I’m really, really, tired of talking about Survivor. And I’m sure you’re very, very tired of hearing about it. Regardless, this damned ratings behemoth keeps creating controversy that can’t be ignored. Most of it is due to the astounding arrogance of creator and producer Mark Burnett, who is quickly earning the dishonor of being the sleaziest guy in showbiz. And in Hollywood that’s saying a lot. Whether in response to a questionable pig slaying or to one of the show’s contestants illegally taking coral from a national wildlife preserve, Burnett steps up and offers glib apologies or excuses. But two weeks ago, the CBS network and the other producers of Survivor stepped way over the line: They sued Fox’s Boot Camp for stealing the idea for their show.
The fact that anyone would want to claim responsibility for the idea of Survivor is incomprehensible to me. Even more flabbergasting, these people act as if the concept were so precious as to be untouchable, and they’re actually proud of the demonswell of reality TV they have unleashed on us.
You have to give Burnett and CBS credit, though. They truly live up to the philosophy of their show: When there’s money involved, no move can be considered too cutthroat. Perhaps unbeknownst to us, Survivor has all along been a training program for future television network producers and executives.
Still, the thing that bothers me about this lawsuit is the assumption that this concept is somehow sacred. If everyone involved in any sort of creative endeavor could copyright a basic concept, then you could kiss most every form of artistic expression goodbye. Very little art, music, or entertainment is born of 100-percent personal invention: Everyone derives inspiration from something else, or uses something he admires as a framework. It’s what the creator brings to the idea that distinguishes it. If Fox had merely set a game show on a desert island, renamed immunity challenges “omnipotence awards,” called tribal votes “beheadings,” and titled the show Subsisting, then maybe CBS would have good reason to sue.
Television is a notoriously imitative medium, and you’re lucky to catch a program that’s only been copied once. Just ask the creators of Friends. What’s more, Burnett and CBS should realize that imitators rarely ever experience the same sort of success as the original. Not one of the singles-living-in-New-York sitcoms that sprouted up in the wake of Friends is around today. I’ve seen about an episode-and-a-half of Boot Camp, and I think litigation is hardly necessary to grind this show to a haltthat’ll happen on its own. Unfortunately in this situation, as usual, the imitation only serves to make the original look better.
Last week an 11-year-old boy in Hartford, Conn., allowed one of his friends to douse his pants with gasoline and put a lighted match to them. Reportedly, the kid was trying to imitate a stunt he had seen on MTV’s Jackass. This is the second time such an incident has happened this year. A couple of months ago, a 13-year-old in Torrington, Conn., attempted something similar. When it happened last time, Sen. Joe Lieberman leaped high upon his stallion to try and force MTV to cancel the show. MTV expressed regret and pointed out that several times during the show’s airing, warnings are posted to explain that these are stupid stunts performed by morons; the network also promised to start airing the show at a later hour, which it did.
Now after this second incident, I’m sure that Lieberman and others will have bees in their bonnets yet again. But I’d like to take a moment and suggest that they slow down, breathe, and get a collective grip on reality.
If you’ve never seen Jackass, let me explain it to you. It’s rather simple, really: Several obnoxious skate punks and random misfits perform stupid stunts and pranks. Highlights include being turned upside-down in a porta-potty, kayaking down the steps of public buildings, and sitting in grocery carts while others push you as fast as possible toward a curb. Some of the stunts are more ambitious, such as the supposedly imitated stunt wherein the ringleader of this band of jackasses, Johnny Knoxville, allowed a professional stuntperson to outfit him in a fire-resistant suit and set him on fire. After a couple of seconds, he was doused by fire extinguishers.
Usually after most stunts, someone is in pain groaning or screaming while his friends stand around and laugh before taking him to the hospital. For the pubescent boy, that’s called male bonding. Now, as a former teenage male, let me make it clear that it is a virtual guarantee that teenage boys will do some dumb, dumb things. I’d argue that it’s a rite of passage every male goes through from about the age of 6 to, oh, 22. I think it’s some sort of subconscious attempt on our part to test mortality. I did some incredibly stupid things as a kid, and I didn’t need any television show to egg me on. Walking on hot coals, leaping my junky car over hills at high speeds, eating disgustingly inedible mixtures of cafeteria foodsI did my share.
That said, I am positive that I never, ever, EVER would have allowed someone to douse me in gasoline and light me on fire. I may have been foolhardy, but in no way would I have been incognizant of the fact that a gasoline fire poses a major risk to my immediate health. Therefore, I can only draw two possible conclusions from these recent incidents: There’s something in Connecticut’s water supply leading to the breeding of morons, or these are two isolated incidents of people who are simply morons of their own accord.
I know we love to sanctify the kids here in this country, and I’m sorry for the pain this incident caused for two families. The brutal truth, though, is that some people just turn out stupid. If you don’t believe me, turn back a page and read “News of the Weird.” Believe me, several times over the past couple of years, I’ve come very close to giving up faith in America’s youth. All the same, I’m not prepared to write off our entire under-18 population yet, and I don’t believe that they’re inclined to set themselves on fire just because they saw it on TV. That’s the difference between me and Joe Lieberman: A part of me actually believes in the kids. Like The Who said, they’re all right.
Zombies walk among us!
Last week, in a bit on NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, I mentioned an interview with Tip O’Neill I had seen recently on the program. A rather industrious and, might I add, quite smug reader wrote this week to remind us that Mr. O’Neill is in fact quite deadseven years dead, to be exact. Thinking I had lost my cotton-picking mind, I called my wife, who had been watching the program with me, and she assured me that it was in fact Tip O’Neill we’d seenI had just failed to notice that the interview was an old one conducted prior to his death.
So kudos to the reader for catching the mistake, and my deepest apologies to the O’Neill family if I caused them to believe there’d been an unexpected and dramatic change in Tip’s condition.
“Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief. All kill for inspiration and sing about their grief.”
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Previous week’s answer: Joe Pantoliano as Guido the Killer Pimp in Risky Business.
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