Last Sunday, while accepting a Moonman statue in one of the horrific "party suites" at the Video Music Awards in Las Vegas, Justin Timberlake quickly downshifted from "cocky" to "cocky and attempting to keep it real" when he turned to the cameras and gave MTV a piece of unsolicited advice: "Play more damn videos." Then he laughed haughtily in that way that only people who seriously use words like "Futuresex" can. Later on in the show, when he accepted his second Moonman, Timberlake repeated the sentiment, in case MTV, or the network's weary audience, had missed his very important point.
But it was Timberlake—naturally—who'd missed the point. MTV obviously hasn't been about videos for a long time. The network transitioned from being an avenue for music into being an avenue for "youth culture" a long time ago. Timberlake's advice, and the implicit, stale complaint that MTV doesn't play music any more, has been irrelevant for more than a decade. So too is the old complaint that MTV glorifies consumerist youth culture. Well, of course it does. It always has. Duh.
Still, there's something incredibly wrong with MTV, and though the network has been steadily declining for some time, it's now past the point of self-parody and approaching the depths of something almost evil. If MTV had a soul, it would be black, empty, and full of quicksand. The terrible VMAs only made it more obvious. In short, MTV hates you, and it isn't shy about showing its contempt. How else could you explain the following?
The offender: A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila
The setup: Failed pop star, noted naked MySpace user, and bisexual Tila Tequila lives in a house with 16 men and 16 women who compete to bask in the warmth of her love (and a probably very unsanitary Jacuzzi).
The con: Unlike VH1's Flavor Of Love and I Love New York, which played like cartoonish, comedic versions of The Bachelor, A Shot At Love promises to play like one thing: porn, or as close to porn as possible. Why else would you hire Tila Tequila?
MTV hates you: Besides increasing the visibility of someone like Tila Tequila, this show is like televising the digging of a basement underneath the subterranean lair where reality TV resides. If that isn't contempt, nothing is.
The offender: MTV's continually shifting, arbitrary censorship policy
The setup: The network has angered conservatives and parents' groups since it started, and has repeatedly buckled in the most illogical ways. MTV's approach boils down to bleeping and blurring, as well as cutting scenes from videos. Recently, Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls" had "suicidal" bleeped. If you mention guns, triggers, drugs, or any slang related to those, you're bleeped. DJ Khaled's "We Takin' Over" reportedly had "supply" and "work" bleeped because of their context: "We can supply you / got enough work to feed the whole town."
The con: This approach gives the illusion of taking action while not really doing anything. And the network's decisions can be ludicrous: "The Old Apartment" by Barenaked Ladies was supposedly edited to remove a scene where someone rips a telephone from a wall. If you're censoring a Barenaked Ladies song, it's time to reassess things.
MTV hates you: By acting as if removing "sensitive words" accomplishes anything.
The offender: Parental Control
The setup: Parents who disapprove of their child's boyfriend/girlfriend select two potential replacements (whom they interview with questions that sound like Newlywed Game rejects) for a date. Then they watch the dates transpire with the current boyfriend/girlfriend. At the end of the show, their kid chooses between the parentally mandated mates and the current one.
The con: Everything on MTV exudes an air of relentless calculation, but virtually every interaction on Parental Control sounds scripted, particularly the clumsy barbs traded between parents and their kids' significant others. You can practically hear the PA standing off-camera directing them: "Don't you think he's a douchebag? Then say it!" MTV has a long history of dating shows—Singled Out, anyone?—but this ranks among its tackiest. (Next takes top honors.)
MTV hates you: Like any good MTV show, Parental Control captures a shade of humanity's dark side in a soul-crushing half-hour. And, like any good MTV show, it derides its subjects while celebrating their vapidity. (See also My Super Sweet 16.)
The offender: Giant blue bars that fill the screen during videos on Subterranean
The setup: At the beginning and end of every video—this is on M2, where some videos still air—giant blue bars appear announcing the band name, album title, director, etc. Remember the nondescript text that used to be in the left corner of videos? This is the complete opposite of that.
The con: Sure, it's a bold design, something MTV has always been known for, but it's also really, really annoying.
MTV hates you: By insisting the art of design supersede the art of, you know, the video.
The offender: Super Sweet 16: The Movie
The setup: Super Sweet 16 is a made-for-TV movie adaptation of the most offensive show on television: My Super Sweet 16, where overprivileged, under-disciplined brats and their enabling parents spend upward of a few hundred thousand dollars on their 16th birthday parties. In the movie, a couple of best friends squabble over their joint party. ('Tween sensations Aly and AJ Michalka co-star—with, um, Roddy Piper.)
The con: The movie attempts to atone for the show's excess by making the protagonists likeable everygirls, then clumsily using images of Hurricane Katrina to give them perspective. "We totally realize that some people, like, have it bad. Seriously, WTH?!"
MTV hates you: By trying to have it both ways. The network wants to cash in on its show's popularity, but also feebly address the criticism My Super Sweet 16 invites.
The offender: The MTV Movie Awards
The setup: Remember that episode of The Simpsons where the suits behind Itchy & Scratchy decide the cartoon needs a third character? Imagine if they designed an entire movie-awards show: "We at the network want an awards show with attitude. It's edgy, it's in your face. You've heard the expression 'Let's get busy'? Well, this is a show that gets biz-zay! Consistently and thoroughly."
The con: Categories include: Best Villain, Best Kiss, Best Fight, and an award for movies that haven't even opened, Best Summer Movie You Haven't Seen Yet. (Transformers won a month before it hit theaters.)
