"Video Killed the Radio Star" made history in 1981 by becoming the first music video ever to air on MTV. Little could anyone have imagined at the time that the "style over substance" MTV generation would also be responsible for killing something far more important: the qualified presidential candidate.
It wasn't long after Music Television's debut that musical ability and the capacity to actually sing on key, or sing at all without lip-syncing for that matter, had become irrelevant. Talent became replaceable by image and visual aesthetics. Twenty-seven years later, that concept has filtered its way up to the highest possible venue: the office of the President of the United States.
No presidential tickets have ever been host to candidates with as few qualifications as Barack Obama and Sarah Palin. Obama was a first-term U.S. Senator with two-years of experience under his belt and no verifiable legislative accomplishments to speak of when he came roaring onto the presidential campaign trail in 2006. Sarah Palin is not quite two-years into her first-term as Governor of Alaska, having previously served six-years as mayor of a town of 6,300. In MTV speak Obama is the Milli to Palin's Vanilli.
The two highly qualified candidates on the bill are of course John McCain and Joe Biden. Reminiscent of aging but still very talented rock stars who no longer have the cache to fill the arenas, both were in need of more relevant opening acts. Biden, a U.S. Senator since 1972 who got blasted out of the 2008 Democratic primaries early on, was tabbed by the image-centric, accomplishment challenged Obama. The charisma and youth deficient McCain, in desperate need of some flash and sizzle, selected Palin.
Of course not every band and singer who had "the look" for MTV turned out to be without musical merit. That Whitney Houston sure had some pipes. The Police became a legendary group. And there were plenty of others. The question is whether an image proves to have substance. For every Whitney and Sting there is a Britney and a Vanilla Ice. Not to mention an occasional Weird Al Yankovic.
What Obama and Palin turn out to possess beneath the facades remains to be seen. And I suspect that these two will not be the last of presidential candidates that we will wonder these things about. Once a process becomes all about image it is nearly impossible to reverse. When was the last time you saw a talented but largely unattractive new musical act climbing the charts? Me neither.
It is fairly common knowledge that the aforementioned song by The Buggles was the first to air on MTV. But not many people can name the second. It was called "You Better Run". Now that's ironic. Somebody better tell Alanis Morissettte.