On this day in 1981, MTV made its official debut on American cable television. Thirty years later, it’s notoriously difficult to actually find any music videos on MTV itself, which has followed the money and moved on to reality TV shows. But thirty years ago, MTV was the biggest thing to hit amongst the teenage population. Its audience was much more male than female, although there were certainly exceptions, and it evolved along various ever-fragmenting lines as different shows attempted to draw in new audiences and expand into new ones.
Any of that sound familiar?
I personally think that the advent of MTV was a cultural phenomenon that cannot be repeated any more than the bursting of RPGs onto the scene, and that MTV was just as much a function of the whole “growing up in the early and mid 1980’s” experience as was Dungeons and Dragons. The two peaked at precisely the same time, and both hit people of my generation precisely in our most formative years. There was inescapably an enormous overlap, and mutual influence over the two huge movements in teenage culture. We had videos (most of them in the heavy metal genre, a sub-phenomenon in and of itself that others in the OSR blogosphere have discussed) taking advantage of the medieval and fantasy imagery of D&D; everything from Men Without Hats’ Safety Dance to Dio’s Holy Diver. And this ad was played on MTV so much I wouldn’t be surprised if they had to send over multiple copies of the worn-out tape:
I’ve mentioned before how ubiquitous MTV was in my own youth, to the point that certain songs are forever indelibly linked in my brain with painting certain miniatures. MTV was quite literally the soundtrack of the adolescence of millions of D&D players, myself included. For all those who say that the OSR has more to do with nostalgia than game mechanics, I would point out that if such were the case, we’d be playing CD’s of the Bangles, ZZ Top, Madness, Human League, and Run-DMC in the background of our games.
I leave you with the now-famous first-ever video played on MTV, which ended up not being nearly as prophetic as those executives and VJ’s might have hoped, 30 years past.