IS IT HERE FOR GOOD OR
By Farrin Jacobs
Last summer, MTV introduced a slew of new "music-oriented" shows. Both
for its content and packaging, FANatic--where fans get to meet their favorite celebrities
and we get to watch--was a standout among them. Its premise is positive and simple:
celebrities serve as role models. The first time I watched it, I had a hard time
taking it seriously. As happens when I catch most MTV shows that involve the viewers,
I found myself thinking, "These people can't be for real."
Each half-hour episode follows two "fanatics"
meeting and interviewing their chosen celebrities. The show begins with clips from
the home video of each fan talking about being this celebrity's "number one
fan" and a brief bio on each celebrity. Then the cameras roll as a close friend
or relative goes to the chosen fanatic's home, school, favorite hangout, or place
of work to plucked the fanatic from his or her daily life and fly or drive off to
meet the celebrity. The show can be laugh-out-loud funny (I'm not sure they intend
what I find humorous to be funny, though) and a little embarrassing for all involved--the
celebrities often look as uncomfortable as the fans look nervous while they listen
to statements of adoration and stories about how they are figures of inspiration
and are responsible for redemption.
Here's an excerpt from the Jewel edition of
FANatic, just to give you a taste: Sarah [Jewel's fan]: Thank you for, for really
everything you've done for everybody. I mean, really, really, it's cool. And you
may not realize it, but you really inspired so many people and it's really made a
difference, especially in my life.
Jewel: No embarrassing the artist.
So far, the celebrities have been musicians, as well as TV, movie, and sports stars.
One show followed a playwright who claimed that Carmen Electra was his muse, along
with a woman who would go to the ends of the earth (and lay in a coffin) for Dave
Navarro (of Jane's Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers). Another showed a fan meeting
the guys from Everclear. I know it's sappy, but I was actually touched as the fan
talked about how front man Art Alexakis' lyrics showed him that there was more to
life than drugs and partying. Then the fan's mom came in, met the band members, and
thanked them for being a good example for her son.
That's when it hit me: the folks at MTV are geniuses. They've come up with a way
to use the inevitable celebrity-as-role-model relationship to lure audiences (look
kids, people get to meet their idols and you get to watch), promote certain artists,
and advocate good values. All in a format that's been proven to work for them: throw
some average, everyday folks into a "real" situation, and then edit it
down to the equivalent of bite-sized (byte-sized?) entertainment for your viewing
According to the New York Post, the folks at MTV did some research and found that
viewers are no longer teens looking to raise hell, but youngsters searching for guidance
and inspiration. They admire celebrities for their human qualities and superhuman
drives to succeed, not for trashing hotel rooms and sleeping with wafer-thin models.
Vapid is out; down-to-earth is in. What better way to give credence to this impulse
than to solicit fans of particular artists, pick entrants based on confessional videos
they submit, air emotional excerpts from those videos, film before, during, and after
the meeting, and intersperse music video clips?
I suppose it's a beneficial arrangement for all involved. The celebrity gets publicity,
the fan gets his or her dream come true, the viewer is entertained, and the MTV team
gets to pat themselves on the back again.
Since it came into being in 1981, MTV has been a lot of different things. Of course,
it started out as a showcase for music videos (which now only seem to make up a few
hours of daily programming--if you want videos, you've got to want your M2). For
a while, it continued to be a venue for rock stars. Eventually, a change took place.
First it rocked the vote and went on the election trail; then it began exploring
sex in the '90s. But with the advent of The Real World almost eight years ago, MTV
turned into a different beast altogether. No longer merely a purveyor of other people's
musical messages, it became a voice of it's own.
That voice now is full of contradictions. Its on-air personalities speak to and dress
for the younger generation. That's the target audience. That's who MTV, the corporation,
is trying to appeal to. Yet the conservatism behind the facade seeps through in the
images they fuzz out (and those they don't) and the lyrics they distort beyond recognition.
It's amazing really how far MTV's reach is today. Even if you don't watch it, chances
are you know what it is and you know a little something about what's on it. Sure,
the videos they do show are no longer reflective of the cutting edge of music (with
the exception of maybe half of 120 Minutes). And you watch most of the shows hoping
no one will catch you. You bite your tongue when you're out on a Tuesday night and
you realize you're missing the new episode of The Real World. You don't admit that
you know all of the Spice Girls' monikers (yes, Ginger is a U.N. ambassador now,
but that still doesn't make it okay). Or that you find Loveline's Adam Carolla strangely
appealing (personally I prefer Dr. Drew, but that's just me). Not that I generally
know about all of this--I just did a lot of research for this article.
It's hard to imagine what the world (and the world of music) would be like without
MTV. As I write this, I'm listening to Sheryl Crow. Without MTV (and riffs and chord
progressions lifted from lesser-known musicians like Pete Droge and Aimee Mann),
she'd be just another girl with a guitar. But I sing along to Sheryl and Alanis and
Everclear just as I watch MTV: slightly begrudgingly, but nevertheless entertained.
Perhaps MTV fulfills a need. And shows like FANatic serve a purpose: they demonstrate
that inspiration comes in all different forms (yes, even in the form of Carmen Electra)
and that rock stars and movie stars can be positive role models. Oh, and that hardcore
MTV viewers don't mind being exploited.
NO NEED FOR ROLE MODELS
Years ago, when I turned 18, I obsessed and shopped around for months for a tattoo.
Once I entered college, my focus changed, but I still had the tattoo in the back
of my mind.
All my life, I've been heavily into Morrissey and The Smiths. One day it hit me to
get a Morrissey tattoo. His name, maybe his face, or a song title. Something to do
with the man, I thought. Some symbol of his work on my arm or back. In my last year
of college, I was set on getting it done. I had a wad a of cash that I got from selling
books back. It was final exam time, so I had a chunk of time too.
But on my drive home, doubt began to stir. This was something I would have on my
body for life. What if Morrissey turned out to be some fruit cake no-talent like
Mili Vanilli? What if he went on some sort of raping rampage or joined the Belgians
in keeping kids as servants? In many ways, Morrissey was the only man I loved. The
thing is that love dies, and tattoos just fade and look bad.
It wasn't the pain the scared me. It was this one idle thought. I chickened out.
Although Morrissey was a driving force in my existence, he was not worthy of billing
on my body. Is anyone?
Turn on MTV's new show FANatic, where average people get to meet celebrities that
thy[ve always been into. Young girls ranting and raving over Dawson's Creek is just
a show. Random commoners telling stars that they've helped them get through a hard
time. This is all nonsense. Hanson didn't help Margo get through her mother's death,
and Robert didn't make it through his parents' divorce because of Buffy the Vampire
Slayer. These kids did it themselves. They are the strong ones. They need to give
When things are tough, movies, music, and the like just help you escape. The rent
still needs to be paid and that role model ain't gonna pay it. Get you rown name
tattooed on your body.
Copyright 1999 Moxie Magazine All Rights Reserved