We are gathered here this evening to celebrate and memorialize the death of an era in MTV history: The Jersey Shore era. As both a former employee of Lord Viacom MTV Networks (full disclosure: from 2008 – 2011) and a viewer, it feels as though a story has come to a close. The pages have turned and the sun is setting on our tanned-up guido friends. And for a few years, this sociological experiment defined MTV and defined the audience it cultivated. We all watched in slackjawed horror/glee the day this sociological experiment began, and now we must lay it to rest. And so with it goes the days of MTV’s most polarizing programming. Let us reflect.
MTV was a friend to many. I remember days spent after my college graduation, slumped across my couch in West Harlem, nursing twin hangovers with my roommate. And you know who was there? MTV. MTV was always there with a bottle of aspirin and hours of time-sucking programs to take comfort in while I recovered from the evening’s misgivings. I remember when MTV was just a kid: playing its music too loud, running around at all hours of the day blasting Madonna and The Beastie Boys. Heck, even TRL. MTV was always a carefree spirit with a “damn the man!” attitude. And we loved MTV for that: for its ultimate spring break weekends (so many memories that would be untoward to share at a time like this!), so many nights with Ed Lover and Fab 5 Freddy. Pretending we were fashionistas in our JNCO jeans while watching House of Style and realizing we were far from it.
Even when MTV went through its broody teen years with all that Nirvana and Pearl Jam on 120 Minutes, we were right there with it. MTV opened us up to new experiences and different musical cultures because MTV was wise beyond its years. It knew what we wanted before we wanted it.
After MTV went to college, it got all philosophical on us with informational programs like MTV News–charging through the big elections with verve and a hunger for information that was relatable to us. MTV wanted us to be cool and fun, but also educated and voting. Edgy stuff like Sex in the 90s, the teen version of Cinemax that was Undressed, and too-cool-for-school Daria were the best. Even the occasional Beavis and Butthead episode wasn’t totally out of the question. I remember us all screaming “Yeah, man! I want my MTV!” and laughing because we were going to be forever young and forever awesome.
But things changed. You can’t deny it, and neither would MTV. MTV started to get really involved with The Real World and Road Rules, which were totally cool. At first, MTV just didn’t want the party to stop, and we were OK with that. Everyone needs to let off a little steam, plug into a guilty pleasure–hey, sometimes they even dealt with the tough issues! It was a balance. Then, MTV longed for a time that had passed, and kept holding onto things a bit past their expiration date. Hoarding personalities and outlandish behavior. Bigger characters! More audacious moments! Bring on the hot tubs and the liquid-based bad decisions! It was a sad day when we realized MTV became an addict. Addicted to reality programming, most of it not good.
At first it seemed harmless enough: Laguna Beach and The Hills were fun, even though we weren’t totally convinced MTV was being honest with us about how much of it was real. Plus we still had True Life and Made. But MTV’s dark days began in about 2007. MTV started drinking a lot, wearing trendy t-shirts with catchphrases on it, and listening to a lot of Linkin Park. MTV was sad. Suddenly, we weren’t asking MTV to hang out as much anymore. Feeling abandoned, MTV started hanging out with a bunch of kids at the New Jersey shore. Clubbing and fist-pumping and acting a fool. The disastrousness of it all hooked us back in; what was this curious experiment? We couldn’t look away. So we came back, tepidly.
Happy to see us interested again, MTV was desperate to keep us around; it loved the attention. So MTV took this shock-and-curious-awe into its other programs, including the sad stories of pregnant teens in Sixteen and Pregnant and Teen Mom. Even the Jersey Shore stars got spin-off shows. But we grew weary of its smoke and mirrors. The barrage of poor life decisions packaged as entertainment. How many times were we expected to watch Sammy Sweetheart and Ronnie break-up and get back together? We were exhausted. Finally, MTV admitted it had a problem.
Even though we’re laying a part of MTV to rest, we’re proud of it. It did the right thing by putting an end to Jersey Shore. And while we get ready to bury Jersey Shore six feet under, we remember the truths of MTV: its rock ‘n’ roll spirit is still there, buried underneath these past indiscretions. Perhaps that renegade spirit, that zest for music, knowledge, and honesty will return. We know it’s under there, MTV. Somewhere. But for now, may the clan of GTL and all it represents rest in peace. And, MTV? You should really give Kurt Loder a call. Call us sentimental, but we really loved you two together. Amen.
Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes