Youthful Jackass

By Jade Walker

 

For those of you who are startled by this column's headline, I promise to avoid sharing a rant on the Young Democrats club. Instead, let's discuss a genuine jackass.

Earlier this week, a 13-year-old boy in Connecticut set himself on fire -- purposely. He wasn't protesting a political action or committing suicide. He was just sitting at home, hanging out with a friend, when the two teens decided to watch an episode of "Jackass," an odd little show dedicated to showing people doing really stupid things.

On this particular episode, host Johnny Knoxville donned a fire-resistant suit with steaks attached to it. Then he laid down on a burning grill and allowed cast members to spray his suit with lighter fluid.

I'll bet you can already guess what happened next.

After watching the show, the teens decided to copy the act. In fact the boy, who would later receive second and third degree burns to his body, volunteered to reenact the stunt without wearing a fire-resistant suit. Now he's in the hospital and his buddy is in jail, charged with reckless endangerment.

MITIGATING FACTORS

These boys were not just entertained by the show, they felt personally encouraged by it. Something in them decided to copy it. Which, of course, leads the public (and politicians) to one insane conclusion.

Violence on television causes violence in real life.

Many entertaining outlets have been accused of the same crime. Professional wrestling, heavy metal music, role playing games, cartoons -- they all allegedly turn youths into suicidal or homicidal maniacs. It can't possibly be the fault of the children involved or (gasp) their caretakers.

AN EXAMPLE

Put 10 million children in front of a TV airing a Bugs Bunny cartoon. How many of them will then pick up a shotgun and blow away their kid sister while yelling, "Duck season!"? If even one kid does so, the fault still wouldn't lie with Warner Brothers. Why?

* Because the other 9,999,999 kids simply enjoyed the cartoon.

* Because that one kid had access to a gun.

* Because that one kid never learned that guns could kill.

* Because that one kid was never taught the difference between right and wrong.

* Because that kid's parents weren't around to see the idea come into his head, watch him find the gun, notice in horror that he already knew how to load it and then do something to stop him from blowing away his sibling.

WHO'S TO BLAME?

Entertainment sneaks into our homes, our cars, our books. In America, much of it is rated to help parents distinguish the suitability for younger viewers.

It is an easy scapegoat, but it is not responsible for raising our children.

MTV is also not responsible for the actions of this boy. Despite what Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) wants you to believe with his "let's ban everything except religious programming on TV campaign," MTV was simply providing entertainment in a responsible manner. The show has a TV-MA rating, which notes it is for mature audiences only, and continuously offers comments to viewers against stunt duplication.

Visit the MTV Web site and you'll see an additional warning: "Jackass features stunts performed by professionals and/or total idiots. In either case, MTV insists that neither you or any of your dumb little buddies attempt them."

So who's to blame? You decide.

Do these boys need letters from the public calling them idiots, saying things like, "If all of your friends decided to jump off a bridge..."? No. But this incident should certainly urge parents to talk to children, really talk to them. Parents, teachers, friends -- they can all encourage children to grow and learn in a positive manner.

In fact, if you know a kid who really feels the need to set himself on fire, don't ban Hollywood. Instead point him to California and suggest he seek a career in stunt training. The entertainment industry is always hiring.