Rage, Rage Against the Dying Satellite

mtvdesi_small.jpg Bloggers can’t presume objectivity, so despite the fact that I don’t subscribe (only get old-school network TV), I’m frankly quite dismayed by the news that MTVWorld has closed shop. I know some people who work(ed) at MTV Desi, and appeared on a show that might never air, so perhaps my sentiments are self-serving. But an MTV desi producer emailed this rather heartbreaking note to me today:

This is just really tough for all of us who work to the bone on making something progressive and representative of our communities. I’ve been pretty broken up.

I feel truly truly sad…[and would like] people to understand the challenges of creating a 24 hour channel. The reason we repeat so much is because there are fucking four of us working our asses to the bone to get content up. We are growing. We are a start up– give us a chance!!!

It takes time– and we barely cleared a year and we have supported so many many artists and every single one of them has walked out of our studio feeling proud, happy, accomplished, important…[there is] a need for us to get out there… [to represent] what we stand for and how much WE CARE!!

SepiaMutiny blogged about MTVdesi from its inception, as the first video dropped, anchors were selected, desi artists aired their first videos. We even blogged about how MTV desi covered the Pakistan earthquake (internet writing about liquid television…does that count as meta commentary or wankery?)MTV Desi was not MTV India. Not something piped in for the Aunties and Babujis, not something that caters to particular regional, ethnic or religious tastes, not something that waxes nostalgic for the mother country. But, instead, reflects the fact that we are creating something new, forging a unique identity from the melange available to us as Ameri-Brit-Canadian-Kenyan-Punjabi-Hindu-Tamil-Bengali-Parsi-whatever.

Regular readers might know that I’m far from pollyanna-ish, and give short shrift to any sort of rah rah ethnic pride. (ok, fine, I talk about Sri Lanka a lot.) I’m not American-born, (1.5 gen?), and made plenty fun of you ABCDs when I first got here. But along the way I’ve come to really appreciate that confusion, especially since it leads to questions that are often unasked, issues that are often ignored and unexplored, back in our ancestral countries.

Diasporic desis bring a specific sort of diversity to the West (cumin in bistro burgers! Tumeric crusted chicken! Julia Roberts hearts Ashwarya Rai! – hey, baby steps) and the neccessary distance to see the need/means for effecting change in South Asia.

Sepia Mutiny itself is an amazing example of this. I marvel daily at the things I learn, the many voices, opinions and ideologies that come together here, and the way we still do have this intangible thing (flavorful brownness in a savory packet?) in common.

mtvdesiGM.jpg But this is, afterall, MTV, and perhaps Nusrat Durrani, the MTVDesi General Manager said it best:

If youÂ’re South Asian American, you have a specific mindset: youÂ’re bicultural. You are American- you grew up here, you went to school here, you have an American sensibility. But you also have a very strong emotional connection to your country of origin. Split between many cultures makes you inherently different than someone who doesnÂ’t share that.

If youÂ’re South Asian in the US, failure is not an option. There are stories about those who are doctors and engineers, but also those whose true inner passions are to be actresses, painters, poets. How do they pursue these passions if there isnÂ’t a role model out there? If you are someone like that in the US, you havenÂ’t had a TV platform that truly reflects your identity.

MTV DesiÂ’s progamming mission is to super-serve that type of person. Pop culture is how we do it. If youÂ’re South Asian American you havenÂ’t seen meaningful representation up to this point. Things like multi-racial dating, balancing the culture of your parents with the culture you grew up with in America; these stories arenÂ’t told. There is such a rich experience that hasnÂ’t been properly articulated. link

I don’t know if this was the right platform. Amardeep’s post had some excellent points regarding YouTube and cable, but perhaps missed the fact that MTV Desi marked corporate (Viacom!) acknowledgement and recognition of desi-ness. We can all search search, upload and share cips on youtube, chat on forums, and make use of a panoply of internet options (hel-LO there, SepiaMutiny!), but there are few places where content is created, generated, and presented for us. (ok, the younger of us.) And that will be sorely missed.

