Deplore the filth? Don't make it or buy it

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The nation heaves a sigh of relief that a star of "Two and a Half Men" is making headlines for something besides drug abuse, domestic violence or claiming to be a rock star from Mars.

While former lead Charlie Sheen won notoriety for the aforementioned fiascos, Angus T. Jones, the teenager who's played the "half"-man since the show's 2003 debut, made news a few days ago for the first time ever. That's because he described the sitcom he stars in as full of "filth" and urged people not to watch it.

How quaint! The young man really got it wrong -- except for the part he got right.

What he got wrong is pretty easy to spot.

First, you don't bite the hand that feeds you. The 19-year-old learned that lesson fast, publicly dressing those wounds within a day or two (though the greatest wound may yet prove to have been to himself).

Second, you don't attack from the outside till you've attempted to change things from within.

The young Mr. Jones made his comments in a video his church recorded and posted online, where it has made a bigger, more harmful splash than perhaps intended. (If the church leaders anticipated this outcome, they shamefully used him; if they didn't, they're not competent advisers.)

He has since apologized for "showing indifference to and disrespect of my colleagues and a lack of appreciation of the extraordinary opportunity [with] which I've been blessed."

The show's creator, Chuck Lorre, should have no trouble forgiving the young Mr. Jones for attacking the industry that employs him, because Mr. Lorre has been doing it, to wonderful effect, for years.

Who didn't wear out a few videotapes back in the '90s pausing at the end of "Dharma & Greg" to read his compelling "vanity cards"? The author of so many hilarious anti-corporate screeds and touching ruminations on what really matters in life should recognize the same nascent effort in his young star.

But Mr. Jones leaves himself open to the charge of hypocrisy if he deems the show worthy of filling his refrigerator but not worthy of filling our minds. If he objected so deeply to its content, he should have gone first to the people who write and produce it.

He would likely have gotten nowhere, of course, because what he calls "filth" -- I would call it "raunch" -- is the show's sum and substance. My assessment dates from a few episodes of the Charlie Sheen era. I haven't seen more than a few snippets since then -- and neither have most Americans.

There was talk of cancellation last spring, but Mr. Jones' diatribe, perversely, drew this season's biggest audience. In fact, two spoofs of his video by actors Matthew Perry and Rainn Wilson mock it as a ratings stunt. (Their own shows, of course, are struggling.)

The mockery is disappointing, because it's hard to see Mr. Jones' comments as insincere. While he's right to apologize for how he went about it, it's interesting that he's not apologizing for what his criticism actually was: that the show contradicts his faith and that a steady diet of the relentlessly vulgar might not be a good thing for anyone. Is he wrong?

His faith is his to figure out, and he is a very young man. But what about us? What about our cultural diet?

Whenever anyone proffers the observation that "things are a lot worse now than they used to be," someone dismissively notes, "Every generation says that." But what if the assertion is quantifiably true?

Try to imagine "Two and a Half Men" or the gory "CSI" or a Quentin Tarantino movie or even CeeLo Green's hysterical "[Forget] You" being released in the 1950s or '60s. Even in the '70s, all would have been the exception, if permitted at all. Now they are the norm.

The answer isn't censorship. Does anyone wish for yesteryear's saccharine shows with married couples sleeping in twin beds? For movies where a character says "I don't give a damn" and sends the nation into angry paroxysms?

I prefer realism. But the real life we choose to live is shaped, as Mr. Jones implied, by the realities that others imagine, sell and even force upon us. (Think vulgar, violent lyrics spewing from car stereos at unavoidable volumes.)

We are awash in the rude and crude. The onslaught is constant. Leading the well-examined life is harder all the time, because there's so much more to examine -- and to reject.

Mr. Jones' only honorable recourse is to leave the show he deplores. And if we agree with his larger point, our only recourse is to tune out an ever-increasing amount of the culture we've created, or allowed.


Ruth Ann Dailey:


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