Feed Their Heads

My last attempt at watching MTV lasted about 3 minutes into a show, I think it was called “Pimp My Band’s Paddy Wagon”, before I felt deeply insulted by the producers and clicked away to another channel. But it hasn’t always been this way! MTV used to actually be cool, as demonstrated below. Aidan Quinn narrates and stars in a stylish 1991 reading advert, featuring everyone’s favorite self-loathing insect, Gregor Samsa.

See, that actually makes me want to read! Now, imagine this commercial airing today. Though I doubt most 14 year-olds would get the reference, I’m willing to bet they’d have the same reaction I did. So why is it that the youth television of today is so incredibly, painfully dumbed down? What kid is benefiting from watching hours of bulldog birthday party-planning? [Really.] What happened to igniting actual passion and curiosity in our chitlins with music and art, instead of turning their impressionable brains into gelatinous lumps? While we wait for MTV’s golden age to return my solution is simple: I don’t have cable.

To end on a high note, a stunning take on The Metamorphosis by Black Moon Theater Company.

22 Responses to “Feed Their Heads”

  1. bianca alexis Says:

    The thing is that MTV was run by totally different people. Every little commercial or promo like this was there to stimulate the mind


    but this was also in a world where mtv amp and 120 minutes was shown. perhaps one day things will come back.

  2. Zoetica Says:

    Yes, indeed. I honestly doubt things will change as far as MTV goes, but I like keeping hope alive. Something has to give, right?

    And I remember LOVING those montages! Now I rather want green hair.

  3. David Forbes Says:

    Damn that was great. Though bittersweet considering the state of things today. Hell, I’d even settle for the “Daria” era (which was the last thing I remember MTV airing that was remotely worth watching).

    It’s interesting that TV in general seems to have vastly polarized. On one side, the 6-7 years has seen a veritable golden age of successful dramas with good acting, amazing plots and nuanced storytelling. It boggles my mind to compare Lost, BSG, Rome, Deadwood and The Wire to what came before. Comedy’s also seen a good run, with Adult Swim, the Daily Show, etc.

    But the rest of television seems to have become truly, stunningly stupid, much more so than before (and a lot of it’s always been pretty damn dumb).

    I wonder why this is?

  4. Zakarie Says:

    I don’t have cable either. Between MTV and Google, we are the most technologically advanced and at the same time dumbest generation of people.

  5. kc Says:

    Funny, I was just talking with a co-worker today about MTV – we were joking that some people don’t even know that MTV used to show music videos.

    In any case – the reason for this ‘dumbing down’ is because it’s what sells product. The people they’re selling to aren’t terribly into ‘deep thought’ (look at this whole teabagging ‘movement’) and America has become rather ADD. Instant gratification is what it’s all about now – having to actually ‘think’? That’s for geeks and nerds.

  6. commandax Says:

    • I wonder why this is?

    Can’t help thinking of the Morlocks and the Eloi. Perhaps our culture is evolving us into two wholly distinct intellectual classes.

  7. Zoetica Says:

    Totally agreed about our golden age of TV, David, which makes this topic all the more puzzling.

    Honestly I’m not sure. What I do know is I don’t want to hear any “art imitates life” arguments in regards to this. No, it’s NOT what the people want. I think it’s a sick, sad vicious cycle: execs churn out awful programming because they think they’re meeting the public’s demands, the public thinks that’s the way television should be and demand more, quickly growing tired of the old because it wasn’t really any good to begin with.

    Idiocracy pretty much nailed it, as much is it frightens me to say so.

  8. Tequila Says:

    I gotta disagree about our Golden Age of TV…it makes it sound like TV has only in recent years come into its own as a genre. Each show listed is in all honesty a variation and an evolution of countless shows before it.

    Rome would never have come to life without the success of I, Claudius and the near endless sea of BBC costumed dramas about Empire, Power, and Family.

    The Wire owes much of its success to the countless police procedurals, dramas, and series TV like ER that pushed for a heavy mix of character backstory.