46 thoughts on “Rage, Rage Against the Dying Satellite

  1. …opinions and ideologies that come together hear, and the way we still do have this intanglible thing…

    Intentional? Or am I being a dgrammatic uncle?

  2. Hmm, from an email I just saw from an mtv desi employee, MTV Desi is definitely not canceled, just on hiatus as viacom is rearranging things.

  3. Cicatrix,

    there are few places where content is created, generated, and presented for us. (ok, the younger of us.) And that will be sorely missed.

    If there is a vacuum, something will fill it soon enough.

  4. corporate (Viacom!) acknowledgement

    In this age and time why the need for an Amreekan corporation to legitimize Desiness?

  5. In this age and time why the need for an Amreekan corporation to legitimize Desiness?

    Not legitimize…cater to.

  6. MTV Desi marked corporate (Viacom!) acknowledgement and recognition of desi-ness.

    i completely agree – i think that media recognition of desis is a very personal thing. while you don’t need a corporate giant to validate your existence – it feels nice as someone who grew up not seeing any desi faces in the media.

  7. so like… if one is, say, a fresh graduate and without a job or med school acceptance and has always been interested in working in something like, say, MTVDesi, how should she go about doing that, particularly if she is motivated to bring it back out of the trenches?

    (granted she would prefer to gain skills and experience and not just do coffee runs)…

  8. MTV Desi was never representative of the Desi community. It just catered to the Hindi/Punjabi crowd and not to all the other Desis. It was doomed to fail having followed such an exclusivist line. I for one am not sorry to see it go at all. Next time, please realise that the Desi community is not composed only of Hindi/Punjabi speakers.

  9. This is unrelated to the post. Your feed shows up weirdly own GoogleReader. Check the screenshot.

    BG, on my browser using Google Reader it shows up fine. I think the problem is with your browser settings. Please use the question line to contact us if you need help and someone will get back to you

  10. After reading the post I feel kinda guilty…cos these guys had taken on a mammoth task to represent all of South Asia! We as a community should feel ashamed that instead of realising that we have not only lost the corporate recognition but more importantly lost OUR voice in Amerca, we spend our time pointing fingers at them… I heard that MTV Desi was going to be added to Time Warner…we would have had a national home. Is there anything we can do to change Viacom’s mind…like a peaceful protest, petitions etc…This is our cultures…our lives, doesn’t anyone see that?

  11. There are stories about those who are doctors and engineers, but also those whose true inner passions are to be actresses, painters, poets.

    I am not sure about desis being successfully accepted in professions where face is a major criteria: Actors(esses), TV news readers etc will continue to be overwhelmingly white, black and a token Asian here and there. I’m afraid our population strength needs to gain critical mass before we are accepted in these roles.

    Painters, poets etc are fine, but considering our proclivity to pick money-making professions, I don’t see us gaining much traction there either.

    I think a vast untapped market for desi artistic talent lies in the ancillary businesses of entertainment and media industries like: Cameramen, Script writing, talent search, clothing designers, special audio/visual effects etc.

    How do they pursue these passions if there isnÂ’t a role model out there?

    Pioneers don’t look for role models.

    M. Nam

  12. if i could have gotten this channel, i would have LOVED it!!! the fact that it was an “extra” channel made it inaccessible. :(

  13. I don’t think I’m going to be shedding any tears over the demise of MTVDesi. Don’t get me wrong, it sucks that employees who were passionate about the channel and its potential lost their jobs. But its end signifies a giant corporation’s inability to exploit a demographic (basically us) for profit. If there are American-born desis out there interested in pursuing an “unorthodox” career path in entertainment, I’ve got three letters for you: DIY. Go buy a camera, produce your own news segments, docs, music, short films, whatever. Hit it big on your own–then quickly cash out and sell the operation to Viacom for a tidy profit (kidding). We need to build our own avenues and outlets for creative expression, and not rely on some (likely white) corporate suit to greenlight them. Peace is peace.

