Joe Queenan
June 03, 1996 12:00 PM

IN FEBRUARY, PRESIDENT CLINTON and television industry leaders agreed that by 1998, every TV set sold in the United States would come with a V-chip. This is a device that parents can use to block out objectionable programs they do not want their children to watch. But since the U.S. is a democracy, and children do have certain civil rights, shouldn’t TV makers also be required to install a device that can be used to block out programs that kids find objectionable? Consider, for example, the VH1 chip, a device that could be implemented to block out the more stultifying material on the one cable channel that no one under the age of 21 could possibly bear to watch. VH1, of course, is MTV’s elephant graveyard, where old music videos go to die. The channel’s image as a cultural mausoleum is not new. When VH1 first came on the air in 1985, it tried to reach an older audience with bland performers like Lionel Richie. It did not succeed. Today it has a split personality: Some of the time it essays a halfhearted irony by playing dated videos from the one-hit wonders of the 1980s or ancient clips from American Bandstand; the rest of the time it serves up a mixture of Phil Collins, Gloria Estefan, Bruce Hornsby, Hootie & the Blowfish and Mariah Carey—a Middle of the Road Murderer’s Row. VH1 also recycles its programming endlessly, constantly rebroadcasting contrived events such as its VH1 Honors awards ceremony, in which hosts like Oliver Stone, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams explain how to make the world a better place, while Bryan Adams and Don Henley butcher Leonard Cohen songs. The most amazing thing about watching these reruns is that each time the show comes on, Peter Gabriel’s voice seems to get a little flatter and Michael Stipe seems to get even sulkier. On the subject of recycling, VH1 has plans to screen “classic” rock-oriented movies such as The Rose, starring hard-rockin’ Bette Midler, this summer. This is your last warning, kids: Activate that VH1 chip or get out of the house!

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