing about except this article, but I’ll read some more), because I read a bit about “I can’t dance” by Genesis and someone mentioned that since MTV started it suddenly was all about the look of the video and the people in it and the music was not the most important thing anymore. Embarrassingly (I think it is for me at the moment but it is passing already^^) I didn’t think of that fact before, though it’s really obvious (maybe because for me there was always music + video, since I’m not so old). Maybe it’s because I don’t watch music television (only tiny times when I watch tv which almost never happens) and never had my own satellite tv at home, I watched mostly VIVA (Germany, which made me think of the clever MTV+Viva = Empty Viva years ago) and admit that it works perfectly: If you like how the artist looks (I was a fan of Hilary Duff until 2005 or so myself) or if the video is cool, it influences you and you choose this music over other music that are maybe equally good or even better but you didn’t remember. Also music videos are a big tool to not only influence the masses (kinda preach to them) with fashion and drugs and sex and stuff. Maybe you’ve heard about hidden (or not so) symbolism in music videos (but I won’t get into that topic anymore cos it drives me crazy and that’s not worth it for me), it’s a fact you can’t ignore after you do a little research. Just sayin’.

    But a big portion of the article was the racism thing which I of course had no idea about, really interesting, good to know. That’s how the industry works. I think it pused the white music and later gave the black people the chance because they knew that there was a market and money to make. Probably it was also leverage, “either you do as we say or we won’t play you” thing (okay, that could be used against almost any band). Also the Hip Hop thing is interesting, when MTV or other music channels control the music, they can shape Hip Hop into the bling-bling women degrading ghetto cursing expensive cars shit and the real good rap songs with positive message don’t get a chance. And if there is only one part of the genre, young kids eat it, like it and want to act like those idiots in the videos. Very clever actually (I am listening a bit through some end of year charts from the US and there are so many brainless Rap songs there, I couldn’t believe it – not that the other music is really good [few are] but not as annoying).

    Sorry for writing so much, hope you can understand everything, not a native speaker. Keep up the good work.

    • When it comes to symbolism in music videos, I think that this is a mixture of coincidence, a bit of planned messaging, and a lot of derisive parody intended for people who notice it. Since a single label or Director isn’t responsible for all videos; I can’t believe that some kind of blanket symbolism guideline is implemented across the board. When it comes to Hip-Hop, I think that the mainstream definitely plugged (whether intentionally or unintentionally) watered-down versions until the whole genre became a joke (as it is today). I don’t remember ever seeing true Hip-Hop on MTV in the nineties (they never showed King Just/Smith Bros./Heather B to name a few) but every shiny Puff Daddy/Bad Boy video was shown almost religously. It’s no wonder that a whole generation thinks 90’s Hip-Hop is Biggie/Tupac/Nas/Jay-Z/Eminem. MTV did a good job of hiding the real stuff. Thanks for the reply.

    • Hey. I’m not saying there are symbols in every music video but as you say, there are definitely videos (and also cd covers) where it is not possible to deny that there is more than a bit of symbolism. I don’t know how that system works but considering that the music labels got the power and got the money, they decide the music video concept and who directs it, so they can make it possible cos as you/we know: A finished movie isn’t done randomly, it’s a combination of different stages of work and so a music video isn’t just filmed with a director taking a camera, saying action and the music artist doing his thing. If they put (as you mentioned yourself) more time (or money) in making the videos than making the music, why don’t they find time for symbolism? But don’t think I want to convert you, I just want to show that for me it is possible and real. It’s not a coincidence unfortunately, when I found out last year I couldn’t believe it myself.

      In Germany there also are these aggressive rappers in the charts, who can’t really rap good and just do everything to feature violence and that stuff in their lyrics and videos. Of course when you go through the internet and read “hip hop is music for idiots with bling bling insults women degrading shit and stealing beats”, what can one really say? It’s true but there are enough artists out there who use hip hop to send out good messages or just do clever rhyming that goes beyond a-b-a-b rhyme formula. Also one more thing that we have here is the “not understanding of song lyrics in general”! That could be worth an article maybe. Talking about people listening to party-sex-violence blah blah music without knowing (= understanding) what the lyrics are about. Eminem e.g. has good tracks but also the ones you know about killing Kim and so on but young people especially don’t even get what the tracks are about. Also maybe article worthy could be the “aggressive artists gone soft” thing, like when gangster rappers go pop or do rap features on a pop track or when a group like B.E.P. does a positve track (“Where is the love?” or “Jesus Walks” comes to mind) followed by the usually normal stuff down to party tracks and you wonder why they even did this one song when it seems like they don’t give a damn about making good music.

