Wednesday, April 25, 2001

MTV show gets blame for stunt

But friend says kids were just dumb

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        While the national media are pointing fingers at MTV's Jackass show for inspiring a dangerous stunt by three Independence teens, a boy who was with them says it was just a case of kids being stupid.

[photo] The video made by the boys shows the car hitting the teen ...
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[photo] ... then the teen lying injured on the street ...
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[photo] ... and damage to the car, which was traveling about 20 mph.
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        After school Monday, a 16-year-old boy allowed himself to be struck head-on by a 1983 Honda Civic driven by a teen-age friend while others videotaped from inside and outside the car. The tape shows him flung like a rag doll while the car travels an estimated speed of more than 20 mph.

        The 16-year-old is in the hospital with broken bones, and two of his friends are charged with felonies.

        Jackass, an MTV program that airs at 10 p.m. Sundays, is in its second season. Host Johnny Knoxville and the cast perform disgusting, outrageous and outlandish stunts, such as getting zapped by a dog collar or riding a child's toy into traffic. The show, which is aired with a warning not to try these things at home, is a ratings smash.

        “My friend (the teen-ager hit) doesn't even have cable,” 15-year-old Drew Janney said from his Independence home Tuesday. “He may have seen Jackass once or twice.”

        Drew, who called 911, said the stunt took place in front of his house on Sidney Drive, across from Simon Kenton High, where the boys attend.

        He said the stunt crossed the line, but it had nothing to do with Jackass.

        “It is wrong for people to sensationalize for media attention,” Drew said, referring to tabloid TV crews in town. “They have forgotten a boy is in the hospital in pain.”

        Drew said he participated in other, less dangerous stunts videotaped by the group, but not the one that injured his friend.

        The teen-ager and his family have received so many requests for interviews from programs of the likes of Extra! that they asked family friend and attorney Eric Deters to field all media inquiries.

Politicians' outcry
        Despite Drew's insistence that the stunt had nothing to do with Jackass, politicians as far away as Washington, D.C. — including Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman — have used it and direct copycats of Jackass to decry “shock television.”

        “These reports are troubling. Sen. Lieberman does not believe that MTV bears sole responsibility for these incidents. Still, kids are getting hurt,” Mr. Lieberman's communications director, Dan Gerstein, said Tuesday. The senator wrote to MTV and its parent, Viacom, following two incidents in which Connecticut boys were set on fire.

        Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson, who is up for re-election and expected to face Mr. Deters in the Republican primary,held a press conference Tuesday to announce he was putting MTV “on notice” and would investigate if there was any way to hold the cable network responsible.

        “In attempts to further shock and amaze viewers, these real-life television shows are doing nothing more than encouraging children to put their lives in jeopardy in attempt to gain recognition for incredibly stupid acts,” said Mr. Edmondson, who acknowledged that he had never watched the show, nor even heard of it, before Tuesday morning.

MTV defends programming
        A MTV spokeswoman wouldn't respond to Mr. Edmondson's comments, but she said there has never been a segment on Jackass like the one described by police and said the Northern Kentucky stunt is not a copycat.

        “MTV takes great care to air all of its programming in a responsible manner,” according to a written statement released by the network.

        Classmates of the two boys also said MTV isn't responsible.

        “They would have done it with or without the show,” said Danny Skidmore, 16, of Independence. “You can't stop jackasses from doing jackass things.”

        The principal of Simon Kenton also had not heard of the show Jackass before Tuesday morning, but it appeared to be hugely popular with students at the high school.

        “It's funny,” said Danny. “They do stupid things.” The five classmates he was with agreed.

        At a January press tour for TV critics, MTV programming president Brian Graden said Jackass was “the No. 1 rated entertainment program in all of basic cable as of this fall.”

        The show features Mr. Knoxville and his pals doing such things as: • Getting zapped from wearing an electronic dog collar.

        • Riding a child's Big Wheel bike into the street in front of cars.

        • Putting dog feces into a meal served in a restaurant.

        • Being shot with a crossbow.

        • Being kicked in the crotch repeatedly.

        “Kids have done stupid things that have gotten themselves in trouble for as long as anyone can remember,” said Douglas Rushkoff, who teaches media culture at New York University and reported on the trend for a recent Frontline documentary. “They simply have never had a multimillion industry supporting them in this endeavor.”

        He said what's different today is “the systematic ratcheting up of what TV producers would call "in-your-face' male antics as a way to capture channel surfers.”

        He said the ubiquity of this kind of imagery communicates to kids that a way to be a guy is to be a jackass.

        “It's very popular with young boys. We don't see 40 year-old-men pouring lighter fluid on themselves,” said Mr. Gerstein, the spokesman for Mr. Lieberman.

        Mr. Rushkoff's report is called “The Merchants of Cool” and chronicles how corporate America markets goods to teen-agers. The documentary features Jackass, including showing a scene from the show where men swim in waste at a sewage plant. The stunt was called “poop diving.”

        Mr. Rushkoff's Frontline segment about these programs will re-air May 1 on local PBS affiliates.

        Enquirer TV critic John Kiesewetter contributed to this report.

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