Monday, August 29, 2011

Video Killed the Video Star

This year, MTV celebrated their 30th birthday. You’d never know it though, as they scraped the glitz and glamour of such a milestone celebration to push more promos for Jersey Shore and Teen Mom down viewers’ throats. Perhaps they were avoiding dating themselves; I mean, based on demographical information, wouldn’t it seem that 30-something MTV should now be watching VH1? And perhaps as a way to keep themselves seeming fresh, young and hip, this year’s VMAs went unhosted and resulted in the type of disorganized chaos you would expect in a teenager’s bedroom.

The opening of the show was heavily promoted as being Lady Gaga’s “most historic performance in history.” As the audience remained captivated from the pre-show up until the seconds when the stage went dark, a Twitter topic trending worldwide touted “#WhatWillGagaWear”? Recalling her over the top ‘birth’ from an egg on stage at this year’s Grammys, as well as last year’s VMA Meat Dress, many wondered how the eccentric starlet would outdo herself this time. As a single spotlight lit the stage, Lady Gaga in her male drag alter-ego Jo Calderone, first envisioned in a photo shoot for VOGUE Hommes Japan and recently resurrected for her latest video ,‘You and I’, appeared on stage – part greaser, part Ralph Macchio. “Jo” then began a monologue lamenting his tumultuous relationship with “Gaga” and her artistic vision whilst puffing on a cigarette. Then, as the house lights came up, Jo theatrically rushed over to a piano to begin playing the newly in Top 40 rotation hit, followed it up with a West Side Story meets Cotton Eyed Joe dance routine, and concluded with a guitar solo from Queen’s Brian May.

Instead of making several costume changes throughout the show, Lady Gaga remained in drag throughout the entire broadcast, even creating an especially awkward moment when presenting the Video Vanguard award to Britney Spears by declaring that he used to have a poster of Britney in his bedroom to which he used to touch himself, leaving us to wonder if that was really Jo talking. However, as Gaga tried to stay in character, the back and forth during conversation and awards speeches led to several slip ups in pronoun usage, suggesting that maybe Gaga should have taken a few more improv classes during her short lived time at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

But where were the memorable moments that get talked about years later, moments that get recapped in Top VMA moment specials? Where was 2011’s equivalent to Kurt Cobain singing “Rape Me”, defying MTV producers’ warnings or Madonna’s iconic “Like a Virgin” performance where she was writhing around on stage in lace underwear and pearls? Where was this year’s answer to Lil Kim’s pasty, Howard Stern’s Fartman or Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford’s protest of Limp Bizkit being recognized as a real band (That is what he was protesting, right)?  Or hell, even despite it happening so recently, where was this year’s IMMA LET YOU FINISH moment? Perhaps the closest this year’s show could come to an iconic moment would be Beyonce’s high intensity performance of “Love on Top”, at the end of which – if you hadn’t already caught her revealing her secret on the black carpet – she opened her sequined blazer, cradled her belly, and revealed that after years of rumors and speculation, there was finally a bun in Bey’s oven. This sentiment was met with great applause and a standing ovation from the entire crowd, and an especially excited bro-hug from Kanye West to baby daddy, Jay-Z.

The rest of the show was a three hour long whirlwind of top 40 artists with heavy rotation singles and not a lot of other substance. Amidst the cacophony of bleeped curses and awful transitional spots with comedian Kevin Hart and rapper Rick Ross, several awards were presumably handed out to artists with the type of staying power that appeals to the need it now, fad crazy, Facebook generation. Justin Bieber won Best Male Artist, ironic considering he’s barely old enough to be considered a man. And even more ironically, Lady Gaga dressed in drag accepted the award for Best Female Artist.

