Snapshots of MTV at 20

Posted: Jul 30, 2001 12:00 AM
When MTV was celebrating its 10th anniversary in 1991, its news operation was a font of liberal bias, in part because the network allowed (encouraged?) its anchors and reporters to promote their personal -- and quite left-wing -- opinions. Rather, Brokaw and Jennings aren't always evenhanded, either, but it's hard to imagine them being so bold or intemperate as to call Satan "humanity's handiest invention"; claim that "right-wing fundamentalists" had used AIDS "as a tool to bully people, especially young people, into not having sex"; or muse, apropos of a Gulf War victory parade, "As with any outbreak of vaguely focused patriotism, opportunities abounded for making money." Kurt Loder, who remains MTV's primary news personality, did indeed say those kinds of things in those days. Linda Corradina, then the MTV executive in charge of news coverage, acknowledged the slant. In a 1990 interview, Corradina, now with the women's cable channel Oxygen, stated, "I am liberal, most of our staff is liberal ... We use our staff as a guide. We'll (cover) anything that (we) feel passionately about." Asked why MTV News made a November '89 Washington pro-choice rally a lead story but didn't even mention a major pro-life event that took place in the capital two months later, Corradina was candid: "It could have happened that someone said, 'Let's not cover (the pro-life march).' I don't remember." But that was then. Now, as MTV celebrates its 20th anniversary this Wednesday, it's important we recognize just what MTV has to "celebrate": It takes the prize as the single most disgusting network on all of television. Take "The Andy Dick Show," an MTV sketch-comedy series that begins its second season August 5. Dick was sometimes funny as part of the ensemble cast of the mid-to-late-'90s NBC sitcom "NewsRadio." On his own program, however, he's simply out of control. In one skit, called "Anus and Andy," an anus puppet passes gas and defecates; Dick proceeds to eat the "excrement." In another, he brings a cup of his semen into his doctor's office and tells the doctor, "You really should update that collection of videos that are supposed to help you (ejaculate). It took me, like, an hour and a half to squeeze that out." In a third sketch, Dick plays "a humping choreographer, or a humpeographer, if you will. I'm the one they hire to make sure the sex scenes (in MTV's racy soap opera 'Undressed') look believable. You know, like people are actually (bleeped 'f---ing')." Believe it or not, this filth may not be the worst thing on MTV. Another contender would, in fact, be "Undressed," which the Washington Post's Libby Copeland earlier this year described as maybe "the closest thing to soft-core porn this side of an X-rating." Then there's "Jackass," which, in addition to its infamous high-risk stunts that have inspired young imitators, is also obsessed with bodily functions (during a "spermathon," cast members masturbate, with the issue judged on its "sperm count, potency ... volume, and speed") and sheer grossness (a cast member places a dead skunk on top of a remote-controlled car, then directs the car down a crowded sidewalk). And let's not forget "Celebrity Deathmatch," in which claymation celebrities dismember and kill one another. It's pop-cultural poison being produced deliberately and directly for children. A recent Newsweek article reports that MTV is the top-rated cable network among those ages 12-24. (Newsweek further notes that 65 percent of 12-to-19-year-olds have television sets in their own rooms, which might explain why some of you parents have never heard of "Undressed.") MTV isn't just successful, it's also a trendsetter for those who apparently care just as little about taste and children. David Kronke of the Los Angeles Daily News writes that MTV's "effects on music, movies, TV and lifestyle fashions have been deep and enduring ... NBC's current reality hits owe a huge debt to MTV: 'Spy TV' is 'Candid Camera' with Tom Green's attitude, while 'Fear Factor' is just a watered-down version of ... 'Jackass.'" Sadly, MTV even has prominent apologists. Robert Thompson of Syracuse University, who's one of the most widely quoted academics regarding entertainment television, remarked to Kronke, "Those who see (the likes of 'Jackass') as sick are simply not getting it ... Yes, four idiots have imitated ('Jackass' host Johnny Knoxville) and gotten hurt, but you can't draw conclusions from that; it's statistically insignificant ... Like Tom Green, this appeals to a sophisticated group of people regarding comedy ... (Knoxville is) onto something, taking Western comedy to its complete and utter extreme." MTV "appeals to a
sophisticated group of people"? God save Professor Thompson's students from whatever it might be he's teaching them.