    Lost owes nearly all of its history to the many sci-fi fueled series of the 60’s like The Prisoner. That show and others liked it really pushed for what an audience would accept and understand from unconventional or challenging story techniques.

    THAT is the beauty of TV in that it evolves…go back to the 70’s and you have the rise of some amazing family comedies & dramas, before that the wide range of stuff in the 60’s from the daft to the stylish, and the utter brilliance of live TV in the 1950’s with stuff like Playhouse 90. So really we’re always in a Golden Age…just shines a bit brighter depending on your cable package :P

    MTV changed format when the way people got music changed. They became less the vanguard and more the “gotta do it like a talk show” kinda channel. So they began to appeal to a younger and younger set in hopes they could keep them as viewers as they aged. To do so they really began to head into exploitative TV with their reality shows, disposable pop stars, and the age of TRL. BRAVO once the ONLY true channel to feature the arts shifted format to make money and now…well it is home to The Real Housewives of WhereverTheFuck. The financial gain kept both channels afloat but drastically changed their image to one of crass entertainment for the tabloid junkies.

    A&E did the same…it’s now reality TV for stuff about dangerous jobs. No more real Arts but a whole lotta Entertainment for those who respond.

    The problem is too many channels need to fill hours and grab who and what they can no matter what to stay alive. Only big cable channels like HBO and Showtime can afford the budgets for the shows they run unless a network gets lucky like the case was for AMC with Mad Men & BSG for SciFi. Regular Network TV is always a crapshoot mainly because what hits and kept is based so much on ratings and advertising sold.

    Things have not been dumbed down so much as thinned out and watered down. TV has to compete with far more than it ever did. It’s like the Film Industry when it had to compete with TV pushed more and more Epics and the advent of Widescreen. What once dominated on TV for channels like MTV is now mainly online…

    It’s a tough thing becoming obsolete…not everyone survives it. Like anything those with the tighter noose around their necks struggle the most.

    Right now TV as a format is changing dramatically with much of it streamed online or part of on demand services. With creators fighting with producers over how and what to get paid for…quality suffers at times. Still I doubt we’d want any channel to remain as it was…old MTV was great but would never want to go back to that era of pop music domination with indie and obscure stuff relegated to the midnight hours or only mentioned in a soundbite. Plus lets be honest…the era were it was truly great was only a few years really.

  9. Simon Says:

    The same has happened overseas from you guys. So please don’t think that it’s just America, it’s something a bit more global and therefore more unsettling.

    I live in Belgium and probably ten years ago the MTV we got was the british branch. I loved it, you could actually see and hear music (good music) in those days. Now its all bling bling, money in the bank and shows about people being something they’re not or wanting to become something they’re not.

    I watch one hour of TV a week (for small periods during the year), I guess that says it all. I can’t even bring myself to watch the news anymore because the focus has shifted from informing people to telling people what they are thinking according to the journalists themselves. I’d like to think for myself, thank you very much! I can’t say if the same trend goes for BBC World because it isn’t offered anymore, which still pisses me off.

  10. Alana Ash Says:

    The rise of the internet as a global communications and entertainment medium has a lot to do with it. TV has **always** been about selling product, and there have always been dead-behind-the-eyes shills who don’t want to do anything that might risk the money they’re currently making.

    Pre mid-to-late 90s, the shills needed to battle creative people who got into TV (or radio, or music, or etc.) because they had something to say, and had the drive to get as many people as possible to hear what they had to say. Sometimes the shills won (Alternative Nation and Kennedy), and sometimes the creative people won (all the bat-shit-crazy animation you used to see on MTV).

    With the internet, anyone who has something to say can say it. There’s no Coilhouse MTV segment because the founders of Coilhouse didn’t need to go battle the dead-behind-the-eyes shills to get on MTV. They could use their own talent and their network of friends to build their own small media city state.

    Because more and more people are deciding the internet/web/whatever makes more sense to distribute their ideas, the shills at traditional broadcasters/publishers/whatever are winning more and more. There are still creative, driven, people who decide to give TV a go, but their numbers are dwindling, and their successes are few and far between.

