The catalyst for my growth, and perhaps my fondest memory of MTV, is the day the network began airing the videos from Michael Jackson's' hit album "Thriller." Until that time, Black artists had to beg MTV for airtime.
There was, however, no denying Jackson. He had not yet become a walking carnival sideshow attraction (even if the hair at that time did seem a bit greasy) and was the biggest thing in music — even the biggest personality in entertainment. His fans, who in those years seemed to be just about everyone, waited with bated breath for the release of each new video. Do you remember where you were when the video for "Thriller" debuted?
Jackson's work stood heads and shoulders above the rest of the fare offered on the station and ushered in a new era of music video production. To keep pace, other artists were forced to raise production values and increase budgets for their videos. The days of low budget nightmares were officially over.
Jackson's success gives credence to the notion that the marketplace has the power to transform our culture. The audience demanded Jackson and was soon demanding other Black artists. MTV responded by airing the program "Yo! MTV Raps." The show was soon the highest-rated program on the network, exposing artists to a much wider buying audience than they had previously known.
The face of MTV has continued to change. Artists like Missy Elliot, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige and others that in the early days would have been missing in action are now a frequent if not dominating presence on the network.
The videos played on MTV also provided a training ground for young directors. Directors like David Fincher, Jonathan Glazer, Sanaa Hamri, Spike Jonze and Hype Williams all got their start working on music videos. For better or worse, their style — the fast cuts and off-beat angles — are now staples in mainstream feature films.
MTV has also had an impact on what we watch on television. The network did not invent reality television; however, it brought panache and flair to the genre that has helped to shape it. Programs like the "The Real World," "Pimp My Ride," "MTV Cribs" and "Made" have spawned knock-offs on other cable stations and the major networks as well.
From the moment Michael Jacksons' video for "Billie Jean" appeared on the screen, the world of entertainment was changed forever. And I found myself watching MTV all the time. Who can forget Run-DMC in "The King of Rock"? Robert Palmer's video for "Addicted to Love?" MC Hammer and "U Can't Touch This?"
Oh, yes. My second fondest memory of MTV is the first time I saw En Vogue sashay across the screen in those short, slinky, silver skirts in the video "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It.)." I need oxygen just thinking about it.
Happy 25th, MTV!
Joseph C. Phillips is an actor/writer based in Los Angeles.