(posted by julia prescott)
When I was younger I often thought of MTV as my too-cool-for-school older brother, always introducing me to pop music I never knew I needed and spouting hipper-than-thou lingo that would make Diablo Cody blush.
I grew up with the naive belief that my early 20’s would be filled with jacuzzi parties and clubbing (where somehow girls never got hit on and were free to dance with themselves), all set to a soundtrack of Green Day and Sonic Youth.
I dreamed of being on “The Real World,” envisioning myself as the cute artsy girl always sandwiched into the cast between the incredibly right-wing sorority girl and the extremely leftist alternative chick. The house would be a constant chaos of arguments, only silencing momentarily to reprimand the gay roommate for turning the fully furnished breakfast nook into a human dart board on a Tuesday night.
It was a sad day when I discovered that my “Real World” dreams would not be realized. This reality-based program does not in any way reflect its namesake. The creatively expressive girl archetype has rescinded into the shadows and has since been replaced with another helping of promiscuous sorority girls, that first girl never caused enough ratings-grabbing drama in the first place anyway.
If the skeptics during the premiere of the original “Real World” thought this was surely a sign of the pop culture apocalypse, then the frontier of MTV’s current heap of programming would undoubtedly send them to their grave.
I’m not here to talk about “Jersey Shore” or other “Real World”-like scenarios whose premise is firmly rooted in the voyeuristic quality of watching young people misbehave in extravagantly furnished houses. I’m here to talk about shows that accent upon the illusion of reality, and hoodwink the younger generation into believing a certain “truth” about being young.
Normally I would never couple the words, “revolutionize” and “The Hills” into the same thought, but it’s the only thing that can accurately be applied in this situation. Who knew that when MTV stuck a camera in front of Lauren Conrad and dared her to shop, eat, and pamper herself on-camera that they would be creating a new genre of television?
Certainly I didn’t, and heaps of other television snobs and cynics, but it’s there – it’s pervasive – it’s generated a profusion of spin-offs and its murky residue has seeped all over MTV (now sans the “music” moniker, another sign of the television end). It’s a hack comedian’s joke that MTV no longer contains anything music-related, but the same could be said for it depicting reality.
There’s a show called, “My Life as Liz,” its basic premise is that it follows the life of an ‘alternative’ teen and the normal rollercoaster ride that is High School. It utilizes the formula set forth by “The Hills” – a show that sells itself as a reality show, but is blatantly scripted. To anyone over the age of 12 who can easily discern the show’s fictional foundation, it reads as a blatant insult. Slowly but surely the network’s programming will resemble one long-winded ‘Punk’d’ stunt.
MTV makes being 21 the end all be all to human existence; at least they did in the late ‘90s. I feel like I’ve spent my life looking forward to being the target demographic for their programming and by the time I reached that point, they’ve lowered the bar so tremendously I can barely catch my breath.
Scours of critics and television philosophers have debated the purpose of an all “reality-based” network (I use that term flexibly) and my guess is that it caters to the phenomenon of the YouTube generation. Perhaps if viewers felt like they could make their own versions of “My Life as Liz” and “The Buried Life,” then they can relate to the programs more.
But that’s just the thing, when you subsidize yourself to that low of a quality bracket, you make yourself obsolete. It’s a classic instance of the “grown-up” generations not understanding the youth’s cultural likes and dislikes, but now that has extended into the territory of twentysomethings in the dark, an alarming concept to say the least.
What’s my proposal? If it’s reality let it be reality, if it’s scripted let it be scripted and if someone strums a guitar and screams, “I want my MTV!” well then they’re certifiably insane. That starry-eyed vision of what used to be a network no longer exists.
My name is Julia Prescott and I’m too young to feel this old.