Wednesday, January 31, 2001

Fired Up By A Jackass

The show is called "Jackass."

It’s an MTV show that is being blamed for what happened to 13 year old Jason Lind of Torrington, Connecticut.

I have never seen "Jackass," but have had it described to me by plenty of people who have seen it several times. It’s a show full of stupid guys doing stupid and annoying things, designed purely to prompt a reaction in anyone who sees them doing those things. Think of it as an extreme version of Candid Camera performed by stuntmen whose fear and shame genes have been removed. Allen Funt’s bastard grandchildren, if you will.

Last Friday, Jason and his friends were watching "Jackass" when they saw the host, Johnny Knoxville, put on a fire-resistant suit, wrap himself in steaks and lay down on a lit barbecue grill while his assistants sprayed him with lighter fluid. After a few seconds, Johnny jumped up, his crew doused the flames, and some of his moronic colleagues then ate the steaks.

Not my kind of television, but that’s not the question.

After watching the show with two 14 year old pals, the story goes, Jason told them that he’d like to re-enact the stunt. So they went outside, where one of the friends poured gasoline on Jason’s legs and then ignited them with a match.
Jason wasn’t wearing a fire-resistant suit. Needless to say, Jason’s not in very good shape now. He’s hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns over his feet and legs.

Kid did a pretty stupid thing, huh?

Naturally, in our culture of No Personal Responsibility, it’s not his fault. The blame is being placed on the TV show.

The show that’s called "Jackass."

The name alone should be a clue that you shouldn’t imitate what you see. If it were called, "Here’s Something Cool To Try With Your Friends" or "Things Jason Should Do Today," then I could begin to see the argument. But it’s not, and I don’t.

That hasn’t stopped the finger-pointers. Jason’s father condemned MTV, said he held the show at least partly responsible for what happened, and called for a law to hold those behind the show accountable.

Seeing an opportunity to climb onto his pedestal and once again proclaim that Show Business Is Immoral, Senator Joe Lieberman let loose a harangue that went, "I recognize that the program is rated for adults and that it comes with general disclaimers. But there are some things that are so potentially dangerous and inciting...that they simply should not be put on TV, and this is clearly one that crosses the line....I intend to make clear to the network’s owners that we expect more from them."

Joe, how about making it clear to the kid that you expect more from HIM? At 13, what kid doesn’t know that you can get pretty badly hurt by lighting yourself on fire?

If anyone is at fault besides Jason and the Pyronauts, put Joe Lieberman, Bill Bennett, and the rest of their Righteously Right pals on the list. When they led the push to get ratings put on TV shows and V-chips in television sets, they brought this sort of thing on themselves.

You see, the TV networks now can hide behind that TV-MA rating, using it as a defensive shield. They can claim that by putting that rating up on the screen for well over five seconds, they have warned the viewers that this show wasn’t suitable for viewing by children. And parents who don’t want their kids to see a show with that rating should program their V-chip to reject it (as if any adult actually knows how to do that).

"Jackass" does have a TV-MA rating and multiple onscreen warnings throughout the show, including a skull and crossbones over any stunts that are dangerous, and the printed disclaimer, "The following show features stunts performed by professionals and/or total idiots under very strict control and supervision. MTV and the producers insist that neither you or anyone else attempt to recreate or perform anything you have seen on this show."

Pretty strong, and pretty clear. And for anyone who missed it, another tipoff might be that the show is called "Jackass."

When I was a kid, all my friends and I were fans of the TV show "Superman." We all wanted to be Superman. So we would all take a towel out of the linen closet, tie it around our neck as a Superman cape, and go jump off things. The higher the thing we jumped off of was, the longer we would fly like Superman.

In my neighborhood, the place to do the Superman stunt was the one-story parking garage behind our apartment building. We would meet there regularly and jump off of that. One day, one of my friends -- clearly affected by the peanut butter and kryptonite sandwich he had for lunch -- jumped off the garage, landed wrong, and broke his leg.

