Ha, one of them is totally reading
I’m not quite sure what to make of the big finale of MTV’s I’m From Rolling Stone, if only because the show didn’t seem too sure quite what to make of itself either. Most reality shows lean hard on suspense, building up tension through pregnant pauses and dramatically timed commercial breaks. When a contestant gets eliminated, there’s usually a dramatic slow-mo montage and a symbolic gesture: the sneakers over the clothesline on The (White) Rapper Show, the photo disappearing on America’s Next Top Model, the chair leaning against the wall on Tough Enough. (Remember Tough Enough? I loved that show.) I’m From Rolling Stone didn’t have any eliminations; it just followed all its contestants around while they did their jobs, giving quick glimpses of the show’s authority figures mulling their eventual decision without ever worrying too much about it. On last night’s pseudo-big finale episode, Rolling Stone editor Joe Levy just walked into the office that the contestants shared, quickly and nonchalantly running through all the reasons why certain contestants weren’t being selected and then crowning a winner. When he was doing it, the contestants were nervously giggling, and he was smiling. Nobody really seemed to give a shit. And so the point everyone’s been making about the show became insanely clear: these castmembers weren’t competing for a contributing editor position at Rolling Stone magazine, not really. They were competing for camera time.
It was a quiet, complacent end to a quiet, complacent show. The show’s premier episode scored some deeply awful ratings, and so for the next couple of months its timeslot moved around, pushing ever further back into MTV’s Sunday night lineup before disappearing completely last week. MTV finally aired the show’s two final episodes back-to-back last night, seemingly letting the show run its course so that it could fade peacefully into nonexistence. Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, the show’s Trump figure, only deigned to appear on the first and last episodes. When he said on last night’s show that the contest had been a huge success for Rolling Stone, it sounded like he might’ve been joking. Except that it probably had been a success for Rolling Stone in that the magazine had its name mentioned about a kajillion times in prime time on MTV over the last couple of months; more than finding a talented new writer, that was almost certainly the final goal. In some ways, I appreciated the show’s low-key feel and its absence of reality-TV theatrics; when Levy told all the contestants of the final decision, it went down almost the same way it might’ve if he’d been talking to six job applicants in real life. The thing is that the profession of writing, even writing about something as occasionally glamorous as pop music, isn’t a particularly telegenic pursuit, and there was a weird and pronounced tension between the contestants’ camera-grabbing antics and the actual nature of the work they were doing. There was one show a few weeks back when Russell Morse, the show’s problem-child livewire Puck figure, stayed up all night in the magazine’s office, getting drunk and flopping around while writing. At one point, he held a beer up to a wall-mounted back-issue and said, “This one’s for you, Hunter.” He was working on a blog entry about Method Man. Now: I’ve written a blog entry about Method Man; I interviewed him in the same hotel room Morse did, immediately after Morse did his interview. I ended up being really proud of that interview. But even Hunter S. Thompson, at the height of his pill-popping self-destruction, probably wouldn’t stay up all night working on a Method Man blog entry.
Sometimes, the show’s contestants expressed outright contempt for what they were supposed to be doing. Krystal Simpson, who hilariously insisted on calling herself “Krystal Jagger” even after Levy told her not to, begged off an investigative-reporting assignment about eco-unfriendly corporations (admittedly a weird thing to ask a bunch of budding music writers to do) so she could go to a Paris Hilton record-release party; she may as well have let the show’s producers tattoo the word “frivolous” on her forehead. Morse actually shaved a picture of a gun into the back of his head for some reason, and maybe the show’s most boring running subplot was his inability/refusal (pick one) to show up to work on time. Krishtine de Leon, the show’s eventual winner and apparently a fan, was pretty vocally pissed whenever editors would send stuff back to her for more work. Maybe de Leon was doing great work all along that never made it through editing, but the show only allowed her to look remotely capable in its last few episodes. The show did offer a few quick glimpses of the actual unglamorous work of writing, mostly in the writers’ meetings with Joe Levy, a former Voice music editor and an actual great music writer. But ultimately, at least to a music writer, the show said more about the construct of reality TV than it did about the sort of work I do.
There was a lot of music on the show; we got to see footage from music festivals the writers attended, and we got to see them interview critics’-darling musicians who rarely if ever make it onto MTV: El-P, Slug, Band of Horses, random hyphy dudes, etc. But there wasn’t a whole lot about whatever connection to the music the writers might’ve had. The musicians on the show, even the totally non-famous ones, were treated as celebrities, not as musicians; the two certainly aren’t mutually exclusive, but they’re not exactly the same thing either. In a convenient little twist, something emerged from the Rolling Stone offices around the same time that serves as a gorgeous little counterpoint to the show’s failed attempt to turn music-writing into something way more glamorous than it actually is. Rob Sheffield is Rolling Stone‘s pop culture columnist, and he’s been one of my favorite music writers since I started noticing bylines. Earlier this year, his memoir Love is a Mixtape came out, and it’s a deeply felt and devastatingly sad picture of someone who sees his life through music. One of the things I loved about it was its frank depiction of obsessiveness; maybe all music writers aren’t weird, hermetic types who use music to translate and organize every event in their lives, but most of the good ones are. TV and music certainly aren’t incompatible. TV and obsessiveness might be.