Class is not in session, as MTV's insulting awards show attests

September 14, 1994|By Harvey Aronson | Harvey Aronson,Newsday

I'm not exactly a trendoid but I do try to keep up with pop culture. I know who Kate Bush is and that Soundgarden has nothing to do with peat moss. When there's a dearth of late-night horror shows, I check out "Beavis and Butt-head."

It's pertinent that my son is a serious rocker and I'm a proud father. I even like his braids and I've watched him gig at New York clubs such as the Bitter End and CBGB and the New Music Cafe and the Bank and a place called the Pyramid Club that they must have imported from Pluto. I screamed along with tourists from Japan when he rocked the Hard Rock Cafe in his torn jeans. I've gotten so hip that I don't need ear plugs when I go to hear him play.

I think it's important that I know about more than the Glenn Miller of my youth and the Sidney Bechet of my soul.

I figure I owe it to myself as well as my son to search out that sort of rapport with current stars. I don't want to sulk in the past like my father, who had a great baritone-tenor voice and once broke a light bulb with a high note but couldn't stand Frank Sinatra because he needed a microphone.

All of which is why I tuned in the MTV Music Awards. I wanted to see a Beastie Boy. I wanted to hip-hop. I wanted to know what a Snoop Doggy Dogg is. I wanted to keep up with the culture. I'd hate to think I never sang for my son.

What a mistake. To say I was appalled by what I saw and heard would be an understatement. I was disgusted. I was outraged. I was furious. I'm not talking about the music; I'm talking about the garbage that accompanied it. For instance, in the course of presenting an award, some dipstick insisted that the United States should pardon its political prisoners and then mentioned Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist, as one of them. And a floozie licked a microphone while the mayor of New York was talking.

There was a whole naughty bit between a VJ named Kennedy and Roseanne, the event's host, who seemed to have lost her mind along with several pounds and her last name. Kennedy said that Roseanne's skills had been diminished by Prozac and Roseanne came back with a riposte that not only would make a lot of people gag but was the literal epitome of bad taste.

There was also the paean to Madonna and masturbation that was offered with unsuitable gestures by the lead singer of Aerosmith. Even Madonna seemed embarrassed -- or at least taken aback -- and she put the fellow in his place. At the MTV Awards, Madonna, an icon of bad taste, was a class act.

Overall, the show was beyond shock. I would have been better off smashing pumpkins or watching Beavis and Butt-head pick each other's noses. If the mess on MTV was a true reflection of popular culture, then as my son the rocker likes to say, "We've got a situation here."

Don't get me wrong. I believe in irreverence. I got a kick out of Bono at the Grammys. I thrilled to the fist-pumping excitement that Jimmy Connors brought to tennis and that Jack Kennedy brought to politics. It was nice to see Andre Agassi win the U.S. Open in black socks. But those people embody style. They have panache. The MTV Awards had very little to do with irreverence -- they had everything to do with irresponsibility.

It also infuriated and even frightened me to see the majority of those in attendance applauding all this pretentious posturing. True, the Mike Tyson reference drew boos. Otherwise, the audience seemed to think the goings-on were clever. Or perhaps they thought it was trendy to act that way, that trashiness has something to do with sophistication. It was a prime-time example of the emperor's new clothes. All they were seeing was naked junk.

If there was an exception, perhaps, it was Tony Bennett. Every now and then the camera flashed on him in the audience. He wore a small smile that never changed. I guess it was the most that anyone of taste trapped in such a sinkhole could muster.

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