Tuesday, May 30, 2006

COLUMN: Shock & Awful

Every morning, I've got a ritual. I wake up, drag myself out of bed, plop in front of the computer, and quickly skim the major news websites as my brain slowly hits the "on" switch. Today was no different. I logged on, hit the first of my bookmarked sites, and waited for the top story to pull up.

What was it going to be? Iraq, I figured. Or maybe oil price projections. Could be that one politician who they nailed for bribery. Hurricane forecasts were being released this week, too - it wouldn't have surprised me if that got top billing.

Nope. Instead, our nation's premiere news story involved Madonna being crucified on a 14 foot tall mirrored cross. Apparantly, that's how the Material Girl's kicking off her new tour, riding onstage via a disco sacrilege. Now, I suppose there's a list of acceptable reactions here. Repulsion, shock, anger... even applause if you're one of those freedom-of-expression types.

Me? I just shrugged and kept skimming.

Is this really what our society has turned into? Have we now reached a point where Madonna can desecrate one of the world's most sacred religious icons while we just go, "Heh, that crazy Madge, at it again!" Don't take this the wrong way, but seriously, sometimes it's no wonder that there are cultures out there who want to blow us up.

And no, I'm not some kind of religious zealot. In fact, I'm one of those freedom-of-expression types. Madonna could come onstage naked on a donkey handing out cotton candy and Kaballah strings to the first 5 rows and I'd just go, "Eh, whatever." But that's our society's problem. There's just too much shock-and-awe lately. It seems like each new thing has to be BIGGER and LOUDER and MORE PROVOCATIVE than the last, and frankly, the whole thing's just a little passe`.

If Madonna REALLY wanted to shock me, she should come onstage in an evening gown and just sing. Personally, I'd be floored.

Instead, we're stuck in this rut where we just try to out-outrageous the next guy, and it's really kind of laughable. How did we reach this phase? Me, I'm putting all the blame on "Fear Factor." The moment that watching some guy eat a plate of cow testicles became prime-time entertainment, we as a people collectively jumped the shark.

Back in the day, a TV show involving a terrorist threat would have been captivating entertainment. Now, we've got shows like "24" where, within the fictional course of ONE DAY, poor Jack Bauer has to fight MULTIPLE terrorist threats, a Presidential assassination, a corrupt government, many guys with many guns, and, incredulously on this year's season finale, what appeared to be CHINESE NINJAS.

And now our culture has shocked even ME. Yes, a new entry to our television horizons actually caused me to sit open-mouthed in disbelief. Have you heard about "JUICED!" yet? You're going to think that I'm making this up - I'm not.

It's a pay-per-view only special that plays out sort of like "Candid Camera" or, more closely, MTV's "Punk'd." Like those, the show features innocent people turned into the victims of practical jokes. The thing is, though, on "Juiced!," you get jokes played on you... by O.J. SIMPSON!

In one scene sent to media, O.J. (dressed as himself,) takes a bullet-riddled, fake blood-stained white Bronco to a used car dealership and tries to sell it while using lines like, "Oh, it's real fast - it helped me get away!" The innocent victims, I can only hope, cower in fear until O.J. leaves -- but not before hearing him utter his new trademark line, "YOU GOT JUICED!"

I keep trying to put myself into one of these poor people's shoes. If someone played one of these high budget practical jokes on me, I'd probably become afraid, embarassed, jittery, and awkward all at once. But then, after the relief hits once the cat's out of the bag, suddenly out of nowhere O.J. Simpson leaps out from behind a tree screaming, "YOU GOT JUICED!" I, for one, would probably (a) wet myself, and (b) run. Quite possibly at the same time, in fact.

What producer on Earth would green-light such a project? O.J. Simpson doesn't need practical jokes to scare people; O.J. Simpson does a good enough job just scaring people ON HIS OWN. You want a good TV show? Just make O.J. walk down a street and film people's horrified expressions as he walks by.

Some people are hopelessly stupid; the masterminds behind "Juiced!" fall into that category. We've blurred the line between "shock and awe" and just plain shockingly awful. I say it's time for those responsible to be dealt a punishment that'll have a lasting impact: let's give 'em front row seats to the Madonna tour.

Meanwhile, there MAY be hope for humanity yet: "Fear Factor" just got cancelled.


Wendy said...

Your mornings sound like mine. Of course, it doesn't help that my computer is in my bedroom either.

I have to admit that Madonna's "crucifixion" bothers me somewhat. But, whether I find it bothersome or not, doesn't matter. She can choose to express herself however she wishes, as is her (and everyone else's) right. I think it's more of a ploy to drum up media attention than anything else and it'll work because some people will make a loud noise about it.

What's really sad is that this country has to be shocked-and-awed into action.

I think "Fear Factor" was just plain sick. But not as sick as the people willing to do things like eat cow testicles and for what, $10,000? I'm glad to hear it's been cancelled, but I'm afraid something just as disgusting or even more disgusting will come along and take its place.

And as far as "Juiced!" goes - shudder.

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