  4. Hi, really interesting perspective. As far as I know, the original MTV, the one that was US-based, was indeed more conservatory in terms of music they would play and most of the programming was biased towards pop-rock and maybe alternative music. Cannot evaluate the quality of Yo! MTV raps, since I only watched it marginally for a few years, but I remember it was really raw and exciting at times, also boring other times.

    I think the real cutting-edge channel was the european version, launched later in 88. MTV Europe had amazing shows like Party Zone, Alternative Nation, Hang out, Chill out zone, Amour, Liquid Television etc. Absolutely no racism at all, I’ve seen many black DJs and producers presented on these shows, also a lot of underground stuff being aired (not on daytime of course). So I would guess the problem was at the US producers and the fact that Yo! was always following those rigid guidelines, favoring mainstream and hiding the underground, while at MTV Europe the situation was quite opposite, the producers were hungry for raw material, and would play some of the most obscure artists, given of course that the video should exist and be at some level of quality. I remember Simone Angel speaking in an interview about this, and how narrow-minded and rigid the US programming was, walking on the same paved road, while they were struggling in Europe to get more and more new stuff on the air. So maybe if another version of Yo! would’ve been produced in Europe, different from the one in the US, the real stuff would get played (or maybe there were no videos to choose from?), but unfortunately hip-hop was not so popular in Europe at the time, except for France.

    As you know, this all changed in 97 when Viacom decided to destroy MTV with reorganization and reality shows. Twas meant to happen, not only because of bad management, but also because music videos on television are becoming more and more obsolete as time passes by and internet is taking over. So we’re talking history here, MTV is dead. Now, I can’t speak for US MTV back then, sorry if it was that bad, but I think MTV Europe was extremely bold and “out there” in the 90s alongside german Viva and especially Viva Zwei, which remains the best underground channel of all time.

    as my fellow commentator ahead, googled and found this article, All the best!

  5. Fuck MTV! They should be called RTV, Reality Television. That’s what MTV has been in the 21st Century. They constantly air these shitty reality tv shows and crappy shows. MTV has committed crimes against decency for airing 16 and Pregnant, The Osbournes, Jersey Shore. But the worst shit they ever made was the US remake of Inbetweeners. This shit remake will never be better than the original. It will never be as funny as the original. It got cancelled after one season. Speaking of cancelling, MTV has a tendency to cancel a show after one season, even if some of them are decent.

    MTV rarely play any music nowadays and when they do, they play weakest shit ever made! UK’s 4Music and Germany’s VIVA are crap too! We got YouTube and SoundCloud, but they constantly promote the crap music. At least with them, you could simply search for the music you like. You don’t get that with MTV and every other music channel.

  6. Recently, looks like someone has been critical of MTV for their racism in one of their videos, “Dear White Guys” (from YouTube channel, h3h3 Productions)

    • This guy is a bit of a prick. He ignores the years when MTV was racist against blacks but brings up a single video MTV made “against” white males and he’s up in arms about it.

      He needs to realise that when people within western society say “white” or “white males” they’re describing the people in charge (of government, commerce etc.) all sectors which are rife with casual prejudice and bigotry against minorities (ethnic, religious, sexual etc.)…

      In the same way a MAN can accept criticism against MEN by women and understand that the bashing of MEN is in reality a comment about MEN IN CHARGE rather than literally ALL MEN, the same goes for saying “WHITE MALES” – since they are the people in charge and in power, they are responsible for the majority of the problems in western society in regards to class, hierarchy etc. White men who aren’t bigoted should be able to accept the general comment being made rather than screaming “reverse racism”. In addition, even though the video he’s talking about got made did anything change in regards to who owns and operates MTV, Viacom etc.? No. The fact that people like him keep feeling like a victim must mean they are or have been openly bigoted in the past and now hate the fact that they have to stop or at least hide their opinions.

      On a side issue, this idiot’s examples of MTV being brilliant “back in the day” was Tom Green and Jackass? By the time crap like that came onto the channel it was already shite.

    • I don’t really see what “racial bias” has to do with MTV – the people in charge when the channel started didn’t just air white music videos (and not air black music videos) because they were “used to” people of the same colour, they actively discriminated against minority musicians.

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