Monday, May 14, 2007
The Clean Air Act
One of the most unintentionally hysterical movie lines in history comes courtesy of that classic Tom Cruise vehicle Top Gun. Not only does the film stand as irrefutable proof that Cruise is not, in fact, gayer than Carson Kressley blowing himself, it also gave us this little gem of Hollywood screenwriting brilliance:
As Tom Cruise's character prepares to fly his hard, phallic F-14 within spitting distance of the skyward-jutting, phallic control tower, he's warned by his radar-man "Goose" -- played by Anthony Edwards -- that his actions are unauthorized and therefore a bad idea.
"Uh, you can't do that Maverick," says Goose.
Right -- because if you do, they'll, uh well, change your name to something that doesn't suggest an impetuous willingness to ignore orders.
This is what I think of whenever I hear the following words come out of a news anchor's mouth or see them splashed across a front page: "Shock Jock (fill-in name) is in big trouble today for (fill-in something offensive said or done on-air)."
Obviously, this particular brand of disengenuous outrage has received plenty of attention lately thanks to the whole Don Imus fiasco; in fact, Imus himself is now fighting for the money remaining in his canceled CBS contract by asserting that his bosses indeed knew exactly what they were in for when they put him on the air in the first place.
They don't call them Shock Jocks because they have issues with static electricity.
Which brings us to Opie and Anthony.
When I made the decision to leave New York City about four years ago (this is my second tour-of-duty in Gotham) one of the features of life here that I knew I'd miss the most was the Opie & Anthony show. At that time, it was on WNEW FM and was a staple of my weekday afternoon. It was rude, offensive, juvenile -- and the funniest goddamned thing on the air. When O & A were finally banished by a torch wielding mob for staging an on-air stunt in which a couple had sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral -- which was hilarious by the way -- I figured they'd remain radioactive for at least a good five years.
Then they turned up on XM Satellite Radio, and I rejoiced; the gloves were off.
Since then, Opie & Anthony have actually managed to steer clear of any real controversy. Their show remains funny, and at times surprisingly insightful. They've even managed to get a watered-down version of it simulcasted on terrestrial radio.
But it was only a matter of time.
Now, once again, the usual suspects are screaming for the heads of O & A.
The offense this time: why, nothing less than suborning the rape of our own beloved Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice (cue the gasps).
Basically, during their show last Thursday, a guy known as Homeless Charlie went on a minute-long rant about how he'd "love to fuck that bitch," (that would be Condi), how he also wanted to do the same to Laura Bush, and how the Queen of England shouldn't have been allowed into the U.S. because she has a horse-face and was on the losing side of the Revolutionary War to begin with.
It was admittedly only funny for its audacity in skewering such sacred authority figures; I'm always a fan of that. Needless to say though, you could've counted the seconds before the mushroom cloud of bullshit outrage appeared on the horizon. By Thursday afternoon, the line of perpetually aggrieved stretched around the block, ready to once again grab a collective torch and demand mob justice. Al Sharpton -- who, it should be noted, was also one of the targets of Homeless Charlie's venom -- decried the remarks as ugly and hurtful, but stopped short of again demanding the outright censorship of a nationally-broadcasted radio show; the cynical might point out that in this case, while Opie & Anthony are white -- traditionally, Sharpton's favorite straw men -- Charlie himself is black, and therefore in possession of a genetic get-out-of-jail-free card as far as Big Al is concerned.
Those who truly do spout arguably dangerous and occasionally outright false invective over the airwaves were also happy to assume the laughable position of moral authority and join in the pile-on. Vaudevillian buffoons like Glenn Beck and Neal Boortz did somersaults of logic in an attempt to have it both ways -- blaming the rise of such "garbage" on the time-honored boogeyman of leftist moral-relativism while at the same time wrapping their own on-air race-baiting and fear-mongering in the comfortable cloak of the American flag; the argument against such nonsense, all but bulletproof: Opie & Anthony do comedy, Beck and Boortz don't -- at least not intentionally.
For anyone who wondered quietly if the unnecessary firing of Don Imus and the surreal pandemonium which led to it would eventually create a dangerous chilling effect across our airwaves -- wonder no more; your worst fears have been realized. Those who successfully silenced a powerful voice in broadcasting -- dumb, but powerful -- have been emboldened by their victory. Now, like a kid with a new toy, the ones for whom even the slightest offense is unacceptable -- regardless of the context -- have declared themselves rulers of America's on-air sandbox.
What you find funny isn't important; if it offends someone, it simply cannot stand -- for the good of everyone.
Even if you've chosen to pay for the privilege of hearing adult language and, occasionally, juvenile comedy -- as those subjected to the offending Opie & Anthony bit had -- it doesn't matter.
If someone, anyone, is offended by it -- it has to go.
Within the past couple of days, CBS Radio -- in keeping with its proud tradition of willfully allowing its spine to go flaccid at even the slightest hint of pressure -- announced its decision to cancel The Dog House, with JV and Elvis. The reason: the show's hosts staged a prank phone call to a Chinese restaurant which infuriated the Asian-American community.
Jeanette Wang of the Organization of Chinese-Americans is already calling it a "victory... for all." I have a feeling that most of JV and Elvis's listeners don't feel that way.
Whether or not they, or Opie & Anthony, can genuinely be called "mavericks," I'm not quite sure -- but I know that the world would be a very boring, and in this case very frightening place, if everyone followed the rules.
(The Nth Degree -- 11.21.06)
(On the Offensive -- 10.15.06)