`Jackass’: move it but don’t lose it

Mar 5, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The furor over “Jackass” copycat injuries proves the issue of media sleaze and violence won’t go away-and that stupidity will never be out of fashion.
A few weeks ago, a teen-ager was burned while he imitated the host of the MTV show, who set himself on fire with lighter fluid. More recently, another teen-ager broke the arm of a Taco Bell employee while trying to steal a food order at the restaurant’s drive-through window, also imitating a stunt on “Jackass.”
Predictably, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., called for the network to tone down the show or air it with stronger warnings and at a time when few kids are watching.
Hold on a minute.
Trying to prevent teen-agers from pulling stupid stunts is a 24-hour job, as weary parents can attest. And anyone who finds a way to force teens to watch only shows parents find acceptable would win a Nobel Peace Prize.
There is no way to make certain that all content is fit for teen-agers to watch. Teens will inevitably find something that they think is cool and that parents see as shocking.
But MTV can and should do one thing: move the show from its current 8 p.m. time slot to 10 p.m.
Critics such as Sen. Lieberman should remember that, like other products, television cannot be made idiot-proof. Airing warnings during silly stunts sounds a lot like a disclaimer advising people not to try to fly using a Superman costume.
The issue of the effects of media content is evergreen, and the problems won’t be solved anytime soon. Several decades ago, a Reader’s Digest article decried the baleful influence of “Perry Mason” when a baby-sitter killed a child after seeing the show. If the Three Stooges were still around, no doubt parents’ groups would call for a warning about Moe’s bullying and routines involving hardware and food.
Any government action would put the issue on a slippery slope. Does the government want to figure out what level of sex, violence and danger is appropriate for a certain age level? This calls to mind a Supreme Court justice’s definition of obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” We don’t want the issue of media sleaze and violence to be decided so subjectively.