Every year, MTV has featured some head-turning off-color material during this show. In 2002, it was dueling F-words from their then-reality show stars, the Ozzy Osbourne family. In 2001, host Jamie Foxx put on screen a picture of the band Red Hot Chili Peppers wearing nothing by tube socks on their genitals, and followed up with a picture of Foxx with an extremely long tube sock. "They said I was too cocky," he joked. In 2000, the Wayans brothers mocked wild-haired singer Macy Gray in a satirical video by singing "My hair is the same way when you go down there" and then showing an obvious wig under a pair of panties.
After their Janet Jackson striptease debacle, what would MTV offer now?
Set in Miami this year (or Skin City, as some call it), MTV's Video Music Awards disappointed the raunch-loving TV critics by staying comparatively sedate. The most dangerous moment was comedian Dave Chappelle joking that putting him on the show was "the biggest mistake since you put Janet Jackson on the Super Bowl." The bleeps only came with the foul-mouthed rap songs like Terror Squad's "Lean Back." On the other hand, rapper Kanye West performed his song "Jesus Walks" for a little inspirational balance.
The main news the next day focused on MTV's relentless attempt to tell the young people to vote, especially when they showed John Kerry's daughters Vanessa and Alexandra on stage as well as President Bush's twins on tape from the convention scene in New York. The girls drew both cheers and boos. It didn't sound like a year for optimism for a greater turnout among young voters.
The VMA's were the most watched cable show of the week, and quite a marathon considering the three-hour-long trophy show was sandwiched between three hours of pre-show and post-show festivities. So what did the critics think of the relatively sanitized production? "By all accounts ... it sucked," sulked Lisa DeMoraes in the Washington Post. She suggested many may have tuned in over rumors Britney Spears would mock marriage again by getting married during the awards show.
In USA Today, the reaction of reviewer Ken Barnes was summarized by the headline: "Well, so much for titillation: MTV's Video Music Awards Sunday night had a glut of glitz, endless celebrity cameos and a non-partisan stance in favor of voting. What they lacked was outrage." Oh, darn.
The battle for cleaner television is between millions of parents who can e-mail Washington and Hollywood versus the hypesters of hip, the sultans of sleaze in the TV-reviewing crowd, and the good guys finally have a bit, a little bit, of a reason to smile.