Much, much less
Lamenting what could have been Canada’s music station
BY Dave Bidini
Photograph by Shky (from Flickr)
Several decades ago, MTV was but a rumour to Canadian musicians. Apparently, they played little films of bands performing alongside interviews and concert reports, a concept that teenage pop fans had dreamed many times over in their heads. When it was announced that Canada would have its own all-music-video channel— MuchMusic, born out of Moses Znaimer’s proactive Citytv pop programming—there was muted hope that it would fuel CanRock the way the Maple Law had in 1968, alighting new bands who were otherwise veiled to the greater country. That it would emerge from the progessive City flagship—where shows such as City Limits and The New Music had been created by the father of experimental music television, John Martin—suggested a format that would be much newer and freer than MTV’s pinwheel of Top 40 artists.
For awhile, this proved to be true. Once, my old group, Rheostatics, were afforded two hours at midnight to present bands live in an empty garage studio in the bowels of the Much/City colossus. We hosted such bands as UIC, The Look People, 13 Engines and Bob Snider, and played cool videos. Later, we appeared live on other open-format shows, performing in the middle of the day and in prime time to any kid whose parents had cable. I was born too late to experience the glory days of CBC rock radio programs—90 Minutes with a Bullet and early Brave New Waves—but MuchMusic felt like it tied together pop fans of all stripes, working to build a connection between bands across the pan-provincial divide. All of this despite a sea of Rolling Stones and Van Halen videos that, ever slowly, started to devour the station’s programming.
But, circa 2008, MuchMusic has aged worse than anyone could have expected. It has mutilated itself to the point that there are very few videos programmed anymore; instead, OC reruns, sad pop star reality shows, gossip and style dailies and the failed life journey of Scott Baio dominate a television station that does little to address or articulate the tastes of young Canadians. Occasionally, shallow (and likely mandated) events dealing with topical issues appear on the programming grid (this week, an hour debate on climate change was being promoted), but otherwise MuchMusic is an idea gone awry. Over time, a bold notion has been reduced to feeding the teenage nation’s intellect with visual dross rather than fortifying it with challenging art and music and serious-minded hosts.
The shows are siphoned from the worst of Fox television: the horniest rock star, the dumbest videos of all time, Britney, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and more Britney. It’s as if programmers have decided that the average Canadian teenager is brain-dead, and instead of reviving their neurons, they’re slugging at them with a mallet. Instead of using their platform to inform, educate, inspire and challenge, they’re Dorito’ing Canada’s youth to death, pinning them to their couches and area rugs so they’re more easily fed into the narrowing black hole of adult network television.