  14. I hope my words don’t fork any lightning, but this has been nothing short of an epiphany.. cicatrix is a SHE.. Well, we all know who the brother (sister?) of assumption is.

    I think I will be visiting SM more now.

  15. this past summer, my buddies and I were at a cultural festival in Union Square when an MTV van pulled up. The camera crew got out and began unloading gear with MTV Desi logos on the equipment cases, so we figured the MTV Desi VJ wasn’t far behind. We straightened our t-shirts, adjusted our jeans, and tried to look cool.

    She comes out of the van and up to the edge of the festival to start taping her segment. She’s pretty, and someone in our posse mentions that she went to UPenn, so we’re standing around, admiring her from afar, hoping maybe she’ll want our thoughts on the festivities for her show or something.

    Just as she’s about to begin recording, the MTV Chi van rolls up and parks behind the MTV Desi van. The sliding door opens and their camera crew gets out.

    Then, like a teen movie, the record scratched to a halt, heads turn, eyes grow wide, and jaws go slack.

    Cue the song Missy Elliot “One Minute Man.”

    Start at the curb, tilt up slowly while pulling back to reveal one ready-for-the-catwalk leg sashaying in front of another, up to short shorts and a watermelon-print tank top, as the MTV Chi VJ exits her van and single-handedly transforms the sidewalk into a fashion runway. A breeze comes outta nowhere and caresses her hair like a shampoo commercial, and she moves the bangs from her eyes and smiles at no one in particular.

    Someone in our group muttered, “Well, we’ve still got Aishwariya,” but nobody acknowledged him. A taxi driver ogling her from 14th Street nearly didn’t brake in time. The MTV Desi crewmen lost their focus, and their VJ lowered the microphone from her mouth with a look of “why me, not again” annoyed resignation.

    They’ve got a billion, we’ve got a billion, you’d think the population genetics odds for hottie-making should be even, but that afternoon was clearly Middle Kingdom 1, India nil.

    epilogue:

    a few months later, their other vj was fifteen stories tall on 34th and Broadway.

  16. Thank you! I think you made all the points of why I felt sad about the demise of MTV Desi.

    Ag (number 11), did you ever watch the channel? I didn’t think so. It really didn’t just cater to the Punjabi-Indian-Americans or whatever.

  17. I just want to congratulate the writer for the Dylan Thomas reference. You people really are so erudite and sexy and cool.

  18. MTV is just a corporate machine. I’m reading this blog after just having discovered that YouTube has yanked several of my videos (which contained “MTV India” in the descriptions) citing copyright infringement. Considering I shot them, edited them, and own the copyright to them (done FOR MTV India but never broadcast — I retained ownership since I was working for free), I’m furious. Stupid corporate lawyers doing mass culls without even paying the slightest bit of attention to the content. I also did a phone interview with Durrani right before MTV Desi was launched, and it was obvious back then they had no idea what they were doing or what kind of content they would possibly fill the time with. Ignorant corporations. That’s all I have to say today. :)

  19. Midwestern, yes, that has been one of the truly annoying developments in recent weeks.

    Ironically, though they probably own the rights to the Parag Khanna video I linked to in my own post on this topic, the video doesn’t contain the tag “MTV” anywhere, so it has thus far been spared the axe.

    I might suggest you upload them again. If you want us to have a look at them for possible blogging, send us an email or a tip.

  20. err….not to nitpick….but “(cumin in bistro burgers! Tumeric crusted chicken! “…..shouldn’t that read tuRmeric?? No such thing as tumeric…except in an incorrect American pronunciation.

  21. MTV Desi marked corporate (Viacom!) acknowledgement and recognition of desi-ness.

    Saw a Nike Sahara tee shirts for the Indian cricket team and BCCI (BCCI!!) baseball caps at my local Macy’s yesterday. How is that for corporate recognition.

