When MTV first launched in 1996, the site’s tagline read, “If you want a fun, fun place to talk about your ideas, we got you covered.”
The site’s first photo feature was an essay called “Anti Materialism.”
It was written by a man named Tim Gunn, who would later write for MTV News.
“We all have opinions, but not all of them are right,” Gunn wrote.
“There are a lot of good things out there that are just not being heard.
But we don’t have to accept that.”
The essays on Anti Materialist were an instant hit.
The tagline stuck, and the site grew.
By 2001, it was one of the top sites in the world, with more than 2.7 million unique visitors per month.
By the time MTV rolled out “anti-materialism” to its sister network MTV2, it had more than 1 million unique monthly visitors.
In 2002, MTV was a new medium.
It was the most important outlet in the pop culture world.
The network had to be innovative, bold, and ambitious.
“The biggest challenge of our generation is that we’re the most innovative of all the generations,” a senior vice president at MTV told the New York Times at the time.
“It’s not just a challenge to be creative, it’s a challenge for being a new company.”
The company took that approach with the first anti-materialist magazine, the magazine called Vibe.
MTV had created a new kind of media that had an inherent moral compass.
“Vibe is anti-intellectual,” wrote Vibe’s editor, David Grossman.
“I’ve had enough of the mindless, self-absorbed, and narcissistic.”
But the anti-immoralness was more than just a new word.
It also reflected MTV’s desire to be relevant.
“MTV is not just an entertainment company, it is a platform for a new way of thinking about our society,” the network’s first executive vice president, Scott Rudin, told Time magazine in 2001.
“As a company, we are committed to bringing the views of the world’s best thinkers, thinkers and artists into our content.
We’re not just interested in the entertainment of the moment.
We care about the content that is going to move people.”
The anti-modern, anti-consumer, and anti-establishment stance of the magazine was an important part of MTV’s brand.
“If it makes you feel better, we think it will,” the magazine’s senior vice presidents said at the Time interview.
But it also reflected the network thinking about itself.
“At MTV, we’re all in this together,” one of them told Time.
“You’re in the news and we’re in it.”
The brand was so powerful that in the early days, MTV used its slogan to announce the launch of its new channel, MTV2.
“Welcome to MTV2,” the message read.
“This is our newest, best, and most ambitious show.”
Vibe was an instant success, spawning two books and a line of clothing, toys, and even a series of music videos.
It took on a more cultural significance than Vibe had done.
MTV was starting to feel more like an alternative to mainstream culture.
“By the year 2000, MTV had become MTV2—and it had also become an outlet for a kind of anti-market populism,” Time magazine’s Peter Fenton wrote in his 2002 profile of MTV.
“In the early 2000s, the only place that MTV felt free was on the Internet, where it became a playground for online critics who argued against the mainstream.
The only way to resist MTV was to reject it.
MTV’s anti-commercialism is not so much a response to its audience’s growing impatience with mainstream culture as it is to the growing pressure of a consumer culture that is increasingly out to destroy everything it touches.”MTV was in a difficult spot.
It wanted to be the mainstream, but it also wanted to maintain its integrity.
“People were telling us, ‘Look, MTV has always been anti-platform,’ ” one of MTV2’s first executives, David Roth, told the Times.
“But the network is changing.
We need to change.”MGM was already a media juggernaut, but the network was also an entertainment powerhouse.
It could afford to be careful about what it sold.
“When we were developing MTV2 in 2002, we realized we were going to have to have some balance in the way we marketed the channel,” said a senior MTV executive.
“How do you have an anti-corporate message in the context of an anti-‘market’ message?
How do you be authentic while not becoming a pariah?
MTV wanted to create a brand that was both more progressive and less cynical than its competitors.”
Museums like Columbia, the Smithsonian, and Getty are among the few institutions that have taken the MTV approach, creating platforms that focus on the public good, not