As if anyone cared, MTV hosted its flagship program last night — the Video Music Awards. Every year, the VMAs represent MTV’s desperate bid to stay relevant, usually by either trying to engineer “beefs” between key stars (Ooh look, Nicki Minaj told off Miley Cyrus!) or by asking young starlets to be as sexual and/or blasphemous as basic cable allows. Considering that pop music is supposed to be about the “now,” it’s a pitiful irony that MTV’s been appealing to this basic formula since 1984, when Madonna writhed on stage in a white wedding dress singing “Like a Virgin.”
Since then, it’s been all Madonna, all the time. When the original began to fade, her successors rose to the challenge, with a symbolic passing of the sexual torch more than a decade ago as Madonna kissed Madonna Junior (Britney Spears). After Britney, the pop world has brought us Madonna in a meat dress (Lady Gaga), and young, twerking Madonna (Miley Cyrus). And each time they’ve hilariously cast The Same Old Thing as something “fresh” and “transgressive.” Last night was no exception, featuring Miley flashing the audience for less than a second and then talking and singing about — and this is so original for a pop star — how much she likes weed. The formula is the same. Only the production values have changed.
The great, ongoing con of the rock world is how it’s sold “rebellion” and “transgression” to generations of teens by asking them to join an increasingly libertine majoritarian culture that views experimentation with sex and drugs as no big deal, an entirely normal rite of passage. And in so doing, they purport to teach young people that the true counterculture, the true rebels in American life — those who aspire to live according to orthodox religious principles — represent “The Man,” the oppressors who must be mocked and shamed into oblivion. This is all “Hollywood courage,” actions that earn thunderous applause from the elite while angering or offending distant social conservatives that pop stars rarely encounter and can’t begin to understand.
But my little social conservative family isn’t angry or offended. We’re just bored. Wake us when MTV actually does something new.