Americans have recently been indulging in the theater of disgust. We have an insatiable appetite for public humiliation and voyeuristic violence of Roman proportions, resulting in shows like Fear Factor and Jackass. We've emotionally crucified the King of Pop, made smoothies out of African hissing beetles and pitted teenage boys against each other in barbed-wire wrestling rings. Where can we possibly go from here?
I suppose we have two options. We can venture up to the pinnacle of entertainment, or we can plummet straight down to the fiery depths of indecency (depending on which side of the argument you're on). To fuel the fire, a steaming pile of recent new releases holds a DVD from Tenacious D, The Complete Masterworks; from filth-rapper Necro, Sexy Sluts: Been There Done That; and even wheezy Jackass alum Steve-O, Volume III: Out On Bail. All three "artists" incorporate sex, violence, humor and more bodily fluids than any target demographic should consume on a given day. All bear "Explicit Content" labels, and yet none demand to be taken seriously.
Needless to say, I was highly entertained, and I'm more likely to be offended by Fran Drescher's new Gap commercial than by a rapper with the balls to give a "shout-out to Saddam." I am, after all, a young man in modern America, and therefore a member of perhaps the most sought-after (and most desensitized) audience in the history of human culture.
Many of the disgusting and violent programs popular today thrive on "shock value" and free speech debates. There has traditionally been a line drawn between high art and shameful delinquency. But if Steve-O has anything to do with it, that line will be snorted, partially digested and vomited into oblivion. Steve-O's Volume III: Out On Bail is the usual mayhem from the most daring and least photogenic former Jackass member. On tour, he is repeatedly choked to unconsciousness. Onstage, he declares his own immortality, lights himself on fire, and does a front flip. The stunts are fun, but Steve-O's relentlessly annoying persona gets a little grating (his motto is "Yeah, dude").
The bonus disc, titled PCP Saved My Life, is the only time Steve-O lets his emotional guard down, revealing an embarrassing, drug-induced stint of insecurity and idiotic spirituality. When you see him demand that his fans reassure him that he's cool, the plot finally starts to thicken. The fact that Steve-O was willing to release such mortifying footage is yet another testament to his bravery.
Although Jackass owes an enormous debt to shows like Trigger Happy TV and countless skate videos (specifically Bam Margera's frenetic, hilarious CKY series), the show seems to be to blame for much of the current trend of public slapstick/humiliation programs. Jackass spin-off shows -- including Wildboyz and Viva La Bam -- make up MTV's popular Sunday lineup, along with Punk'd, the celebrity ambush show that relies on the same type of public pranks and voyeuristic embarrassment.
This batch of shows -- erroneously dubbed the "Sunday Stew" -- does so well that it often reruns on several other days of the week. Some of this year's fattest paychecks have surely gone to television stuntmen and the lawyers who represent them (with the possible exception of the paychecks headed for several spoiled young heiresses who we have doomed to further spoil).
Even the music industry has become a sarcastic caricature of itself. British throwback metal band the Darkness has managed to summon an enormous buzz from the rhetorical question of whether or not they are serious. Comedian Jack Black's Tenacious D is a satirical rock band whose central premise is that its members sold their souls to the devil in exchange for the ability to rock. On their recently released DVD, The Complete Masterworks, the D performs hilariously foul hits like "Fuck Her Gently." The band's videos are well done, but the songs don't warrant the dull stage performances that are also included on the DVD. Most Tenacious D songs, like the standout tune "Karate," are funniest the first time around.
Also included are the band's short films, all fueled by the deadpan mania of front man Black. The D's most vile skit, titled "Butt Baby," features band member Kyle Gass messily shitting out a baby into the arms of Jack Black. It caused me to groan in disgust, but the truth is it probably just wasn't funny enough to validate its filth. But if an anal birth was not bad enough, along comes a Brooklyn rap deviant named Necro. Like a mad scientist of bad taste, this goon has bred a demented hybrid of rap music and pornographic film.
Necro's new CD and porn DVD double offering portrays him as a homicidal, bondage-obsessed sexual predator. He follows in the trend of crazy white guys (Cage, R. A. the Rugged Man) that have gained notoriety even further to the left of Eminem.
Necro's pornographic directorial debut, Sexy Sluts: Been There Done That, is the sad possessor of the least creative porn title of all time (I guess it's tough when you have competition like Look What I Found in the Street). The porn melds Necro's ridiculous music with graphic sex, gyrating women, and a couple of equally ridiculous narrators. The result is mildly funny at its best, and extremely boring at its worst.
Necro's new cd, Brutality Part 1, suffers a similarly disappointing fate. It's a tired retread of songs he's already written. If you have a love of rugged rap and a really daring sense of humor, you will probably be capable of enjoying some of the dark beats and clever verses that Necro has served up in the past (peep the ludicrous track "Bury You With Satan" off his record Gory Days).
But just when Necro was about to lose my attention, I watched his "White Slavery" video that is included on the Sexy Sluts DVD. Above all of the aforementioned artistic works, this video is the ugliest and most reckless. To even those with a fierce anti-censorship stance, this video may appear to be a cesspool of hatred and insecurity beneath a very thin veil of artistry. Not that its creator would deny that.
Necro is sadistic, he's absurd and he raps with a goofy lisp that somehow takes the edge off of most of the sleaze. Some would argue that there's simply no way to justify the image of Necro suited up in a leather mask, eating cheap Mexican food off of the back of a naked woman that he's using for a table. If censorship advocates C. Delores Tucker and Tipper Gore were mad about Body Count's "Cop Killer," I can only imagine what they'd think of Necro. When N.W.A. said "Fuck tha Police" it may have been shocking, but at least they didn't mean it literally.
If the juggernaut of American culture continues to proceed along its current trajectory, the future may be bleak. Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch will be the site of the next Waco (can we cut to the chase with him already?). Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen will be the stars of the first interactive pornographic virtual reality video game (co-starring Necro as the steed). By the year 2050, our president will be a cyborg who is elected (aka publicized) into politics after successful careers in bodybuilding and Hollywood films. But can we handle so many years of reality television, mega-advertising, and celebrity deification? Isn't our generation just one big trend that's doomed to fizzle out and give way to the next?
Again, we have two choices. We can work toward a cultural revolution, which would bring television media back to scripted programming (remember all that eloquent dialogue in Full House?). Or we can indulge our instinct for decadence and live out our first amendment rights to their fullest extent. Perhaps Jim Morrison was right to glorify the William Blake quote "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." Let's push entertainment to its most shocking boundaries and see if we can cultivate some glorious disasters along the way. My hope is that we will exercise our freedom of speech to such a deafening volume that the only revolution left will be peace and quiet.