ll eyes are on the television. A hush falls over the room as a video image flips into focus, and two Beavis and Butt-head-like characters appear. Wearing heavy-metal T-shirts and plastic hairpieces (stolen from the battery-operated family in those Duracell commercials), the pair stare at an old, beat-up TV. One flicks his remote. A blast of static assaults their vision, a thumping beat kicks in, and a glassy-eyed, scruffy-faced rapper appears, plumes of slo-mo smoke emerging from his mouth.
On this searing, hot Monday afternoon in July, 11 members of the MTV staff are sealed in an air-conditioned conference room 24 floors above Times Square. Lounging around a rectangular table in a room with two 27-inch televisions and speakers perched at each end, they are scrutinizing the video for "How High?," a duet from Def Jam artists Redman and Method Man. Give or take a body, this same group gathers here every Monday to decide how many of the 30 to 50 videos submitted weekly to MTV will end up on the channel-a mighty task when you consider that their selections will be seen in 61 million homes across America and millions more overseas. That kind of exposure can turn an artist platinum almost overnight.
Smiles abound as the video's minidrama unfolds. Meth and Redman are busy removing shoe boxes of an unknown substance from an ice cream truck with a bobbing clown head on top. As the rappers hand their boxes to an anonymous white guy, cops headed by "Sergeant Cracker" look on from surveillance vans a few feet away. Their business finished, the MCs drive off into the sunset, rapping, ".......So high I could kiss the sky." Oblivious to the helicopters hovering above, Method Man and Redman mug for the camera, while traveling at an absurdly slow speed, smoke pouring from the mouth of the big clown head. The whole thing feels funny and a little surreal, an impression enhanced by the fact that the Beavis and Butt-head characters turn out to be costumed versions of Redman and Method Man watching themselves.
The video elicits more than a few good-natured chuckles from the panel of judges, but as clever as it might be, it may not be fit for MTV viewers at large. That decision falls to the folks in this room, all drawn from the network's programming and talent relations departments. They're in their early twenties to early thirties, all dressed as though they were in a Gap commercial. Nine are white. One is black. There's also an 11th person, a young black man from talent relations who's in charge of changing the videocassettes.
"That's gonna have a little trouble with our standards department because of the smoking in it," says Patti Galluzzi, vice president of music programming. A short debate ensues between those who see the video as "basically glorifying drug use" and those who think it can be cleaned up, much like "that Jamiroquai song `Return of the Space Cowboy,' where we just had to take out the explicit stuff." In the end, it's agreed that the video will be accepted for YO! MTV Raps pending the approval of the standards department.
All of the videos that make today's cut-including clips from Collective Soul, Faith, Hole, Shane MacGowan, and Doug E. Fresh-will be sent to the standards department, which will screen them for objectionable material. If, for instance, a video has a reference to weed, or shows a weapon being used in a menacing way or a visible brand-name logo, it will be returned to the record label, which must then pay to have the forbidden words or images cut or blurred if the video is to be admitted.