Alternate Takes: VMAs Are DOA

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Since details about VMA-night fights are still coming to light, Rock Daily isn't quite done with the Vegas fiasco we covered exhaustively earlier this month. Here's Joe Levy's take:

It's hard to say exactly which was a stranger moment at the MTV Video Music Awards: a short shot of the Foo Fighters with Serj Tankian on vocals flailing away at the Dead Kennedys' "Holiday in Cambodia" -- a twenty-seven-year-old snotty punk put-down of American consumerism -- or Justin Timberlake chastising MTV for the second time in one night for not playing enough videos by declaiming that we don't need more "Simpsonson reality television." Both said plenty about how strained, odd and useless the VMAs have become: The attacks now come from within.

Was it a good idea to stage the show in a Vegas hotel and run the red carpet through the casino, a place Lord knows how many MTV viewers (to say nothing of underage performers like Chris Brown and Rihanna) aren't legally allowed to enter? What about shrifting off the most interesting performers -- Kanye West, Timberlake, the Foos and Fall Out Boy (who, whatever you think of them, at least swung for the fences like they believed the occasion was important and tuning their guitars wasn't) -- to "fantasy suites," cutting to them for only a minute or so at times as bumpers before commercials? And who let Alicia Keys onstage wearing Gene Simmons' boots, Diana Ross' leggings and Jimi Hendrix's headband?

If you have to ask any of these questions, you have no business watching MTV -- ratings for the VMAs were up twenty-three percent this year (due, no doubt, to the Britney Spears show opener). To be fair, MTV has been held to an unreasonable standard from the moment it started twenty-six years ago, when people bitched about the sacrilege of impoverishing our imaginations by putting pictures to music. Now, of course, the complaint is that it no longer puts enough pictures to music. MTV has evolved into a reality TV network, having pioneered the genre here in the U.S. with The Real World, which caught the attention of kids who'd grown up with their lives documented on VHS. The endless parade of reality programming that now dominates -- including some truly ugly dating shows where contestants engage in emotionless power transactions -- is just right for the current moment, when MySpace and YouTube have put fame within easy reach of a new generation.

As for the VMAs, they're a joke without a punch line. No one cares about the actual awards. They tune in for ... what, exactly? Once upon a time, it was for the performances and the host, but MTV has cut back on the first and done away with the second entirely. The show lived on for years as a branding opportunity, a chance for the network to associate itself with music again for a moment. Now even that has passed, and the VMAs have become an excuse to drive traffic to the MTV Web site. There you can view the entirety of the Foo Fighters' Dead Kennedys cover and buy an "It's Britney, Bitch" ringtone. In a sign of how far MTV has fallen from the cultural main stage, the network had to force YouTube to pull down the clip of Britney's VMA stumble. But that "It's Britney, Bitch" ringtone? That's exclusive to MTV.

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