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"TV and Radio Across the Pond"

Have you ever had a woman (or a man, depending) do something for you so sweet that it deepens your whole understanding of her completely? Anna treated me to a summer in Europe for about a month, in which we stayed in Stockholm and London. Hardly a secret. It was certainly more than I was suspecting, being quite content with just having her come stay with me in Texas for a few weeks. Wow. My ideas were on far too small a scale.

It was a wondrous and educational trip, and one thing that keeps pointing itself out to me when I go over to Europe is the difference in the presentation of and the style of media in music and TV shows... That sort of jazz.

"It's the little things..."


Awright, so it might be far-fetched for most Americans to believe, but MTV actually is different in Europe. Personally, I didn't know the company had the flexibility to stand it. Apparently, it does. MTV is worlds different, even when you look at Nordic MTV up in Scandinavia and England's MTV.

By the way, if you doubt the relevance of MTV as any sort of indication of anything, please just stick with me. I know most people regard MTV as a joke, but I've always felt like MTV shows a lot more things about young people and popular culture than most other resources, that it's a manifestation of what people want to listen and watch. I intend to give some evidence why MTV is so important along the way.


I started growing up with MTV as soon as my parents got cable. You don't quite realize the narrow spectrum of music played when you watch MTV. America is stuffed with primarily rock, alternative, and R&B groups and the other styles of music generally remain in their niches. There are few different bands than the norm on MTV, and even if they play ska, industrial techno, or the blues, it's some bastardized version of it which has been meshed with, well, rock, alternative, or R&B styles.

Even radio stations follow the same trends of MTV, and you're often hard-pressed to find an excellent radio station that doesn't just regurgitate the top 20 hits, or even worse, the top 20 hits from ten years ago. Every time I go home to Dallas and listen to the radio, the three stations that play music I'm most interested in play the same music they played when I left a semester earlier. "Torn", "Closing Time", "Man in the Box"...cute songs, I guess. Now listen to them twenty times a day for three months. How do you feel about them?

I think MTV serves as a good springboard into finding out what pure styles you want to listen to, and these mixes of flavors in bands' sounds these days broaden peoples' experiences with different types of music. MTV serves as good springboard for bands that otherwise would have disbanded in a few years. Sometimes that's good, sometimes that's bad, but at least it's another band people get to hear.

Unfortunately, over the years, MTV has become indulgent, much like Comedy Central and HBO and other channels that had better material when they specialized in their own little areas.

Comedy Central made a name for itself by showing footage of stand-up comedians all day. HBO just showed movies that people wanted to see. Now Comedy Central shows these shows that you can't help feeling ambivalent about, like "Win Ben Stein's Money" and "Make Me Laugh"? What the fuck? HBO shows those terrible movies that they produce themselves... I hated looking in the paper to see what the premiere movie was on Saturday...and finding out it wasn't some cool action movie, but instead "Dodging a Bullet" with Rutger Hauer and Ben Kingsley in a movie about two men who discover their acting careers are washed up.

MTV used to show music practically all day, when it was just a little rebel upstart station. But it has generations of children growing up with it now, kids who endure "Singled Out" just to watch Jenny McCarthy, kids who have no clue what that one newswoman (not Tabitha Soren) is talking about but who love how stunning she is to gaze at. MTV has plenty of viewers, lots of cash, and plenty of power over bands and events alike. Therefore, it didn't run into much resistance when it started doing shows like "Daria" and "Sex in the 90's". I refuse to comment on "Road Rules" and "Real World"...I am a closet viewer. But it's absolutely impossible to find music on MTV anymore, as everyone knows, and MTV's lies about putting the M back in WESUCKYOUDRYTV have held up with flair.

I know I'm not appealing to some peoples' elevated tastes in television shows right now. Someone, somewhere, thinks I'm a joke for even giving this stuff credibility. I love writing the Soapbox. ;)

I've summarized American MTV in a rather lengthy manner. First time I had seen another version of MTV was last Christmas, when I went to Sweden to visit Anna. Swedish MTV there had not yet changed to Nordic MTV, so I think it might've been the same version as England's. Now, Nordic MTV is in place, filling your house with Scandinavian pop music (think Aqua) 24 hours a day.

But, Hell, at least they play music there! They'll show a few of the non-music shows there, but overall, it's music.

