I’m not the first one and I won’t be the last to state the obvious fact that MTV hardly plays music videos. As of January 2011, the only time of the day that MTV plays music videos is for three hours very early in the morning when mostly everyone on the west coast is still sleeping. The rest of the day MTV airs reality and game shows aimed at pregnant teenagers, New Jersey people, and homosexual college students. This hardly constitutes “music television.” The last music video I can recall seeing in its entirety on MTV was Bye Bye Bye by ‘N Sync, and that was way back when Carson Daly still gave a damn about children’s after-school programming. In this age and time where it’s cool to be ironic, MTV programming is equivalent to why hipsters think Pabst Blue Ribbon is good beer: it is what it is not.
The same can be said about MTV’s sister channel VH-1. What started out as an adult-contemporary music video channel, it is now a bastion of pop-culture that plays on the nostalgia that old people (read: born before 1980) have for things not current. Over the holidays I was surfing DirecTV and ended up watching an old Saturday Night Live episode on VH-1. I was watching a Weekend Update segment from, I would guess, around 2001 with Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon. As they were wont to do, these faux news-anchors were acting like sarcastic baboons. My wife, who was watching with me, laughed a lot and said, “Wow, this is actually funny.”
I should point out that my wife hates Saturday Night Live. She doesn’t think it’s remotely funny; in fact she thinks that it’s insulting to anything with a functioning brain. She’s not the only person who shares this sentiment. Many people say that the golden age of SNL was in the 1970s with iconic comedians like John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Dan Aykroyd. Current episodes of SNL are widely panned for being unfunny and overly contrived, and I suspect the only reason people tune in is because of its musical guests (being a musical guest on SNL is still a big deal).
I agree with most people on this issue. I started watching SNL in the early 1990s with Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, and David Spade. Those guys made me laugh. Nowadays I feel that SNL isn’t really all that funny, and I’ve felt this way ever since the late 1990s. However, when I was watching that old episode of Weekend Update last month, I was genuinely laughing, even though I suspected that I wasn’t laughing when I saw that segment when it first aired roughly nine years ago. I clearly remember hating Jimmy Fallon. What has changed? Was Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon’s comedy ahead of its time? Am I losing my mind?
A while back I read an article in which Lorne Michaels (the creator and executive producer of SNL) responded to criticism about SNL. He said that SNL is not as bad as people say it is, nor was it as good as people remember it was. This struck me as being surprisingly prophetic about everything.
As a whole, we seem to be surprisingly cynical about the present. We stress out about our jobs, we worry about feeding our kids, and we fear nuclear war. Every decision we make is approached with skepticism. Is this show funny? Who should I vote for? Will this affect who I am? When will I die? Instant information via smartphones and the internet has made the present a hyper-reality. As such, we’ve become over-nostalgic for the past. This is why 30-year-olds like watching VH-1 and why extreme Republicans like dressing up as 18th century New Englanders. Like Saturday Night Live, we’re under the illusion that the past was always better, even though it was probably the same as it is today.
Something about this makes me feel sad for the present, but then I remember that it is what it is not.