Source: Brad Slager

Once the voice of a generation, MTV has become an echo of its former glory.

The cable network MTV has just unveiled a brand new design of its trademark Spaceman statue, the traditional likeness also used for its famed MTV Music Award. In the updated iteration, the iconic astronaut is enveloped slightly by plant life growing up from the base. This contrast of the reflective silver base coat against the vibrant greenery is said to be done with a nod to the social issues of our day. According to a network statement: 

“Kehinde Wiley’s Moon Person sculpture represents inclusivity and diversity marked by the historical, environmental and nature relevance of the botanicals. The design features botanical vines seamlessly flowing up and around the figure’s legs, body, and arms as a commentary on the ethnic histories that surround America. Each intertwined vine or leaf has a different historical relevance, such as the seeds from African slaves, that are woven into the American tapestry.”

That is some heavy lifting of commentary to be delivered by…weeds. But whatever insistence they attempt to place with that ad copy, the optics are something else. Instead, the new design resembles images from those websites featuring photographs from overtaken vistas. The impression you get is like those long-closed theme parks, former Olympic venues, or abandoned towns where the environment and fauna have reclaimed an area.

This unintentional message is apt, as MTV has become a discarded version of its former self. The oft-quoted line is that the channel Music Television does not play music any longer, but this is actually true — on its current weekly lineup, MTV has an allotment of just one hour and ten minutes dedicated to playing music. The rest of its broadcast is fleshed out with reality programming and other dramatic fare. 

Nothing explains this better than the schedule it offered yesterday on its anniversary date. One might have expected a selection of entries serving as a celebration of its past, with retrospectives and “Best of” type of specials, populated with former VJs or other notable personalities from the past four decades. What was broadcast instead was place-filler options consisting of old movies and recycled content. From 11 am to 10 pm the channel showed old movies — “Joe Dirt,” “Step Brothers,” and “Napoleon Dynamite” on repeat, followed by a marathon of “Ridiculousness.” The network did not even recognize the anniversary.

This has been the case for years, as the channel has become not just a shadow of its former self but merely a quaint holdover. “Ridiculousness” — a video clip show that is basically “America’s Funniest Videos” for Gen Z — dominates the channel’s schedule. During one stretch last summer, it was measured that during a 7-day schedule on the network two-thirds of the airtime — 113 hours — was dedicated to running this clip show hosted by skateboard icon Rob Dyrdek.

For the past generation, MTV clearly had its focus drift sharply from music. While it did subsist with some alternate programming in the early days, like “MTV News” and late-night animation blocks, it soon was recognized that fortunes would be found elsewhere. The debut of “The Real World” was groundbreaking — and format-breaking. Seen as the impetus to the reality television craze, it also signaled the demise of the channel’s format.

Richard Drew

This focus on reality led to the monstrosity that was “The Jersey Shore,” a celebration of bimbo-meathead culture that was a huge success. This became the focus of the parent company, spinning off variations of the abomination in other countries. (The insipid nature is carried through with a show in landlocked Poland, called “Warsaw Shore.”) This type of content has become the priority for what is now a distaff cable channel.

There once was a time when MTV drove the cultural narrative and served as a voice for the youth of this country. Today, we see how it no longer wants to speak for a generation and instead appears to utter little more than a “Meh.” It is more than fair to say that few people really express interest in the channel — the network that operates it does not even seem to care any longer.