Young Swedes get a lot of American music, yes, but it tends not to be much of the rock. Europe's the hotspot for electronica (pop, techno, jungle, ambient, etc.) in the same way that America is the hotspot for rock'n'roll. R&B, strangely enough, is huge in Sweden. It reflects in the videos Nordic MTV plays. No matter what country I have to see Brandy in, she doesn't look any more innocent under that facade. ;) The rest of the music is happy pop like Backstreet Boys and Aqua. You do have your groups like E-Type, which have a strong electronic sound, but have a cheesy Swedish musical aspect to them, in that it sounds just a bit too cheery to be serious. (I hope Anna agrees with me, or else I may have to apologize :) ) There're a lot of those solo female videos on MTV, too. Crotch waving and "you da boy for me" abound!

I didn't get to see much of English MTV, but it doesn't have much of the Scandinavian influence and seems to show more of American rock. But, since London is one of the centers of techno music (get me over to Germany, please), you may get to see a lot of the top DJs and of course the mainstream groups like the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers. Techno and its offshoots tend to be what I like listening to these days, and American MTV (when I have access to it) just doesn't cut it with its paltry coverings of "Breathe" and "Block Rockin' Beats". As a side note, American MTV couldn't even show "Smack My Bitch Up" from the Prodigy, since it contains puke, breasts, sex, and the enjoyment of it all (fathom that), but that video made it to Swedish MTV and (I'm pretty sure) English MTV.

Europe's MTV, I guess, is just as narrow as America's, since it covers electronica but less rock and blues, but it's different. Considering American MTV burnout, it was, dare I say, refreshing to watch MTV across the Atlantic.

Another thing I noticed about European television that America doesn't have is TeleText or whatever it's called. Basically, TeleText is a service which lets the viewer bring up a certain "page" through the remote control to request information on the news or on TV shows and movies. For instance, you can check CNN's area on TeleText to see who is appearing on Larry King Live that night, or you can check Associated Press wires to see who won the World Cup (which we actually used it for). Watching a movie and can't remember the lead actor's name? Just pull up the page for that movie and it tells you who the main actors are and what the movie's information is (release year, genre, etc.).

TeleText is done through ASCII, I think. Not just alphanumerics and keyboard key characters, but the extended characters. Maybe not. The interface for TeleText is clumsy and the service can be slow sometimes, so it helps to remember the page numbers when you reference them. But the service is extremely useful in finding info without having to get up and, say, look in a TV guide or log into the 'Net.

Why the heck doesn't the US have this? TeleText has plenty of advertising in it so wouldn't you think it would exist? The closest we have is the Prevue channel, which is about as useful as losing a limb. TeleText is like having the Internet sitting in your TV, and the laziest American couch potato only has to press a few buttons to find out when "Step by Step" with Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers is on. It's non-intrusive to the television, and you can even listen to a TV show while you're viewing TeleText.

There must be some economic reason I'm missing in all of this -- television is still THE market to tap into, and no one's done it yet. Maybe it has to do with the stubborn cable companies. It fits their attitude.

TeleText is one of those things I miss about European television. Granted, American TV generally has better commercials and the video quality doesn't often look like that of a porn flick (okay, I exaggerate...Swedish and English commercials weren't that bad at all, but when they were bad, they were REALLY bad).

One more comment about European TV, English in particular... Maybe it's just me, but TV shows in England seem more wholesome than the ones in the U.S. The BBC has a lot of shows, which while they may not be Emmy award winners, are at least of higher quality than the US's sitcoms. The news usually has more world reports than the US news channels. On the other hand, there's little American news. I had no clue what was going on in the US, but I saw a lot more news reports about the Pacific Rim and its problems.

Conclusion? American media and media from the rest of the world can differ in many ways, even if everyone is borrowing from US television and music. I think we should ship some of the TV execs over the Europe and Asia and have them watch television for a bit there, just to get a feeling of how they could improve the shitty, brainless programming schedules we get here in the US.

I know I've learned a lot from European media. Wow, now I'm actually bothered by American media. Who thought that would ever happen? ;)

[DISCLAIMER: The author makes no claims towards being an expert in European media, even after writing this Soapbox. He has disclosed, in full honesty, that he was preoccupied with his Anna and her darling countenance. His television and music 'expertise' was obtained in about a fifteen minute window, and therefore the reader should be informed he's most likely full of shit. ;)]

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