Survival of the fittest

By Tyler Vincent

The “monkey-see, monkey do” relationship that some folks have with television, has taken a dangerous turn in recent weeks, and it all revolves around an MTV show about a group of people making fools of themselves.

The show is called “Jackass,” and its motley crew cast, which includes a professional skateboarder, an ex-circus clown, a midget and a guy that makes his living getting hurt, share their bizarre and unsettling tactics every Sunday.

The group engages in such diverse escapades as swimming in a sewage tank, testing the strength of a jock strap while one of them wears it and performing sexual acts on a Tiger Shark.

It is, in short, everything that would make Newt Minnow, who referred to television as a “vast wasteland,” jump out of his grave and scream that he was right.

Although the show comes equipped with disclaimers with such comments as, “MTV and the producers must insist that no one attempt to recreate or re-enact any stunt or activity performed on this show,” and “MTV insists that our viewers do not send in any home footage of themselves or others being jackasses. We will not open or view any submissions, so don’t waste your time,” the show has drawn the inevitable copycat artists.

According to an April 20 Associated Press article, an 11-year-old Connecticut boy suffered second-degree burns when he set an engine-degreaser doused rag, which was wrapped around his leg, on fire in an attempt to imitate a stunt performed on the show. An AP article from Thursday said a 19-year-old Minnesota man attempted to imitate the show by stopping traffic via running around with a chainsaw while dressed in a hospital gown.

The most serious of these incidents occurred April 22 when a 16-year-old Kentucky boy broke his leg while attempting to jump on and over a moving car.

The pressure from the “powers that be” in both the corporate and governmental realms are growing. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) is using “Jackass” and shows like it to mount his first entertainment cleansing campaign since his failed run on the Gore ticket. Reebok announced Friday that it would pull an ad slated to run during ABC’s “Survivor” featuring NBA star Steve Francis leaping over a car.

“We don’t want to be seen as encouraging any kind of this behavior,” said John Wardley, a spokesman for the shoe company in AP story from Friday.

MTV repeatedly has expressed horror and denied responsibility for the recent incidents, while the show “Jackass” has become a disclaimer.

Sunday night’s telecast of the show included a 10-minute interview of “Jackass” host Johnny Knoxville by Chris Connelly of MTV news for express purposes of begging the audience not to copy them, in addition to the usual disclaimer/warning messages from MTV that were shown multiple times over the course of the half hour.

So what is MTV supposed to do?

Shouldn’t it be obvious to those watching that being hit with the full pressure of a firehose or being covered in meat and roasted on a grill for a stunt called “The Human Barbeque,” is not a stunt that should be done on lazy afternoons after school?

Of course not, because the central root of the problem with these “Jackass” incidents is not something that is addressed in a disclaimer.

The problem is one that has been a recurring theme with Americans and their choice of entertainment for the last two decades. Some people no longer are satisfied by simply watching events or entertainment in the various media outlets. Therefore, the select few must achieve completion by placing themselves in the act or creating something as close to it as possible.

Remember Lionel Tate, the 14-year-old boy who was sentenced to life in prison by a Florida Grand Jury in March? Tate, an avid fan of professional wrestlers such as “The Rock” and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, brutally murdered a six-year-old girl when he was 12 by imitating the wrestling moves he saw on various WWF broadcasts.

Or what about the aftermath of Columbine that inspired some students to make “kill lists,” let alone inspiring other school shootings by similar disaffected youths who wanted to follow the Klebold-Harris cure for pain?

The “Jackass” incidents are nothing new. They are only one piece of the long complex puzzle that is America and its entertainment, and no amount of begging, pleading or disclaimers trumpeting viewers not to send in submissions will stop it.

The fulfillment is too great.

And besides that, who knows? Maybe they will look at that tape of them taking a dip in a swimming pool filled with their friends’ barracudas even though the show told them more than five times per half-hour episode that they shouldn’t.