Monday, August 1, 2016

This Day in History: MTV Goes On The Air (1981)

On this day in 1981, MTV came on the air. Time for a reminder of the first video ever aired.

I expect a fair number of you don't remember pre-MTV popular music. Hell, I expect a fair number of you weren't around when MTV was actually about playing music videos commercial-free (instead of the shithole it is now). I will direct you to the pile of documentaries, long and short, on the massive shift in the music business that MTV forced upon all ends of it as I won't recount it here.

What I will say is that you should not discount MTV's continuing influence. While the rise of platforms like YouTube have had a significant impact, the fact remains that the weight of MTV's impact is still crushing down for those who get (to borrow old newspaper lingo) "above the fold"--sufficiently popular to be known to normies and thus susceptible to the influence of the media establishment--and I need only point to known pop music acts since 2001 (the last 15 years) and how every last one either conformed to a media-friendly image makeover or got shitcanned to show this to be the case.

Also, fame was already fleeting before MTV. After? Even moreso. The Buggles disappeared shortly after this video's prominence. Many others of that day also fell the wayside; they failed to make the transition, they couldn't stay relevant in the faster cultural cycle post-MTV, or they just wore out and wanted to end it. Many who were big before MTV and after had a fallow period right about here as they had to make wholesale changes to complete adaptation to the new normal, and for some this moment was the beginning of a decline that wouldn't end them for years yet.

That's why this moment matters: MTV changed the entire world of popular music and entertainment media in exactly the same way that TV changed how politics is handled by making the visual element of equal or greater importance than the audio (or live performance). Mark that, folks, because we're already in such a moment now and only after the fact will its full impact be known.

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