TRL dies—and takes a little piece of us with it

We have met the enemy, and it is us.

You know the feeling: you’re online, you sneer at a headline . . . and yet, over the course of the day, or several days, the temptation to click on it overwhelms you. No matter how contemptible you find the subject matter. No matter how many better uses of your time you can imagine, then discard—that process in itself constituting a better use of your time, you’re sure.

This happened to the Evil when the demise of MTV’s Total Request Live made headlines last week. “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” he thought. (And then, “That doesn’t make sense—is there even such a thing as good rubbish?”) And that should have been all.

But the truth is, Evil felt the urge to kick the corpse of TRL. He thought that getting into the (hopefully) messy details of its demise would reassure him that, after losing ten years of battles, his side had won the war.

Ten years! He was still in college, for Evil’s sake, when Carson Daly’s mug first infested MTV. Total Request Live heralded the rise of the boy band, of Britney and Christina, and the death of any delusion the Evil might have harbored that music wasn’t spiraling into shite. A decade that began with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Dre was ending with Limp Bizkit, 98 Degrees, and Mase. Before TRL, we of the MTV generation complained that the network hardly ever showed videos anymore; after TRL, we simply retired MTV from our channel-flicking rotation.

And now, to know the abomination was dying? Huzzah! Let’s read the obit!

. . . Something strange happened when the Evil did, though. Instead of a rush of victory, he felt a sensation of . . . holy shit, it’s not loss, is it? Nah—let’s not get melodramatic. But something Joshua Alston at Newsweek wrote got the Evil’s attention:

This is why there’s no future for a video-countdown show that determined its order using viewers’ votes. Why watch a democratized sequence of videos when it’s just as easy to go to YouTube and watch them in whatever order you like?

Add to that what James Poniewozik at Time wrote about Saturday Night Live’s season premiere:

Why on Earth would anyone watch an entire SNL nowadays, when you can wait a day or less for the Web to filter it, then watch whatever’s worth watching?

Now, you know the Evil loathes nostalgia. He’s glad he can buy individual songs on iTunes if he so chooses instead of subjecting himself to entire mediocre albums. And he can’t imagine sitting through an entire episode of SNL. Progress is good.

But the thing is, when TRL debuted, the Evil felt sure there was a generational shift going on—you had tweens obsessing over Jessica Simpson, whilst people his age shook their heads in disgust. It’s shocking to realize now that Total Request Live was really part of the same obsolete continuum into which the Evil was born. It’s as much at home in his background as the album or the hour-long sketch comedy show, all threads in the fabric of a cultural reality that still makes more sense to the Evil than the à la carte, social networking, YouTube world in which we now live.

If you felt you were too old for TRL ten years ago, and now TRL is dying . . . where does that put you? Beginning to feel that arthritis of the soul, that’s where.

Poor Evil.

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