MTV: Music Television or Money Television?
by: Paul Schwarz
Try to picture this: I am sitting in a room by myself, surrounded by books to read, CDs to listen to, an interview to transcribe, a pot to make tea, and a TV. Tonight I opted to forget sense, forget past experience and past disappointments, and turn to the TV for my night's amusement. Big mistake.

I am in Germany. I do not speak German. However, it is not my lack of linguistic ability nor the awful selection of TV this country has to offer which was the problem tonight. No, tonight I decided to give MTV a chance. OK, you can call me stupid if you want, you can say I was asking for it, but -damn-, I'm still going to complain, because God dammit I shouldn't be proved -so- right in my never-ending cynicism.

Monday at 0030-0230 MTV Germany transmit "Superock". Described in the TV guide simply as "heavy music" and, as you can see, quite devoid of the word "metal" or "extreme", this nonetheless was the program in Europe which came to replace "Headbanger's Ball" (the long running and sometimes off the commercial, beaten track, metal show which had graced MTV's screens since the '80s), and it certainly is at an unsociable enough hour of the night (and on an unsociable enough day) that you could reasonably expect it to play a selection of music outside of the seriously narrow, commercial, arse-licking spectrum which MTV operates during all other hours of the day. That's what I'd hope, though as I already discussed expectations and hopes like these seem to be misplaced when discussing organisations as uninterested in exposing music for its artistic (as opposed to commercial) sake as MTV seems to be.

I was not surprised, and thus not overly distraught, that Korn began proceedings -- HBB would often feature the more popular of the bands to begin with and to keep the rating end of things up, and much as I don't like this, it is one of the evils of the mass market which TV operates in, which I accept as a reality. What followed, however, was more like a roll call of "what sells in the States where more than two of the band members play a real instrument". Limp Bizkit, Coal Chamber, Soulfly, Sugar Ray, Ice Cube feat. Korn and some that I liked too, like System of a Down and The Deftones (though neither of these bands are among my favourites). That was the level of what we got; the only three tracks I would consider substantially "metal" which were played were Pantera's "Drag the Waters" (three years old), Dickinson's "Killing Floor" (the one track I thought it ruled that they played) and Rollin's "The End of Something" (a borderline case).

But this article is not a Writer's Wrath about the fact MTV don't share my taste in music, it is about the fact that MTV are so profit oriented they don't even have the balls (and fuck, it really doesn't take much balls) to put on a fringe program dedicated to bringing heavier music to people, music which would never get mainstream MTV rotation because it is not popular enough.

The disappointment and downheartedness I feel is heightened by my location: I am in Germany. Isn't this supposed to be a haven for metal and extreme music, a place where Dimmu Borgir find chart success and Manowar debut at number #19 with their latest live album? Where the same classic '80s band do huge, sold-out tours and where HammerFall are gaining similar ground? I am not trying to suggest that these are myths -- these are facts. However, even in such a haven for metal, where it actually -$ells-, MTV deem it unworthy of any play.

So, I guess the question going through some of your heads must be "so what?, what -should- we expect out of a profit making organisation like MTV, who cares if they don't play our music -- we like it, we listen to it, simple as that". This is true, but, though I fully realise I don't live in a perfect world, I always look toward improving this imperfect one, and this means not lying down and cynically proclaiming that everyone is going to knock you down and tread all over you anyway, but instead standing tall and trying to get through to people and remind them that there is more out there than most of them will ever be exposed to. You obviously like extreme music, since you read CoC, but I am sure that, for most of you, finding your way into the scene was not as automatic a thing as going to school (as one of Metallica's shirts so suggested, though with their current direction it seems more likely), and even once you had started, how long did it take before you got into the really "different" stuff? For myself, I started with Guns 'n' Roses in 1993, Metallica and Pantera in 1994, Carcass in 1995, Entombed, Satyricon and Immortal in 1996, Morbid Angel as late as 1997; it took me ages to get to hear, and often even hear about, the more underground bands, and I even had a few friends who were into it and a somewhat healthy cash flow to depend upon. I am sure there are many people out there who would know they'd found "their" music if they heard certain death, black, thrash, hardcore, traditional heavy metal, industrial or whatever style of albums. Much as I love our scene, the mystical and almost occult way in which most find passage into it, the lone metal warriors who expose us to our first this or that, there must be people out there who would be happier being part of it but never have the chance to gain access.

My point is that the purpose of Music TeleVision should be to expose people to as much music as possible, to give people as much knowledge of music as possible. I don't just mean metal, I mean jazz, classical, whatever -- people should not be fed a limited diet of all the songs they know and are on the radio. Why play a band who are selling well, even more than when they weren't? To make money is the only answer I can find to this question; it certainly isn't because you want to broaden people's minds.

I think MTV should do more than simply reflect the popularity of the select few bands and artists who dominate the charts, even in their mainstream play, but in the least I think MTV should take it upon themselves to construct "fringe" programs to give people with specific but more unusual different musical tastes a chance to hear stuff from their style they might not have picked up on, and see the videos associated with the bands they like. "Headbanger's Ball" was never perfect, but at least it made some effort; "Superock" is nothing more than a reflection of the most popular guitar-based, mildly aggravated bands of the moment and really nothing more. Especially in a country like Germany, I think someone at MTV should have the balls to put something different and interesting together to give more people a chance to hear music they might never have had a chance to hear before.

MTV: Forget about money for once and start doing something for people.

CoC readers, I urge you to write to MTV and people like them to get them to put on a metal show. Make yourselves heard: you may not want to see metal videos, you may not have MTV and you may not want to stay up 'till whatever ungodly hour to see such a program, but if by MTV putting on such a program a couple more people who would have never, or might never, have discovered metal, do, that makes a difference, that's worth it, don't you think?

(article submitted 12/8/1999)


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