What I thought was particularly interesting is that despite how well all of the VJ’s gelled on air, like most every other workgroup there was plenty of behind-the-scenes drama. Nothing that I would say rises to the level of some of the behind-the-scenes drama we see today in most reality shows or in the tabloids, but kind of the normal posturing that goes on in the workplace, also happened at MTV.
Mark Goodman talks about how he was so serious and pompous because he loved music so much and was a student of rock ‘n roll and was bothered that some of the other VJ’s either were not taking their job is seriously or just did not have the background (VJs 40). Unfortunately, I would have to classify myself as most closely associated with that persona. In my early days at least. I’d like to think I’m a bit more understanding now but maybe it is natural for many of us who are have an expertise at something to feel a little put off by others who do not have our level of knowledge or do not seem to be to taking it is seriously. I think in some cases we are threatened, but in others, we don’t feel we are challenged by a worthy enough opponent. We need to remember that at some point, we were just as ignorant and clueless.
We can either bring a person up or smack them down – one way creates a lasting friendship while the other creates a lasting resentment.
As it did in Goodman’s case, most of us calm down with age. That or we just slow down due to age, I’m not sure which. All I know is that when you shut down a Padawan learner, they don’t just stop living and fade into the sunset. They go on, often improving themselves and one day it comes back to bite you. And you have no idea what ideas, information or opportunities you are missing out on because you slammed that door.
One thing that definitely set the DJs apart, other than musical knowledge and experience, was money. When they started out, like in most jobs, they were not making very much scratch. Hunter talks about how their fame was outstripping their paychecks (VJ’s 49). I think many people assume that fame comes with a gigantic paycheck but that’s NOT true. Once they all got agents everyone started making real money, but then it was about who was making the most. Unfortunately, we tend to use money as a barometer of our self-worth. An important lesson here is to not undervalue yourself, but also to understand that sometimes you have to spend a little bit of time eating dirt just to prove yourself. So that they will eventually pay you more.
Another lesson I learned is that not every job is right for everyone and some things don’t necessarily cross pollinate. For example, Alan Hunter’s then-girlfriend Carol, when they were first starting out in New York also auditioned for MTV. While she was already a big star in New York she did perform as well on camera during her auditions (VJ’s 38). Alan was the relative unknown but seemed to be more comfortable in front of the camera and ended up getting the job. This isn’t to say that one failure means that a particular person will fail at all things, it just means that we are all good at different things.
Part of living a happy and successful life is finding those things that you are good at and to go do them.
Sometimes you have to follow the rules and the accepted practices, if you want to get ahead. I am a guy who isn’t much of a rule-follower, but I’ve been somewhat successful despite that. But as Alan Hunter talked about in his first days as a struggling actor in New York he finally got a union card which qualified him for better auditions that paid better and offered more exposure. Even though I already have a masters degree in curriculum and instruction, and over 25 years of experience developing training programs and have written the textbook on aviation security I still went back recently and punched some checks in the box to finish some certification programs – even though it was kind of like going back to high school.
While I see guys like Tony Robbins, who never received a formal degree but are of course highly successful in the field of psychology and personal development, I am not Tony Robbins – neither are you. Sometimes it helps to have a few pieces of paper on hand to prove you know what the hell it is you’re talking about, and maybe some initials behind your name – not necessarily for the ego but because it can open many doors and many opportunities, and gives your clients, your coworkers and your bosses a little bit more peace of mind that you have a clue and you’re not just making all this up as you go (you know, sorta like I do). It helps you to add value in becoming expert.
Since we just finished a business book last week, The Year without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work, I thought this one particular story was interesting. Apparently at one point management did not like the fact that JJ was wearing a black jumpsuit, even though some of the management were themselves wearing jumpsuits at the time (okay, style note here, jumpsuits were sort of a fashion thing in the 80s – I didn’t have one but I did have the shirt with the flap on it). The friction got so bad that Blackwood says that JJ seriously considered bailing from MTV (VJs 59). It just reinforces the point that some people are too sadly focused, as Dr. Stephen Covey once said, on the thick of thin things.
Why was it a problem? Maybe it was because JJ was such a big personality that it was management’s way to exert some sort of control or power over him. What management often fails to realize is these tiny little issues demean and disrespect people and can be a cancer to a workplace. Its easier to bring someone down a notch, than it is to push them up.
Something else that I learned is that we are really a work in progress and we have choices to make. Blackwood talks about a time when she tried to give Alan Hunter a hint that he needed to step up his game because management was on the verge of letting him go (VJ’s 60). She came from the Strasburg school of acting which meant that you tried to help out your fellow actor (VJ’s 60).
When you lend a hand to help someone else, that’s a hand that often gets extended back to you when you need it.
And like many workplaces sometimes the people that start out disliking each other often end up becoming good friends as Mark Goodman and Alan Hunter eventually did (VJ’s 70.) I remember a time after I was working in airport operations at the old Stapleton airport. I’d been there for about a year and all these young studs showed up that had just been hired. All of them had degrees in aviation management and frankly intimidated the hell out of me but I had one thing over all of them, a year of experience working there. Fortunately all of them were more mature than me and we all became fast friends. Friends for life in fact. I guess there is something to be said for not being a dick and putting oneself above everyone else.
Blackwood, Nina, Goodman, Mark, Hunter, Alan and Quinn, Martha, and Edwards, Gavin. VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave. New York: Atria, 2013. Print.