  11. Nadi Says:

    what does the M stand for again…i think it used to be music? :b

  12. Jerem Morrow Says:

    Nadi: MEDIOCRE t.v., for ages now.

    I hate getting here late. Everyone beats me to saying…whatever I was gonna.

  13. Julia Navigatrix Says:

    kc: I agree with your point, and I’m sorry if this comes across as obnoxious or hypersensitive, but as someone who actually has AD(H)D, I find your use of “ADD” to denote stupidity or intellectual laziness kind of offensive. It’s a widespread pejorative use, and until recently I just ignored it (“oh, they don’t mean ADD as in the actual condition, they just mean ADD as in *stupid and lazy*…) and even occasionally used it myself. But I’ve been thinking about the implications of using that acronym in that way, lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just as bad as using “gay” or “retarded” as general insults.

    Also, obligatory quill-bristling, many people with ADD/ADHD are very bright, and ADD probably isn’t caused by too much TV and/or internet surfing (any more than, say, clinical depression is caused by listening to too much sad music).

    …So, this is maybe not the best subject material for my First Comment Ever at Coilhouse, if I want to make a good impression (and I do).

    Abruptly changing the subject, I’m too young to remember the heyday of MTV and don’t watch the channel now, but I like the Kafka ad a lot and I can attest to the fact that you wouldn’t ever see a television spot that highbrow now. Sad. :(

  14. Zoetica Says:

    Welcome, Julia! Can I just take a moment out of the excellent discussion happening here and say how much I love our readers? GROUP HUG, C’MERE AND LET MAMA ZO TOUCH YOUR SQUISHY FACES.

    As you were.

  15. Chris L Says:

    Yeah, everyone here is very smart and has said some very smart things. Hopefully I can keep up.

    It is very much a situation of self-perpetuating cycles that Alana Ash and Tequila pointed out very eloquently. The thing is that as much as many people crave for genuine intellectual content, challenging stuff just doesn’t bring in the cash. Reality TV has such low overhead that even if its overall ratings are lower than a show like BSG or Lost or whatever (which isn’t always the case – see American Idol), the profit margin has gotta be a lot higher. It also seems likely that TV execs and producers don’t get to where they are by hemorrhaging money.

    A vaguely related case-in-point in video games is that EA game “Mirror’s Edge” that came out recently. I haven’t played it – but my understanding is that it’s got a lot of pretty interesting ideas, and borders on experimental at times. It’s a game made with creatives playing a bigger role. Except… that it didn’t do as well as EA’s other tripey garbage, so that kind of game probably won’t be made again – or not without a fight. (I should add, though, that apparently its gameplay is kinda mediocre, so it may just be a situation of form without substance.. or.. substance without form.. or something.)

    Smart and challenging content has, sadly, a niche audience. I think it’s one that Coilhouse reaches very well – but as a rule it’s hard to do. It’s gotta be harder to make good smart content than sellable insipid stuff. (Though that may be wrong – it must be a challenge for smart people to slog through making a piece of trash that’s watered-down just enough to sell well.)

    Also: that Dance Theatre piece at the end was rad.

  16. Tequila Says:

    @Chris L

    “Mirror’s Edge” is good example of experimental content from a major entertainment company. Be it a Hollywood studio or book publisher they all take a gamble on highly experimental work and ideas from time to time.

    It’s never a simple reason as to why though. Sometimes it has nothing to do with financial success but to earn a certain credibility and cache that will open certain doors. Hollywood does that with its prestige and art house pictures every year.

    EA is the closest the gaming industry has to a Hollywood like studio next to Ubisoft and the King Kong behemoth that is Blizzard (or Activision Blizzard technically.) To its credit EA did push a lot of boundaries in their usual fare with Mirror’s Edge. It had a style, gameplay mechanic, and design not common with their usual projects. Unfortunately the game itself fell flat with most gamers due to it’s design choices in terms of gameplay. It had some pretty key flaws that are hard to ignore. Still it may see more success when the title hits $30 and under. Oddly it’s bonus content looks far more interesting than the main game itself.