MTV hates you: By creating yet another unnecessary awards show, then making it unbearably obnoxious.
The offender: Real World/Road Rules Challenge
The setup: Former Real World contestants, former Road Rules contestants, and (in recent seasons) viewers who apply on the Internet are flown to a foreign country to bicker, hook up, fight, and engage in contests overseen by a mouth-breathing host.
The con: In true MTV fashion, the "reality" of the show couldn't be more manipulated, in this case by the network and the entrants, most of whom are professional Real World/Road Rules Challenge contestants. MTV sells the show like a glimpse into a corral full of wild horses, but, in truth, the horses they've rounded up are highly trained show-ponies, more than happy to perform as the network sees fit.
MTV hates you: By creating its very own substrata of human being: the professional, perpetual reality-TV star.
The offender: Non-reality reality programming
The setup: Sure, COPS has been around longer, but MTV really started reality TV with The Real World in 1992. The story of seven strangers picked to live together in New York while being filmed caused a chain reaction that continues producing terrible ideas 15 years later. (See Tila Tequila's new show, above.)
The con: From the get-go, MTV tinkered with reality. When the original New York cast got boring, they received an anonymous package with plane tickets to Jamaica. Serendipity!
MTV hates you: The 20th season of The Real World premières next May.
The offender: The Hills
The setup: Laguna Beach alum Lauren Conrad moves to L.A. The Laguna Beach cameras, and the pretty, pretty way they film "reality," follow.
The con: Lauren Conrad and her friends are vapid characters, and The Hills is a vapid show—one of the main storylines this season involves Heidi and Spencer's clashing ideas about what to paint on their living-room wall)—but vapidity has never looked so good, and that's why The Hills is kind of sinister. The way it's shot and edited gives the show a look of weightiness, a sheen of importance—but it's like polished air.
MTV hates you: Aside from the usual MTV reality-show tinkering—including multiple takes of "reality," and the fact that, even though the whole Hills cast has become tabloid fodder, anything that has to do with tabloids or paparazzi is edited out—The Hills makes nothing look like something. Case in point: Brody Jenner.
The offender: Endless ringtone/joke of the day/text dating ads
The setup: Hey, kids! You like texting? Well then text HOT to #4411 to get the hottest ringtones, the funniest jokes (as indicated by this laughing frog), and the sexiest women, now! ($10 per text, and standard messaging rate applies.)
The con: MTV airs these commercials constantly, certainly more than it airs Next. It's basically never not airing a commercial about texting, ringtones, hot singles, or jokes of the day.
MTV hates you: By exposing you to this kind of sensory and stupidity bombardment on a nearly minute-by-minute basis.
The offender: The rise of Nick Cannon
The setup: A one-time cast member on the Nickelodeon all-kids sketch comedy show All That, Nick Cannon currently has two shows on MTV: Nick Cannon Presents: Wild 'N Out (a kind of hip-hop Whose Line Is It Anyway?, with all the horror that description implies) and Nick Cannon Presents: Short Circuitz (a lazy sketch-comedy show featuring lazy video parodies and lazy wackiness).
The con: Nick Cannon is essentially the face of comedy at MTV: They even made him into his own brand. Problem is, Nick Cannon almost certainly has no idea what comedy is. Judging by his shows, he evidently thinks that comedy is appealing to the lowest common denominator, and that it requires no thought. Watching half an hour of Wild 'N Out is way more disconcerting than funny, and Short Circuitz is on par with a college sketch-comedy group that no one at the college has ever heard of. You know, the kind that would think having President Bush rap a response to Kanye West's Katrina comments two years after the fact is a hilarious premise.
MTV hates you: Nick Cannon is basically mediocre comedy in human form, but MTV's only response to mediocrity is to re-air it, or make it into a franchise. (See also: Real World/Road Rules Challenge.)
The offender: Shower Power Music Hour
The setup: According to MTV casting: "MTV's Shower Power Music Hour would like to give you the chance to show us what you can do! Film a performance in your own home shower, singing along to one of these songs: 'Glamorous' by Fergie, 'Ridin' by Chamillionaire, 'Girlfriend' by Avril Lavigne, 'This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race' by Fall Out Boy… The best and most creative videos will have the chance to be featured on an episode of Shower Power Music Hour. And YOU may be selected to appear on the show IN PERSON to compete in a shower singing competition in front of a live studio audience!!!"
The con: See above.
MTV hates you: By turning to you, or at least to its dumbest, most exhibitionist viewers, to provide its content. Granted, everything listed in the casting section of MTV.com reads like "Hey, want to be exploited?!" but this takes it to a new, terrible, unwatchable level.
The offenders: Jessica Simpson, Nick Lachey, Bam Margera, Sharon Osbourne, Carson Daly, Carmen Electra, Jenny McCarthy, Shanna Moakler, and other people MTV made into celebrities.
The setup: MTV gives people with marginal, though thankfully fading, fame (Simpson, Lachey, Margera), or people who are married to someone marginally famous (Osbourne, Moakler) reality shows about their life. Increased fame ensues.
The con: High on their MTV notoriety, these people seek to increase their fame by releasing albums (A Public Affair, What's Left Of Me), or getting talk shows (Last Call With Carson Daly, The Sharon Osbourne Show), or hosting things (Electra, McCarthy), and in general providing insidious, plentiful litter on the pop-cultural landscape.
MTV hates you: By continuing to manufacture "stars" that think they can be stars.