  22. Ardy, I’m not sure what happened to your comment if you just left one. It might be a glitch caused by the current site maintenance or something else.

  23. Sorry Ardy, that was my fault… I accidentally deleted a few recent comments and news submissions while performing some maintenance work. Please feel free to repost.

    I believe recent comments were also lost from Neale, Liz Singh, Seeker, and Saira.

  24. No one could ever access the channel MTV Desi – the demise will be missed but I was always a little salty about knowing that the only people that could subscribe to the channel had to go for the package with all the South Asian channels. Kinda marketed the channel in a package, without really understanding the audience.

    But does this mean we lose MTVdesi.com too? Because MTV Desi Overdrive had an amazing collection of desi videos all in one place- D’Lo, Goldspot, and Jahcoozi – accessible all in one spot, at your own picking. It was an amazing way to waste hours and hours watching desi music videos that you’d never heard of before.

    MTV Desi had all the hopes of being the next BET. [ducking...]

  25. Dude and Dudittes, I do not know anything about MTV Desi……probably it was confused rant like Parag Bauji on othter thread or some crisis-angst ridden, I do not know at all. However, MTV India rocks.

    I’m not sure about the music, but back in the late 90s and early 2000s, they did air a series (mostly 10-15 mins long, kind of like random stuff in between the major shows) called MTV Fully Faltoo, and some of it was great!

    They did this whole thing about a cricket match between Bollywood actors (dressed up as the cast of Lagaan) and the Indian cricket team. In one of those, Ganguly complained to a reporter about Salman Khan threatening him with phone calls all night. Cellphone companies then had just made all incoming call free. The reporter asked him, “Aapne phone uthaya kyon? (Why did you pick up the phone then?),” to which he replied, “Kyonki incoming calls free hain (because incoming calls are now free)!”.

    I liked it because unlike Channel [V] or MTV Asia, which used to air before MTV India, it was more streamlined for an Indian audience. But then somewhere down, they lost it.

  26. MTV India rocks.

    Well, I am not so sure about it. When MTV India first started in the 90s, they had great music – an eclectic mix of desi stuff, Asian Underground, plus a great selection mainstream English music across various genres and it was great. Over time it has devolved into basically rerun a minute of new Hindi movie trailers interspersed with Indy pop, some stupid reality shows. Won’t blame them though since they just pander to the audience and thus do what they are supposed to and that is make money. Their VJs are/were pretty good, Cyrus B was hilarious but the quality of music sucked big time at least the last I saw it a few years back. Also, is it me or has Indy pop (and also Bollywood music) really improved a lot? In the mid 90s after its initial wave of creativity, the stuff coming out of the Indy pop sector was atrocious discounting the occasional exception and neither had originality nor good music/lyrics. I think in recent times though, some good stuff has started coming out of there again and might reflect directly on the quality of MTV India today.

  27. As far as MTV being a corporate machine– fine– agreed to some extent. But the reality is is that MTV Desi had automatic cred. and most importnatly accessiblity– because of the brand and it could have helped them. the DIY idea is great in theory but people who don’t understand the realities of Affiliates, distribution, and production say shit like that.

    If you want to do something on a big scale– sometimes you got to use the system to your advantage!!!!…. It’s not called selling out– it’s called getting what you want in the end. And Desi had the chance to get 13 million eyes plus on their channel because they were an MTV brand– holy shit– who can fault them?

    As far as pioneers– not needing role models– they’re not getting anywhere on a big scale either without the push!! there are realities in this world friends— MTV Desi was grass roots using the corporate machine to get ahead. In my book– they were smart.

    Personally, as a Desi in America– I’ve been dying for something like this. I am so disappointed in our community. Why are we such haters? Why wouldn’t we support a place that is trying to do something progressive for us?

