The Music TV Wars

Reality Killed the Video Star

Fuse's other interactive program, IMX, runs a stock ticker beneath the videos. The concept is similar to MTV.com's Fantasy Music Tycoon game, with viewers allotted a certain amount of play money to wheel and deal. Juris explains, "IMX allows you to be a pretend record executive and to put your money on artists you think are gonna be big. Like last year, Ashanti came out of nowhere. You could hear her and decide if you want to spend a lot of money on a sure thing like Celine Dion or take a risk on Ashanti and get a 600 percent return. You get the fun of scoring points and bragging rights that I was in on her before anyone else." (It's funny that kids who routinely rip MP3s off the Internet would want to play at being music moguls, especially when that industry is nearing ruination for that very reason.) IMX takes the current obsession with weekly movie and record grosses to a new level of cynicism: Now even pre-teens understand music as a commodity rather than as the stuff that dreams are made of, the elusive thing that helps you make sense of your life and haunts your head.

Fuse and MTV2 may be fighting over who plays the most music, but the sad truth is that this is a poor time to be heralding a return to nonstop video. The imagination level of the form is at an all-time low, give or take a Radiohead or White Stripes. Most nu-metal videos focus on live performances by tattoed, goateed guys as their tattooed, goateed audience headbangs in unison. Hip-hop videos tend to be more colorful (and expensive), but the exuberant surrealism of Hype Williams is gone. All that remains is bling and butts, currently reaching its enjoyable reductio ad absurdum with Nelly and P. Diddy's "Shake Ya Tailfeather" and Chingy's "Right Thurr."

These days there's so much rump shaking, I worry that some of that ass might detach itself and whirl right off the screen. In the age of wall-to-wall goatee and booty, perhaps MTV's retreat from the music video was a sensible decision after all.


"Reel New York," an annual mini-festival of local independent short films, has only two more episodes left this season. This week (Friday night at 10 p.m. on Channel 13) features "In the Street," shot in the '40s by photographer Helen Levitt and her collaborators James Agee and Janice Loeb. In the poor quarters of the city, "unaware and unnoticed, every human being is a poet, . . . a warrior, a dancer," Levitt says as she weaves through East Harlem with her unblinking eye, watching people rub up against each other in the tumultuous, raggedy streets.

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