Synergy 30 of Years Past

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.

And I still have a crush on Martha Quinn.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

9 thoughts on “Synergy 30 of Years Past

  1. Good point about the synergy between MTV and D&D. Even a lot of the music "left over" from the 1970's that never made it onto MTV like Rush, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, etc. seemed like ready-made fodder for inspiring and accompanying our games.

    Is it just me, or did bands and songs remain in the zeitgeist a lot longer back then than they do now?

  2. Has it been that long? I remember hearing about D&D on the eve of MTV. MTV probably came out about then, but I was in a small Midwestern town and tended to get things a few months later (before the internet after all). I heard about D&D from a couple guys in study hall at the beginning of the 1981 school year. I seem to remember D&D peaking in the general social circles around 82 to 83. After that, by around 84 to 85, it got some stigma about it and many kids I knew who played it stopped doing so. MTV, on the other hand, seemed to reach its creative zenith sometime between 83-86/87.

    Wow, seems like a drop in the bucket time now. In 1981, D&D was only about 7 years old. That would be like something first invented in 2004, around the end of Jackson's LoTR. Yet back then, a year seemed to be measured in geological time. Maybe that's why it's tough getting it into context.

    Oh yeah. Martha Quinn. Didn't everyone have a crush on her?

  3. In 1981 my father and I moved in together in a house taken over by a bank he was working for. The entire upstairs consisted of one giant room with six windows on all side (It was used as a painting room by the former owner, an artist).

    In the center of the room I dragged a huge old kitchen table, on which my group played many a weekend of D&D my first year in college. I also turned on and watched the very first day of MTV after having cable hooked up the day before. There is a definitely MTV/D&D synergy there, as we played we rarely played D&D games without a live concert or video after video being reeled off on MTV on the other side of the room.

  4. For what it's worth, Martha Quinn was never my secret crush.

    Pam Dawber, on the other hand, played a large role in my formative years, right up until Elvira arrived… But that's another story.

    Grand Melee for Martha Quinn's affections to begin in 3…2…1…

  5. Martha Quinn?

    Guilty. But there's also Mojo Nixon's response (Not so SFW lyrics)

    Able to take a joke, MTV hired Mojo for some spots. But to my memory, they never did play his videos.

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