    The Chinese community has a petition of thousands of names to save MTV Chi, it was emailed to me and I’m not even Chinese– Desi’s sit around a complain like assholes. Think beyond the little boxes people!! Support one another– don’t hate!

  28. The Chinese community has a petition of thousands of names to save MTV Chi, it was emailed to me and I’m not even >Chinese– Desi’s sit around a complain like assholes. Think beyond the little boxes people!! Support one another– >don’t hate! Agreed! Is there a petition going on yet? If not, where could people get one started online?

  29. I was always a little salty about knowing that the only people that could subscribe to the channel had to go for the package with all the South Asian channels. Kinda marketed the channel in a package, without really understanding the audience.

    This seems like the most important aspect of the network’s failure. If you’re not marketing it to aunties and babujis, why rely on their distribution model? I feel like the distribution fell down exactly where the content was forging ahead.

  30. This seems like the most important aspect of the network’s failure. If you’re not marketing it to aunties and babujis, why rely on their distribution model? I feel like the distribution fell down exactly where the content was forging ahead.

    i’m pretty sure that no channel wants to be only available on a little known package on satellite tv – but getting the sweet distribution deals take time and money. like people have noted, mtv desi was going to launch on time warner very soon – for it’s second year in existence, that’s pretty impressive, too bad we won’t get to see it happen.

  31. It just seems like the cluster of channels it was offered with was tailored to appeal to older Indians hoping to stay in touch with the Desh. I understand your point about the difficulties of getting good distribution, but couldn’t they have launched it with other starting channels aimed at young people generally? Or “pop culture” type channels? I just know that most younger Desis I know aren’t running out to buy satellite packages that include Zee or Namaste or whatever. Even an “MTV World” package aimed at people interested in world music might have been a better idea (I have no idea if they actually did this or considered it, it just seems more logical).

    Anyway, I probably would have watched it if it hadn’t required a satellite dish and subscription to a bunch of channels I really have no interest in otherwise.

  32. The demise of MTV Desi is invariably bad. Though none of us except Amardeep was able to watch it, the MTV Desi crews went everywhere there was even a vaguely interesting Desi party. I crossed paths with them all the time. They covered Artwallah in Los Angeles a couple of times, gave airtime to up-and-coming musicians like Shaheen Sheik, filmed odd spectacles like Sholay Productions’ Desilicious- KarmaCaribbean drag shows in New York, and even hosted a party for SAJA. You could view all these clips online, if not on your TV. The channel was a good home for a lot of these things that don’t yet have a natural spot in the mainstream media. The MTV Desi archive is pretty good at this point, and it would be a shame if those materials go unviewed and unappreciated.

  33. Desi makes up less then 1% of the American population so the MTV desi had a smaller market that it could reach. So a cable system would have to have certain amount of people willing to pay for the channel for it to be worth it for the channel to be on a cable system.

  34. I’m not American-born, (1.5 gen?), and made plenty fun of you ABCDs when I first got here. But along the way I’ve come to really appreciate that confusion, especially since it leads to questions that are often unasked, issues that are often ignored and unexplored, back in our ancestral countries.

    well said. as a fellow 1.5 gen’er, i agree with you completely.

    have never seen mtv desi (i think i’m outside of the target age range), so can’t say that i’m going to miss it. but good luck with your quest. after your heartfelt post, i almost want it to come back on the air now.

  35. What does it say the MTV Desi and American Desi TV have both gone under within 12 months? Too soon? Poor product / execution?

  36. no offense– but I think MTV Desi was prob. a step up from American Desi TV…. as far as distribution I think they prob. knew the directtv thing sucked but maybe they didn’t have a choice? “Cluelss” is prob. right– maybe they were working up to getting interest. it prob. takes time to make things happen.

    More than anything– I think the bigger issue is –why are Asian Americans expendable? Even though I didn’t get the channle –I felt good knowing it was out there… so now we aren’t worth the investment?