Tuned In

MTV: I Am Too Old & Cynical to Like Jersey Shore

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Several months ago, I wrote a post about how MTV claimed it was changing its programming to reflect the idealism and optimism of a new generation and of the Obama era. A few months later, I wrote about how that might not exactly square with the fact that its biggest new hit was about drunken meatheads swapping fluids in hot tubs and getting punched out in bars.

But I have seen the error of my ways. I was born into Generation X, and therefore, according to MTV Networks president Van Toffler, I am simply too cynical to appreciate the earnest, loving celebration of family and community that is Jersey Shore.

James Hibberd reports from a luncheon in which Toffler said the network is targeting its programming at “Millennials” (roughly, the generation born after 1980) and away from Gen X (roughly, 1964 to 1980). The former group, he says, is more “civic-minded” and less “cynical” than their elders.

OK, as to programming for a younger generation: duh. That’s what MTV does and always has done. It brilliantly reinvents itself every few years to appeal to whoever is under 25 at the time, and there’s nothing wrong with that: it’s why MTV has been, for decades, the ultimate self-renewing product of pop culture, a channel continually relevant even though it is literally too old for itself.

So of course MTV isn’t interested in Gen X; its youngest members are now 30, so while they might watch MTV, they aged out of the target demo about five years ago. (I watched Jersey Shore, which was just very well-made reality TV about overstimulated, ‘roid-raging America, but I don’t kid myself that MTV cares if I watched it.) Toffler’s declaration isn’t news, it’s just programmer-speak.

But does that mean that Millennials, or whatever term you prefer, actually, unironically admire and aspire to the communitarian values of Snooki and The Situation? Please. It means that it is apparently important to Toffler to believe that, and that it is the job of the rest of the MTV brain trust—who are legitimately ingenious at coming up with addictively button-pushing reality shows—to come up with rationalizations for said belief. (MTV, by the way, also makes genuinely high-minded and high-quality shows like its True Life documentary series—but come on.)

So, apparently, according to Toffler, this is why you watch Jersey Shore, Millennials:

“Millennials are really about authentic reality and family” … MTV “played up the camaraderie and family elements [on ‘Jersey Shore’]” to appeal to them.

Sure. Nothing cynical about that statement at all.