Hi. My name is Mere, I’m 36, and I watched the MTV Video Music Awards last night.
I know it sounds silly — maybe even wrong — for someone my age to watch the VMA’s. (And given the average age of the performers, possibly a little pedophilic. After all, I am biologically old enough to be Tyler the Creator’s mother.) But I grew up with MTV — it debuted when I was six — and right away Nina Blackwood became my favorite TV star… after Wonder Woman, of course. (What can I say? When you’re four, you get attached).
In fact, with her teased-and-moussed-’til-crunchy hair, thick black eyeliner and raspy voice, Nina was one of my earliest BAMF idols, along with Prince, Cyndi Lauper, Pat Benatar, and especially Madonna — who my dad dubbed “That Slut,” unknowingly and ironically adding to her allure. To this day, 25 years later, he still calls her that, and it immediately makes me want to go watch her latest video — even though her cyborg-triceps kinda freak me out now.
For a short while my parents tried to ban MTV in our house — I don’t know why, specifically — or if there ever was anything specific about it, besides That Slut — but in the end, the injunction proved toothless, considering Mom worked nights and Dad worked days, which left me and the sibs with tons of non-parentally-supervised time.
Thus after school, if you were marginally unstupid enough to lower the volume while Mom slept, there wasn’t much they could do to stop you. Sure, the sibs might squeal, but they were too busy watching MTV themselves to implicate anyone else. (This was before the V-chip, parental controls, or anything that would’ve impeded our god-given right to corrupt ourselves with sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.) Before it collapsed due to poor management, the ban seemed a bit farcical, anyway. Mom, an avid true-crime reader, always left her books scattered around the house, and I’d read Helter Skelter — about the Manson Family — by the time I was 10.
Did they honestly think “Like A Virgin” was more scarring?
Though I couldn’t have put it into words back then, what appealed to me most about MTV stars like Madonna and Nina Blackwood were the metaphorical middle-fingers thrown up at The Establishment. (And again, back then, I couldn’t have told you what The Establishment was.) All I knew was that these people were different than everyone else (like me), they were weird (like me), and they were brave enough to do what they wanted to do and didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought of them (so not like me at the time).
Don’t get me wrong — I didn’t want to be Madonna; I didn’t want to be Nina Blackwood — I just wanted to feel like they seemed to feel. I wanted to feel secure and confident in myself. I wanted to feel like I was worth watching, worth listening to, worth something. What I didn’t want was to feel like the cowering little good-girl intellectuanerd that I was, and got mercilessly bullied for. It was only through watching MTV that I realized those don’t-give-a-shit people existed. That the option of not giving a shit existed.
And after all these years, I am proud to say, this has become my default position.
MTV was my birthright, a place to aim my dreams, my touchstone of fuck-’em!
Watching Jo Calderone on the VMA’s last night was like a trip back to my childhood.
Seeing Lady Gaga’s alter ego, dressed as a man, smoking a cigarette (strictly verboten in our health-obsessed era — but fuck ’em!), drinking whiskey with abandon (fuck ’em again!), with his slicked-back hair, sideburns, no make-up except the circles under his eyes and his faux stubble (fuck ’em three times!), spewing obscenities (fuck ’em! fuck ’em! fuck ’em!) and insisting that HE WAS NOT LADY GAGA (and FUCK ‘EM UP THE ASS if they don’t believe in magic!) — almost made me catch my breath in gratitude.
I think I’d forgotten what MTV once was — a transgressive place for transgressive people — like the person I’ve become — instead of what the channel eventually evolved into: a hollow, completely self-conscious ghost of itself — like I used to be.
It’s not easy to see your dreams go up in a puff of smoke.
But if it’s the smoke from Jo Calderone’s cigarette, rest assured: your dreams are still alive.