MTV took a bold move deciding not to have an official host this year and, while the equation seemed to work well in the past (the VMAs have gone unhosted several times in its history), floundered miserably in a year that MTV could have really used it the most. In spite of pretending like this year was their “29th birthday part two” like most newly 30 year olds aching to hold on to their 20s, MTV could have certainly made 2011 their most memorable VMAs yet. But maybe that’s the point – MTV doesn’t play videos any more so why celebrate their crowning achievement, the spectacular mark they’ve left on society, music and cable television? From a channel that changed the world by bringing visions to the music we all know and love, to a channel driven solely by shows about underage pregnancy and drunken, overly tanned imbeciles, MTV has become Emp-tee-vee. Is it any wonder that mainstream radio is populated by at least 6 Top 40 stations per market when there isn’t an outlet for up and coming bands to be seen and heard like 120 minutes or Yo! MTV Raps, or hell, even Total Request Live (who ,at the end of their lifecycle, barely played full video clips on their Top 10 countdown anyway).

Every time I bother turning MTV on, every interview, news report and intro is narrated by Sway, who I guess is supposed to be this generation’s answer to Kurt Loder. On the black carpet for the VMA preshow, there were a bunch of skinny, hipster, nobody supposed VJs that all looked the same and weren’t even memorable enough for me to try to look them up for the purposes of this article. And there wasn’t even one single female VJ presence on screen for interviews; instead, Sway was flanked by pop singer Selena Gomez, someone who most people over the age of 22 probably couldn’t even identify. Where are the Serena Altschuls, the Tabitha Sorens, the Kennedys, the Martha Quinns, the Downtown Julie Browns? Whatever happened to the Wannabe a VJ contest where the second coming of Matt Pinfield, Dave Holmes (who now hosts DVD on TV on FX), lost to stoner kid and crowd favorite, Jesse Camp? Upon a recent Wikipedia search for MTV VJs, it listed that none are currently active at this time. And since MTV doesn’t play actual videos anymore, who needs to be there for transitions and intros? No talking heads are needed to discuss Snooki’s poof or the winner of the latest Real World challenge; all the thinking and conversation about these important topics can done by viewers via social media interaction. Maybe this absence of human identifiers also makes it easier for teens to zone out during Sixteen and Pregnant marathons.

So just what does MTV stand for these days, anyway? A sullen reminder of a time long gone, or the frightening reality of our dwindling attention spans and the fact that we can’t even be bothered to watch an entire 4 minute long music video anymore? What does this revelation mean for next year’s Video Music Awards and the future of music as a whole? Only time will tell.

The only thing I know for sure is, next year Beyonce’s baby will definitely be in attendance. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011


When I was little, I never wanted to ask for help. "I know!" and "I can do it!" were my two favorite phrases. Asking for help was showing weakness - you weren't smart enough if you asked for help on your homework; you weren't strong enough if you asked for help with something stuck or heavy. "Can't" wasn't in my vocabulary. I figured out how to be independent early on, do everything for myself, my way. I did things on my own, I never asked for help. I was too ashamed. Even when I should have been asking for help. I thought I knew it all.

When I was in 8th grade, I was in the pre-algebra class. I felt so smart - being there with all the other smart kids and my crush. I wanted to impress him, to do well. But class was hard and him being there distracted me. I would zone out in class. I wouldn't go to extra help.. I didn't like my teacher and was afraid of being made fun of for needing help. My parents weren't good at math so I couldn't ask them. And then, eventually, I go tmoved to a lower math class because I got a "D" in the first marking period; my first "D" ever. All because I wouldn't ask for help.That probably should have made me feel more ashamed. But at least I wasn't struggling anymore. I didn't need anyone's help. I am an only child. I don't have many friends. And I can do it myself. I can do it all... or so I thought.

When I was 21, I was even more naive then when I was in 8th grade. Again, I let a guy I liked distract me and I wouldn't get help until it was too late. I let this guy take advantage of me, abuse me, manipulate me. And I was afraid to ask for help because I wouldn't seem as strong and independent as I tried to be. And then finally, one day, I couldn't hold it back any longer: I had to ask for help. To humble myself, to prove that I needed someone else, and I couldn't do it on my own anymore. And I learned a valuable lesson; sometimes, it's ok to ask for help. We are human, not superheroes. We think we are invincible and can do everything on our own. But we can't always. Sometimes, we need to ask for help.

