Sunday, February 18, 2001

Real jackasses are MTV programmers

        Getting zapped from wearing an electronic dog collar . . .

        Riding a child's big wheel bike into the street in front of cars . . .

        Putting dog poop into a meal served in a restaurant . . .

        Being shot by a crossbow, or getting kicked in the crotch repeatedly . . .

        These aren't my ideas of a great time, funny stunts nor a good TV show. But for millions of teens, they are.

        These acts are performed by Johnny Knoxville and his pals on Jackass, MTV's highest-rated entertainment series for its core audience, ages

        Have you seen it? Have your kids watched Jackass?

Despite warnings

        It's hard to miss Jackass, despite the TV-MA rating declaring it “specifically designed to be viewed by adults, and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17.”

        Jackass has aired in the past month at 2-5 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Sunday; at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday; and 8:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.

        A second season premieres at 9 p.m. today, its regular time slot. MTV promises that the “bumbling cast of idiots . . . (will) play with poo and dress in a variety of men's undergarments.”

        Mr. Knoxville, whose real name is P.J. Clapp, also will be kicked in the crotch repeatedly by kids, according to a clip seen at the Television Critics Association press tour last month.

        Kicked in the crotch — that's how I feel about Jackass and MTV:

        First of all, let me say that I'm not in favor of censorship. If adults want to watch a Jackass injuring himself by trying to jump a concrete river channel on roller skates, or ski jumping into a tree, that's fine with me.

        Even the recklessly dangerous Jackass stunts have a place in the modern TV universe with Comedy Central's crude South Park, HBO's explicit Real Sex or the Jerry Springer show.

        But it is wrong for MTV to rate the show TV-MA under the Parental TV Guidelines and then air it when impressionable young viewers may be watching.

        It is irresponsible to air it in the afternoon, even with repeated warnings saying:

        “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 re-create or perform anything you have seen on this show.”

        MTV folks can smugly say: “Hey, we warned them! It's not our fault!”

        Here's the thing for parents to remember: The content rating system is called the PARENTAL TV Guidelines.

        Parents can't abdicate their responsibility to watch what their kids are watching. Jackass proves once again that the networks can't be trusted.

        Didn't MTV programmers learn anything from Beavis and Butt-head?

        In 1993, MTV moved the cartoon to 10:30 p.m. after Jessica Burk of Moraine, Ohio, blamed the show for the death of her 2-year-old daughter. Her 5-year-old son burned down their home after watching Beavis and Butt-head playing with fire.

        Last month a 13-year-old Connecticut boy was hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns after copying a Jackass stunt by pouring gasoline on his feet and legs. MTV's Jackass had one slight advantage: Mr. Knoxville was wearing a fire-resistant suit when torched.

        How many more kids must be hurt before MTV moves Jackass until 10:30 p.m. or later?

Show the precautions

        MTV should force Jackass producers to show safety precautions taken on the series.

        “What you don't see in the show is that there are a lot of people watching out for his safety,” explained Brian Graden, MTV's president of programming.

        “If we do anything involving fire or jumps, there are OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) people and whatnot. There are lots of stunt professionals,” Mr. Graden said.

        To their credit, Jackass producers show Mr. Knoxville writhing in pain when he's hurt. One episode followed him to the hospital after he sprained his ankle trying to jump a concrete river channel on roller skates. He appeared in another on crutches after the accident.

        “You see him go through the pain, because we want the audience to know: "Look, these guys are professionals. They're Jackasses. And if you're even thinking about this stuff, this is what can happen to you without professionals around.' ”

        This is what happens when MTV professionals are around:

        They put on a show making cult heros out of global village idiots being pushed down a flight of stairs in a laundry basket . . . being hurled from a shopping cart into bushes . . . getting zapped by an electronic dog collar . . . leaping into a plastic pool full of elephant dung . . . or complaining to a waitress after slipping dog poop onto their restaurant plate.

        They show a kid running into an intersection and knocking a skateboarder off his wheels, onto his butt, in the middle of the street.

        They show some guy riding a child's plastic big wheel bike into the street in front of a car — and let you hear the camera operators laugh at the prank.

        This is not what I want my kids to see. I don't want them trying to emulate these punk video shock jocks, or even thinking that this junk qualifies as TV comedy.

        Am I being a jackass about this?

        Maybe I'm showing my age, just two years shy of passing beyond TV's coveted 18-49 demographic.

        But it's my house. My TV. And most important of all, my kids.

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