Gnarls snarled

By • Mar 6th, 2008 • Category: Columns, Radio

MTV must be crazy to tell Gnarls Barkley to take their new video and run elsewhere.

The news that the music conglomerate banned the footage of the neo-soul duo’s first single from the soon-to-be-released “The Odd Couple” is surprising. Despite failing the Harding Test – the standard set to prevent TV channels from triggering epileptic seizures – MTV has been known to work around certain policies. Especially since band’s 2006 debut, “St. Elsewhere,” sold more than 3 million copies in the U.S. alone, and its April 8 follow-up is poised to be more successful. These are the sorts of numbers that have been known to cause MTV’s parent company, Viacom, to overlook a few measly regulations.

Such was the case in 2001 when the channel banned Madonna’s “What It Feels Like For a Girl” because of violent content, only to adjust its programming to include the clip during the late night/early morning hours with more relaxed censorship. In fact, the pop queen shares the honor with heavy metal act Megadeth for having the most number of videos censored by MTV with three.

However, what is more perplexing than MTV deciding against the “Run” clip is that the channel seems to be operating under the presumption that it still plays enough music videos for this to make an impact. Maybe banning the clip would have been felt 10 years ago during the first wave of Carson Daly’s “Total Request Live.” Certainly it would have been felt 15 years ago, as U2 mocked the power of the medium during the band’s Zoo TV tour and Lollapalooza was compiling its first lineup from the cream-of-the-”120 Minutes”-crop. Just ask Seattle hard-rockers Soundgarden, whose video for “Jesus Christ Pose” was banned that same year.

But not in 2008. Not in an era of iTunes downloads just a click away, and YouTube videos making otherwise forgotten content available for even the most URL-challenged surfers. Today, banning a video is self-righteous and pointless grandstanding on par with Rudy Guiliani’s attempt to rid New York City of it’s underbelly, and makes about as much of an impact as his presidential campaign.

In an average week, Music TV schedules less than a half-day worth of music-video programs. This week, March 2-8, is no different, clocking in with a whopping 11 1/2 hours, according to its official program listing. Aside from “Total Request Live” holding down its 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. slot Monday through Thursday, the remainder of the music videos are slated in the early morning between 6 and 8:30 a.m. and without a minute designated Friday, Saturday or Sunday for the one-time backbone of the company. It’s a stark contrast to 1981 when the channel launched with aspirations of 24-hours’ worth of the content.

Which furthers how inconsequential banning the Gnarls Barkley’s single actually is. Clocking in at just more than 3 and a half minutes, it would vanish amid a sea of one-time plays in MTV’s current video schedule.

It’s this sort of failure to uphold its end of the music-first bargain that inspired the taste-making Web site to ready an on-line independent music TV channel. Set to launch April 7, a day before the Gnarls Barkley album hits stores, will act as a smugger, hipster version of what MTV was to broadcast. And while there’s no word what the first video is slated to be, let’s hope it’s not The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

We know how that ended up the last time around.

Northwest Herald, March 6, 2008

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