November 22, 2011


Ah, MTV. That bastion of integrity. The molder of minds. The universally accepted metric for that which is both normal and popular. I'd like to state from the jump that this is not going to be a "y dusent MTV play muzik nemore?!?" rant. There are enough of those out there, and they all suck.

This also isn't going to be a "lol Rob Dyrdek suks!" diatribe. I don't find him particularly entertaining. But that doesn't mean I think he's a bad person. This is about a giant media conglomerate willfully profiting off of a human being's death.

As most reading this know, Ryan Dunn, who came on MTV's Jackass, died this past June in an automobile accident. Police reports state that he was driving his Porsche 911 GT3 between 132 and 140 mph on his way from a West Chester, PA bar. So, ya know, we can draw our own conclusions about what the cause was. And while I find it hard to have sympathy for someone who puts both himself and others (he was with passenger, not to mention other drivers on the road at the time) in such immense danger, it doesn't change the fact that a human life was lost. It's not an insulated, singular repercussion. He had friends and family, and their loss is very real.

Anyone familiar with Jackass knows what it's all about. Guys doing stupid shit for giggles. It's a slapstick formula that has its roots going back to the Three Stooges, Marx Bros. and further than that, some cave man who accidentally lit his nuts on fire. Meaning, as long as there have been humans, there have been humans doing stupid shit. That will never change. The Jackass crew made an empire of their stupidity. At its height on MTV, Jackass was arguably the most popular show on television. Cable or broadcast. People were tuning in every week to see just how these numb skulls would debase themselves. And somehow, they managed to continuously set the bar lower and lower. And America kept fervently limboing under that bar.

MTV and its parent juggernaut, Viacom, were only too willing to reap the financial gain from these Jackasses. And that's okay. MTV had a platform. The Jackass guys had a product. They combined, people made a lot of money, and it was all good. The standout stars were clearly Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O. Eventually, the TV incarnation of Jackass made way for a spin-off of sorts for former professional skate boarder Bam Margera. It was, after all, Bam (along with his CKY crew, which included Ryan Dunn) that brought most of the excitement and original stunts to the Jackass TV show. Also getting spin-offs would be Chris "Party Boy" Pontius and Steve-O as the "Wildboyz" and Dunn himself, on a twisted home "improvement" show called "Homewrecker." 

I point all this out to show that the Jackass crew had an extensive relationship with MTV. Not only was there a lot of money made on both ends, but there must have been some personal relationships as well. Whether it be with MTV producers, executives or what have you.

Fast forward to the present day. Rob Dyrdek, he of his own MTV shows "Rob and Big" and, currently, "Ridiculousness" is another former skateboarder turned MTV darling. "Ridiculousness" is basically to "Tosh.0" what Gus van Sant's "Psycho" was to Hitchcock's "Psycho." A shot for shot remake.

That's not my beef. Dunn filmed an episode of "Ridiculousness" before he died. What likely takes place is Dunn and Dyrdek watch clips of people doing stupid things (perhaps inspired by Jackass) and laugh at what happens to them. It's harmless enough until you consider 1) what Dunn did for a living and 2) the way he died. At the very least, running this episode posthumously is irresponsible.

But it gets worse. MTV has been running previews of this episode, touting it as "very special." And it immediately precedes a tribute to Dunn by his friends and Jackass co-stars. That, to me, is what makes running the episode of "Ridiculousness" in unbelievably poor taste. I don't blame Dyrdek or Bam or Knoxville. I blame MTV. It's akin to a company losing an employee in a freak accident, then having their coworkers gather to watch other people nearly face a similar fate by doing what the fallen employee did, as a matter of entertainment.

There is ample opportunity to have a frank, open discussion about responsibility, both self and to others, in the wake of Dunn's tragic death. To me, that is as striking of an offense on MTV's part as anything. It's not so much what they're choosing to do, but what they're choosing not to do. Losing someone, regardless of circumstances, is a tragedy. To lose them in vain, when there is a chance to clutch onto a silver lining, as slim as it might be, that's an avoidable tragedy. I hope MTV doesn't make that mistake.


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