    Like anything creative sometimes it just takes time to really reach its full potential. Hopefully EA’s love of sequels pushes the next game closer to the trailer above.

    I’ll spare the CH readers an extended list of games that push the boundaries of art, gameplay, and design…but it should be noted that of ALL the major forms of modern entertainment…NOTHING comes anywhere near what modern gaming is approaching in terms of merging so many technical and artistic genres together. Animation is probably the closest but unlike gaming you’re not an active participant…and that’s its real power. That’s something TV has tried many times in the past to achieve…if a bit gimmicky at times (The first person M*A*S*H episode being a prime example…something strangely Orson Welles wanted to do with his adaptation of Heart of Darkness…thankfully he did Citizen Kane instead. If I remember right Quentin Tarantino ended up doing this with the ER episode he directed also. )

  17. rickie Says:

    thanks for posting, zoe! i do remember this commercial on mtv when i was a kid, thinking it was very artsy and cool. that is what i liked about mtv… well, that and aeon flux.

  18. Chris L Says:

    Tequila, good point about adventurous work building cache/credibility. I hadn’t considered that one, but I think you’re right that it must play a role in the decision to do experimental pieces.

    And thanks for posting that DLC trailer for Mirror’s Edge. I would play that game on its own! Which says something, given that I rarely play games any more. Especially Fallout 3, which kept crashing. A shame, cuz I was digging it. Maybe I’ll try to make it work again someday.

  19. Kale Kip Says:

    Simon! That is so true about the news. Actually I studied journalism (in Belgium) and I was constantly told to adjust my TV-reporting to the intelligence level of a not-exceptionally-bright 10-year old. “Oh, and if you don’t know what to do, just go to a mall and ask random idiots what they think about the subject. Make sure you cut the occasional intelligent person out though.” They call it a “vox pop”.

    I once met Rudi Vranckx (for the non-Belgians: that is probably the last reporter making intelligent TV in Flanders). When I asked him how he could get away with making non-stupid news items, he told me that it was because he is reporting from Iraq and Somalia and there’s just no malls to do stupid vox pops.

    (P.S. BBC world service radio is available all over the globe and it is pretty good.)

  20. sascha Says:

    You’re absolutely right on, Zoe. I was younger during MTV’s golden age, but I remember sneak watching Liquid television late at night and falling in love with Aeon Flux. I feel robbed that by the time I was of age, all we had (in the late 90’s) was the beginning of reality tv- The Real World and Road Rules. WTF? No more stimulation for sure.
    Let’s not forget the short lived My So Called Life. I watch it now and laugh but it is still relevant and thought provoking for the age group it was intended. It still teetered on the edge and gave kids a welcome alternative from Saved by the Bell.
    And who didn’t love Daria and Jane? I still want to be Jane one year for halloween, but sadly, most people wouldn’t recognize it!

    There was a glimmer of hope a few years ago with MTV2, with fresh headbanger’s ball and everything, but guess what? They never showed the quality metal that was out there. You had to watch an entire 2 hours to catch one Mastadon or Dillinger Escape Plan video. Fuck that.

    I’ve resolved myself to tivo’ing (is it a verb now?) 120 minutes reruns on VHI classic. It’s a strange juxtaposition to be able to fast forward through the program!

    Keep hope that the kids will be ok, but I’m not so sure.

  21. Vivacious G Says:

    Yup, no cable for a few years here either…and what Mr. Morrow said.

  22. kc Says:

    Revisiting this thread to see what’s been said since I last saw it and just wanted to say to Julia that my ADD reference was not meant to imply stupidity or intellectual shortcomings of any sort – it was a literal reference to the very short attention spans that seem to be all too common lately.

    The fact that people are using ADD as a general term for stupid and lazy is itself another perfect example of deterioration of intellect. ADD has no clinical stupid or laziness factor, so shouldn’t be associated with those in any way.

    I definitely know that ADD (the clinical diagnosis) isn’t caused by TV or internet use and that most people diagnosed with ADD are extremely gifted in many ways.

    With that said – I should probably have just said ‘short attention spans’ rather than using the ADD term. Lesson learned.