How MTV Brought My Family Together

by Amanda Felice



If someone would have asked me who the first man to land on the Moon was and what he placed on the Moon’s surface, I would have responded with a moon man and an MTV flag. I grew up on MTV. Real MTV. When the acronym stood for Music Television. When it aired in the summer of 1981, I was two and a half years old. So, I don’t remember much about the monumental event. I just remember the cable box always being on channel 20 and music videos being on our TV constantly. Of course, at that time there were not a lot of videos to show, so the same few played in rotation. It seemed like no one was more excited about this music television idea than my dad. Music videos 24/7? Unreal.

Although I was too young to really contemplate what was happening in the videos that I would sit in the living room and watch in astonishment, I was unable to take my eyes off of them. I would stare at videos like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper and “Take on Me” by A-ha and wonder what is the story these videos are trying to tell? My older brother and I, who had little in common, would devote hours to watching Duran Duran videos, talking about them, and memorizing their lyrics. We had all of Duran Duran’s tapes and listened to them over and over again, but nothing was better than watching the visuals that went along with songs like “Hungry like the Wolf” and “Rio” on MTV. What was it about this band that brought my brother and me together? For me, Duran Duran was a band full of cute boys who played songs I liked accompanied by groundbreaking music videos but for my brother, they were the epitome of cool. Nevertheless, this band kept us up all night listening to their music and anticipating their next video on MTV.

The first time I watched a thirteen minute video featuring dancing monsters, I was hooked. I was among the millions of people who remember how they felt the first time they saw Michael Jackson put on a werewolf mask, turn into a zombie, and dance in a way that was mesmerizing. Not only did I love this video, but I watched it intently until I had every dance move down, as much as my five year old self could. My mom was so proud of my tribute to the “Thriller” video that she asked everyone she came in contact with to watch her daughter perform Jackson’s moves. I would perform them so closely that all I was missing was the face make up. Unfortunately, my younger brother did not share in my love for the horror video and whenever “Thriller” would come on MTV, which was often, he would shut his eyes and scream and cry until whoever was in the room would change the channel. The compassionate older sister that I was, I would wait until it was just the two of us in the room when “Thriller” would come on and I would pull his hands away from his eyes as he screamed louder while zombies came up from the ground and out to the middle of the street to dance in unison.

As soon as I would brush my teeth, get my pajamas on and get ready for bed, I would join my dad in the living room for some bonding time over MTV. I sat on the sectional couch next to him watching him stare with lust at the sisters from the band Heart with their sky high hair and tight fitted clothing as they sang “These Dreams.” I watched Ann Wilson in awe. Wow, I thought, she is beautiful. I looked at my dad, and in my seven year old neurosis asked, “Do you think she is prettier than me?” I pointed at Ann Wilson and awaited an answer. It was quiet for a minute. In fact, I do not recall ever getting an answer. I just kept watching the music video enthralled in the raven haired beauty. I may not be as pretty as Ann Wilson, I thought, but watching MTV with my dad is fun.

My obsession with Madonna began somewhere between “Borderline” and “Like a Virgin,” I fell in love, love, love. Everything about her was just cool. I watched her mimic Marilyn Monroe in the video “Material Girl,” although I had no idea what any of this meant until watched the video with my mom and she informed me of the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes similarities. I just knew that she was like nothing I had ever seen before and I had to be her when I grew up. When she rolled around on stage at the 1984 MTV Award show my mom commented with “that’s trashy.” To me, it was amazing. She was wearing what I believed to be a really pretty wedding dress, yet she was rolling around on the ground with it around her waist. I knew that this was probably taboo, but little did I know how taboo this actually was for 1984. The following year I received a box filled with lace gloves and bracelets for my birthday. They were just like the gloves and stacked bracelets that Madonna wore in the videos that I watched obsessively on MTV. I jumped up and down hugging my mom while being overtaken with joy. Now I was one step closer to being like my idol.

As I grew older, the videos that dominated MTV were changing. They were dark and gloomy, and well, grunge. When my best friend would stay the weekend, we would not remove ourselves from the TV. We would watch hours and hours of music videos while critiquing what bands were the coolest, what they were trying to say, and how they were saying it through their music videos.

Before long, I would sit by and witness a shift in what I had known as MTV. It was called “Beavis and Butthead.” When episodes of this strange and grossly humorous cartoon would come on each week at ten o’clock at night, my brother, dad, and I would sit together watching these two odd teenage boys share commentary on various music videos. It was funny, it was raunchy and it made us laugh. Each week I looked forward to Beavis and Butthead not necessarily because I thought it was a great show, but because I thought it was a great bonding experience for the three of us.

As time went on, I watched the MTV I knew and loved as a child metamorphous into a home for reality shows while focusing less and less on music videos. Although I did jump on the Real World bandwagon for a couple of years, I began to lose interest in the few times a day the network played music videos. What I still had, however, were the memories of a time when this phenomenon known as MTV, which showed videos twenty four hours a day, came into existence and changed our household. We laughed as my dad made fun of Gary Numan’s very eighties video “Cars,” we cried, at least my brother did, at videos that stirred up emotions deep inside of us, and we bonded while watching Beavis and Butthead sit in front of their animated TV making fun of a music video that at one time we considered revolutionary. My first ideas of female beauty were formed from women like Madonna and Ann Wilson who I saw as the idea of perfection: thin, beautiful, and in control. I developed my first crushes by sitting in front of the television watching Duran Duran with their makeup and exquisite fashion sense and Loverboy singing about how we all need to be looking forward to the weekend. It is not enough to say I grew up on MTV, although it’s true, and I feel so lucky to say that, but I grew up with MTV that like me, has changed. Today, as I am flipping through the channels, I will stop at MTV and for a few minutes watch a television station that I no longer recognize. Today of course there is MTV 2, MTV Hits and other affiliates of MTV, but nothing beats the original MTV music television. It got into our living rooms, our hearts, and eventually, our memories.  


I am currently a high school English teacher in Saint Joseph, Missouri. My two passions are writing and teaching. Fortunately, I have the opportunity to combine the two in the classroom.  I have an M.A. in Written Communication and have published my writing in journals such as HalfwayDowntheStairs, Connotation Press, Commonline Journa, and Glassfire Magazine.

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