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.