And when I did, no one laughed. No one doubted me. But they were ashamed that I had waited so long to ask for help when they had just wanted to give it all along. They were always there to help - even though I had never asked before. So now I know that I don't have to be embarrassed or afraid, because someone will always be there to help me. All I have to do is just be brave enough to ask.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

God Bless AA-merica

It's no secret that America's economy has been in the toilet for the past decade. The aftermath of 9/11 increased security across our country's airports and borders and threw us into a war overseas, draining our economy from billions of dollars with each passing year. Our banks crumbled, housing markets collapsed, our credibility as a rich world empire vanquished. As our country sank more and more money into fighting terrorism, companies here struggled and unemployment rates skyrocketed to nearly 10%. With each business that closed, more jobs were eliminated which meant less money being put into our economy, which meant less money to help our failing corporations, to create new jobs, to stimulate growth - it fast became a vicious cycle.

Our politicians and President want to keep things sugar coated. They downplay terms like Great Depression and Recession. Oh no, we're nowhere near a depression and barely a recession - we created 1,000 whole jobs last month... in a country of 307 million people where 10% of them remain out of work and without benefits to support them from losing their houses, cars and ways of life. And you know something? They're right. We're not anywhere close to the Great Depression - because when the Great Depression happened, there was no enormous discrepancy between the haves & the have nots, there were not 11 million undocumented illegal immigrants here, there was still a middle class. The playing field for the most part was level: the majority of US citizens at that time were working class people and immigrants trying to make a fair living and finding themselves being completely devastated by the stock market crash.

The difference today is that there are millions of millionaires in this country; the greed of the 80s stock market growth and housing market has left a majority of Americans with seven figure plus bank accounts. This increase in quick wealth led to the outpouring of over-indulgence and consumerism; Luxury vehicles, $800 dog bowls, designer clothes, private jets. And do you know where else the money of these millionaires goes? Into the pockets of our politicians, greasing the palms of those in Congress and the Senate to make choices like ensuring that the rich don't have to pay taxes and making sure that multi-billion dollar corporations in this country don't have to pay taxes, either. So, is it fair that a family of five who can barely afford their mortgage and to put food on their table have to pay a 15% tax every year, while a family that dines on caviar and champagne every night can jet away to their private villa in Hawaii in their tax-sheltered G5 jet? What happened to America's Horatio Alger-esque roots?

America doesn't seem like it's in a depression because there are so many people with so much money and big houses and riches that they are overshadowing those living in their cars, on the streets, moving back in with family, taking on second, third, fourth jobs just to make ends meet; overshadowing those who work minimum wage jobs and yet have no health insurance since their companies won't give them a full 40 hour a week shift because they're too cheap to pay the premiums. And yet, our politicians had the nerve to sit fighting until the 11th hour over a deal which would ensure that the United States doesn't default on its loans, struggling and cursing each other over which programs to cut and keep when the solution was simple, right in front of their faces: Tax the rich and stop turning your back on Real, hard working Americans.

This is the problem. America started out as a country by the people, for the people. Now, we have become nothing but talking heads and assemblymen, special interest groups, democrats and republicans who are only looking out for their wallets' best interests, completely forgetting that they're supposed to be in charge of a country full of people who are in need, desperate for their voices to be heard, desperate for jobs, for hope, for someone to stand up and remember the little people for a change. We (allegedly) elect these people and for what? We hope they'll do what's right and good for America as a whole - not just for those who can afford their $20,000 a plate political dinners. Whatever happened to Democracy?

And so, with that all being said, the United States had its credit rating downgraded this week from AAA to AA. Our reputation is shot, both economically and politically (I could get into the other reasons why other countries hate us, but there's enough fodder for its own separate post). And all I can think is, is America ever going to be great again? To be that land of the free, home of the brave, stars & stripes nation that attracts millions from around the globe to its shores because we are rich and powerful and strong once again? Can we ever have that same pride and trust in our country's leaders, in our economy and in our political system as in years past? To get back to our roots of an American community, with leaders who believe in the little people, who are willing to hear us and fight for us, to fight for America as a whole and not just those with a great stake in its financial interests. Hopefully this week's activities will be a wake up call; and hopefully it won't take the US losing another point on their credit rating for them to see where real change is needed.