Picture This

Maybe I've got a case of arrested development, but I seem to like a lot of the same things as most teen-agers today. I faithfully watch Beverly Hills 90210 every week and faithfully swoon, along with a zillion teens about ten years younger than I, over its star, Jason Priestley. I watch a little too much MTV and feel guilty about the IQ points I've lost over it. I admit to letting male pulchritude influence more than a few of my album purchases.

Why am I bothering you with all this? Just to show that I'm in the right state of mind to explore a recent phenomenon that has all the earmarks of being either a dopey, expensive fad or something that will affect pop culture as much as the advent of the CD: video magazines.

Somebody in the marketing department noticed that kids were spending more and more time in front of video screens. When I was in school, the only computers I ever saw were on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, and I used quaint materials like books, paper, and pencils. Kids nowadays (to use an appropriately old fogy-ish phrase) are learning computer programs as soon as they're finished teething. When it's time to play, who wants to go outside and toss the ol' pigskin with dad when there's Nintendo? Parents may not understand the attraction of leading a little Italian janitor named Mario through a series of mazes, but these games are the video equivalent of heroin; play once and you're hooked. Even I, a former skeptic, have lost three days of my life to a GameBoy with Tetris loaded into its little brain. And let us not forget that most kids, if given a choice, would happily grow roots in the shag carpeting of the family room watching MTV. Taking all of this into consideration, somebody smart came up with the concept of video magazines.

"TeenVid! It's the magazine you don't read - you watch!" one vid mag announces joyfully. The makers of video magazines know their teen-age audience doesn't want to (or maybe can't) read, but watching something on a screen? Hey, that's easy. Video magazines are just that - profiles of the same artists that would be covered in teen magazines about rap, metal, TV, and movie stars. The execution is a simple formula: an interview with the band, with their music video interspliced. The TV and movie star vid mags have to be slightly more creative ("Let's go shopping on Melrose Avenue!"), though some of their subjects have crossed over, for better or worse, into the music world as well.

Boobs Tube
Sounds good, but to find out how all of this really translated onto tape, I sat down with a bunch of video magazines, grabbed the remote, and prepared to dig the wave of the future. First up, Hard N' Heavy, the forerunner of video magazines as we know them. As you may have deduced from the title, Hard N' Heavy is a metal video, and it subscribes to metal cliches so faithfully at times I feel they may be in clandestine cahoots with the PMRC. Hard N' Heavy earned a titillating parental advisory sticker when it embraced an uncensored, go-for-the-throat attitude. On Hard N' Heavy, bands can feel free to curse, swill beer, and express their opinions about groupies. In between each interview are violent, sexist cartoons portraying an outdated "metalheads against the world" concept in various situations: a metalhead stabs a caricature of Vanilla Ice with a "Vanilla Ice Pick"; a well-endowed female metaller has her leather bodice ripped off by a fat, balding store clerk when she tries to buy a copy of Hard N' Heavy. She smashes his face into the cash register (ringing up "No Sale" - hyuk hyuk). Maybe I'm being a supreme wuss, but constant exposure of cartoon breasts and flying blood makes me feel like Hard N' Heavy is little more than one big circle jerk, no wimmin allowed. Did someone tell them that female metal fans have no money?

As for Hard N' Heavy's interviews, they pass because they allow the bands to speak their minds without obvious intervention, and the "story" ideas are imaginative (like Trick Or Treat, where a band member is given a bag full of objects representing milestones in his history, which he then has to explain to the audience). Hard N' Heavy also spends an admirable amount of time showcasing new bands who probably won't get a shot on MTV. But those violent cartoons really piss me off. Next!

Ears to Ya
Hard N' Heavy's direct competitor is MetalHead, modeled after its predecessor, but far improved. Nifty art direction is MetalHead's strong point; a segment with Anthrax, filmed in a potentially dull backstage area, is shot in gorgeously grainy blue and white, with naked light bulbs swinging back and forth. MetalHead doesn't seek to alienate potential female buyers, wisely laying off the violence and overt sexism, instead throwing cute bands in with the more "credible" ones. Supporting that tired but true stereotype that metal fans are antisocial, MetalHead's host is a goon with a rivet glued to his cranium who gleefully shrieks, "MetalHead! It'll make ya DEAF!" What kind of speakers do they think my TV set has, a stack of Marshall amps?

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