Opinion: Erasing history in a digital world


Milwaukee’s 80-year-old Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Steve Miller is attributed with the insightful comment, “The digital world is so convenient and nice, but just playing back a vinyl record is a much warmer, hotter, more present feeling.”  Admittedly, it has probably been years since any of us listened to “The Joker” or “Fly Like an Eagle” on anything other than a streaming format, so we are ill-equipped to comment definitively on his point about the midcentury presentation. Yet, we can know that for all the advantages of modernity, we may be blindly assuming a panoply of unintended consequences.

Paramount Global, the owners of MTV (Music Television) and CMT (Country Music Television), recently deleted the entire catalog of MTV News and the same for its sister. Thousands of reports, reviews, opinions and happenings are gone. While the corporate parent has remained remarkably mum about the effort, the progeny is permanently silenced. Originating in 1996, MTV News was groundbreaking in its coverage, and unlike others in the space, was entirely a medium aimed at the link between listening and viewing. It helped us understand the impact of seeing what we were hearing. Hip-hop and much of the emerging music of the time found light and attention there.

It remains unclear if any of the content will reappear. If so, it is likely to be curated (or scrubbed) for the current palate and social environment. In a digital world, who owns our history and how quickly can they take it from us? Miller was correct in that a digital “Jet Airliner” is ethereal, like smoke on the water, only a fading reflection. The printed vinyl copy is ours, now and forever. “The Week in Rock” and “Mixtape Monday” are now only a memory unless we bootlegged a copy.