Sit back, boys and girls, and I’ll tell you about a time when MTV not only played music videos, but also played short independent-film-type clips that were strange and wonderful.
Over on Syntax of Things, Jeff has posted a clip from that hallowed time, when there were little videos of short stories by Donald Barthelme and Barry Yourgrau and Bill Plympton, and all these other people that no one in my small town ever mentioned.
These videos were little revelations coming straight into the brain through the television — the same television that spent most of its time feeding one dull stuff like Lawrence Welk reruns and yet another very special episode of The Cosby Show. And these videos featured big name Hollywood stars too, people who seemed like they’d never be interested in showing up on television sets after midnight just to encourage one to read a book.
These days, the Web has taken over this important role of expanding the minds of the Modern Youth, and in many ways it’s much better suited to the task.
But back then, it felt important — critical even — to sit up late at night and wait for 120 Minutes to come on, bringing with it music videos that were too strange or unsteady or unmelodic for the rest of the day, and video clips and animations that were unlike anything else. Those videos and clips were the proof that there was a much bigger world available, one in which unexpected, non-laugh-track things could happen.
The fact that it came to us through the same appliance that brought Cosby and Carson made it both mass-media-approved and subversive — an interesting tension.
Tags: television, MTV, Stick Figure Theater, 120 Minutes
Outside of catching some music videos at friends’ houses, I missed the subversive, mind enhancing (drug-free) short-shorts because my parents refused to get cable. Oh, how I wanted my MTV then. Interesting to see what I missed. I did get to watch the Cosby Show, though, and I’m sure I’m a better person for it.
I like watching 120 Minutes when I could. I loved Liquid Television, a series on MTV in the early 1990s. I think it was all animated shorts — including some new installments of Stick Figure Theater and other fun stuff like the Art School Girls of Doom.
I think I’m old enough that I’m not supposed to like MTV these days; at the same time, I don’t see anything on the network that comes close to being as smart as 120 Minutes or Liquid Television.
Susan: When MTV launched, I was living in my high school dorm. So although my parents were OK with cable, I still could watch it only on the weekends I went home (about once a month) and when staying overnight with friends. I think this made all the more mystical in my mind.
The weekends when I went home, I would stay up very late, watching videos, and Saturday Night Live. Formative influences, indeed.
Uncle Crappy: Oh my, yes, Liquid Television. So wonderful. Between that, Comedy Central (especially Kids in the Hall and MST3K) and Nick At Night, the early 90s were kind of a Golden Age of Television for me. I’ve never watched as much TV as I did in the early 90s. Great, grand stuff.
The only MTV I’ve ever known has always had the Real World and Spring Break specials. I missed out.
My earliest memories of MTV are when they played Monkees reruns and Duran Duran’s dynastic streak of Friday Night Video Fights victories.
120 minutes kept me up late and Liquid TV was too subversive for my own good. However, neither were anywhere near the poison that was the daytime marathons of Remote Control.
Other 90s fare = great MTV: Singled Out, Yo MTV, Club MTV, Alternative Nation, and the first decade of spring breaks
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