Should he have sued the producers of "Superman" for influencing him to act this way?

Of course not. As I recall, the rest of us were back up there the next day, because we all knew what the problem was -- our friend simply didn’t know how to be Superman as well as we did!

Many years later, Evel Knievel was featured regularly on ABC’s "Wide World Of Sports," doing his motorcycle jumps across rows of school buses and through flaming hoops. I once saw him set a world record by jumping over all the teeth of the Osmond family which, when lined up, measured over 200 yards.

Thousands of kids all across America were soon building little ramps to jump their bicycles over. Many of them slipped, crashed, and at a minimum ended up soaking scraped elbows and knees in a bathtub full of Bactine.

Should they have sued Evel Knievel? Of course not.

We chose to take these risks because that’s what kids do. We also knew that we were responsible for the consequences of our actions.

The same is true for Jason. Yes, he knows it. He told his father, "I messed up."

I think his father knows it, too. But the tragic site of his kid lying in the burn ward has kept him from turning the spotlight of responsibility around and shining it on himself. After all, isn’t Dad responsible for letting his kid watch this show, or at the very least, not teaching him the horrible outcome of the flame plus flesh equation?

If this one ever gets to court -- and it better not! -- all the MTV attorney has to do is get up in front of the jury and say, "Ladies and gentlemen, the show is called JACKASS!!!!!"

The defense rests.

Sunday, January 21, 2001

Dubya's 40,000 Points of Light

We have a new President, and we have two new Hot Chicks of Washington. Dubya’s twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, have replaced The Gore Girls at the top of the Capital Cuties list.

One of them, Jenna, was dancing with Dad Dubya at an inaugural ball Saturday night when we almost had our first Bush Administration Scandalous Moment. You see, Jenna was wearing a strapless dress, and when The New Prez lifted his daughter’s arm to spin her around, she had to reach up and quickly grab the dress before her breast popped out!

Somewhere in Chappaqua, Bill Clinton’s radar took notice.

Why do we make such a fuss over the inauguration of our President? In effect, we’re celebrating that a man got a new job. Dubya’s inaugural cost $33,000,000, of which twelve million were public dollars -- that’s your tax money and mine. Just so you know this is not a partisan complaint, the inaugural for new Missouri Governor Bob Holden cost over ten million dollars, of which a mil came out of the people’s wallets. What was the last time you got a new job and everyone threw a party for you –at public expense, no less?

The rest of the money, of course, comes from corporate contributions. You don’t suppose they might want something in return for their donations, do you?

Speaking of the corporate connection, there was a full-page ad in Friday’s USA Today that read (and this is verbatim -- I haven’t made up a word): "Turn on light. Make America feel safe and secure. If only Presidents had it so easy. Mag-Lite is proud to contribute 40,000 commemorative flashlights to those attending the Inaugural celebration. Mag-Lite. The designated flashlight of the 2001 Presidential Inauguration."

If they had to give away 40,000 flashlights, perhaps a better idea would have been to send them to California, where residents are dealing with rolling blackouts. They would put the Mag-Lites to a practical use.

"Mag-Lite, the designated flashlight of deregulated electric utilities on the brink of bankruptcy everywhere!"

That’s what we have come to. Commercial sponsorships of the Presidential inauguration, as if it’s the Olympics. Why not go all the way, and follow the lead of every stadium and sports arena in the country? Welcome to The ExxonMobil White House.

On the other hand, that would allow our elected officials to drop the pretense of calling it "The People’s House." Yeah, sure it is. Try dropping by The White House sometime unannounced and walking right in. You’ll be about as welcome as John Ashcroft at a NARAL meeting.

