Thursday, June 25, 2009

On Ed, and Farrah, and Michael...

I was just going into my sophomore year of high school when MTV first planted its flag on the green-screen moon. I remember it being a premium channel, and begging my father to pay to have it added to our cable. I even offered to take a cut in allowance--but my kind-hearted daddy would have none of that, and by the middle of my Junior year, there it was, in all its weird 24-hour glory. I remember one night my friend Nan and I stayed up all night finishing a project for our Humanities class. We took turns at the typewriter--while one of us typed, the other watched MTV. Then we went out for breakfast and straight to school. It was one of the best nights of my life. The day? Not so much. I fell asleep and drooled in Humanities, and got a low score on the paper. Go figure.
I mention this in light of the loss of these three iconic entertainers, because in some way the birth of MTV ushered in an era that makes the kind of stars they were obsolete. Think about it--as Johnny Carson's side-kick, Ed McMahon's "Heeeere's Johnny!" signaled to people everywhere that it was time to wind down the day. MTV told the world it was perfectly fine to sit up and stare at crude, colorful, creepy mini-movies all night long. Farrah came onto the scene with a distinct style--a look so unique, yet so simple, no woman could ever dream of capturing it. MTV brought us hordes of identical back-up dancers, not to mention the Madonnas and Cyndi Laupers who presented images imitated by 3rd graders right down to the Kool-Aid-colored hair and lace gloves.
And, Michael Jackson. Face it--Jackson would not have had the career he did if not for Music television. How else would he bring his distinctive dance to the world stage? How else could he capture and share his multi-dimensional talent? Last night, MTV aired back-to-back videos, and my sons laughed at the simplicit of "Rock with You." Just Michael singing in front of a huge green screen of what looked like caramel candies.
"That's it?" The mocked.
"That was the beginning," I said. Later, we sat raptured through Thriller.
That was before you could YouTube your favorite videos. I told them about sitting around all night, because the MTV VJ said the Thriller video was coming up that hour. How we'd wait and wait and wait. Then, we'd dance.
I've had a hard time explaining to my boys (age 11 and 15) just how important these three people were, because they live in a totally different world than I did. Todays "stars" are so disposable. So interchageable. Michael Jackson had a distinct sound. Today it seems like all the artists sound alike. Nobody--nobody looked like Farrah. Today, I wouldn't know Megan Fox if she was standing in line next to me at WalMart. And Ed? Ed was a dying breed long before he was a dying man. Quick! Name another TV second-bananna with class.
I don't say this because I'm old--because I'm not. And I don't shun pop culture--I thrive on it. It just seems that with the constant bombardment of images and media, nobody has to work hard to stand out anymore. Why do we know who Heidi and Spencer are? Who will know them 20 years from now? They'll be long, long forgotten while my grandkids are moonwalking.


  1. So true. Wow, great observations.

  2. Interesting perspective. I always enjoy reading what you have to say. I had a different twist in my post.

  3. Very observant... my kids didn't know who MJ was... never heard of Ferrah...

    But, Billie Mays! They knew all about him!