And while we’re at it, let’s really sell out...
"Lincoln-Continental, the official bulletproof motorcade car of the Secret Service!"
"Waterproof gear for the dignitaries in the stands provided by the rainwear store, Pancho Villa!"
"The oath of office is brought to you by MegaMemory tapes, because you should be able to remember 35 simple words!"
"Strom Thurmond’s erection brought to you by Extra Strength Viagra!"
"Jesse Jackson’s out-of-wedlock child support checks provided by CitiBank!"

Now that I’ve dropped Jesse’s name, I see that some of his supporters are claiming that the release of the news of his love child is nothing more than dirty politics. They question the timing because Jesse was planning protests this weekend to coincide with Dubya’s inauguration. That implies that there would have been a better time for this embarrassing news to come out. It also assumes that there has ever been a time when Jesse wasn’t about to hold a protest about something.

I’m surprised he didn’t have a picket line going outside the headquarters of Trojan, blaming their failure for making her pregnant. But you do have to give him credit. When confronted with the story, he didn’t deny it and he didn’t cover it up. Instead, he changed the mission statement of Operation Push, so it’s no longer about civil rights. It’s now about La Maze classes.

Breathe, Jesse, breathe. And for goodness sake, stay out the Bushes.

Tuesday, January 02, 2001

How Old Is Dick Clark's Lang Syne?

Once again I have missed out on the excitement that is New Year’s Eve.

All over the country, there are massive celebrations of the arrival of a new calendar page. Most famous, of course, is the one in Times Square, where tens of thousands of people gather to watch the giant ball drop. You’ll never see me there.

I’m much more comfortable watching the event on TV in my living room, which I know will be warm and measurably closer to an available bathroom. There’s zero chance that anyone at my house will be wearing plastic eyeglasses in the shape of the new year.

There’s even less chance that I’ll be killed by one of those stray bullets falling from the sky – the ones put there by idiots who celebrate by going outside and shooting their guns straight up. That’s a blatant flaunting of the law. No, not the Second Amendment. I refer to The Law Of Gravity! You think I’m kidding? Ask the two dead guys in California and the couple of hundred in the Philippines, all killed when bullets entered their heads from above, an angle rarely seen outside of firing squads that make their victims bend over.

The problem with observing the arrival of the New Year on TV here in St. Louis on Sunday night was that the local television stations ran the Times Square happenings on tape delay! So when Dick Clark counted down to the big moment on the local ABC station, we Central Time Zoners were watching something that had already occurred an hour earlier!

Do they think we can’t grasp the chronological concept? By the time we saw the magic midnight moment on tape, Dick had long ago returned to his hyperbaric anti-aging chamber, only to be awakened in the event of an emergency "Bloopers" special. Happy new year deja vu!

Truth be told, Dick does achieve something amazing with his "Rockin’ New Year’s Eve" show every December 31st. Because it spans not only time zones but also the calendar cusp, it manages to be among the lamest television programs of two different years at the same time. Not that Dick doesn’t do a fine job from his vantage point on Broadway. That whole job of counting backwards from 60 and complimenting the Mayor and the police department on the fine job they’ve done has got to be challenging.

No, it’s the rest of the show that sets new standards for bland entertainment -- the part that was pre-recorded in Hollywood sometime in October with a roomful of Californians who seem to have broken into Robert Downey Jr.’s happy-pill cabinet, dancing to lip-synched pop songs that are so tame even Radio Disney won’t play them.

Why didn’t any of the networks provide coverage of a New Year’s Eve event somewhere in the midwest for those of us in the central time zone? Surely, there was something camera-worthy happening in Chicago, Kansas City, Memphis, Dallas, Houston, or some other CT city.

You may wonder why I didn’t suggest they broadcast our St. Louis ball drop on New Year’s Eve. That’s because our ball drop happened on Saturday afternoon -- when Az Hakim muffed the punt return. That was one dropped ball too many for us Rams fans.

Maybe we can get the local ABC station to run last year’s Super Bowl on tape so we think we won again! Quick, get Dick Clark on the phone.