The "wardrobe malfunction" that launched a national outpouring of rage against televised soft-porn slime continues to reap great benefits for the forces of reason, reticence, and decency on television. Look no further than the relatively staid presentations this year at Fox's Teen Choice Awards and MTV's Video Music Awards.
Fox selected as its Teen Choice hosts the sleazy "Simple Life" pair of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. Their most memorable awards-show performance had come in December of 2002 at the Billboard Music Awards. Paris stated it was great to be there, to which Nicole responded, "yeah, instead of standing in mud and cow s-t." Fox bleeped that out, but when Nicole added, "Why do they even call it 'The Simple Life'? Have you ever tried to get cow s-t ouf of a Prada purse? It's not so f-ing simple," Fox inexplicably and inexcusably chose not to bleep those sentences out for the Eastern half of the United States.
Two years ago, the Teen Choice Awards show was peppered with sexual raunch for children, including Jennifer Love Hewitt trying to make a hit out of her song "Barenaked," and an award for Nelly's get-naked song "Hot In Herre." In 2001, four drag queens impersonated the musical foursome who revived the call-girl hit "Lady Marmalade" for the teen audience.
So what would the Teen Choice Awards deliver in the post-Janet Jackson atmosphere? Even Paris and Nicole were relatively well-behaved without any unbleeped obscenities. The show still offered awards for "Best Reality/Variety Jackass" (Simon Cowell of "American Idol") and "Best Movie Your Parents Didn't Want You to See" (the filthy comedy "American Wedding"), but that was pretty much it. The best sign the show wasn't outrageous was that it drew almost no press coverage after it was broadcast.
MTV caused a huge wave of protest last year with the infamous Madonna-kisses-Britney Spears incident (not to mention the forgotten Madonna-also-kisses-Christina-Aguilera incident) during its Video Music Awards. Host Chris Rock also used a bleeped M-F combination on actor Ashton Kutcher and declared that Justin Timberlake was "ready to lick a man for eight dollars."
Every year, MTV has featured some head-turning off-color material during this show. In 2002, it was dueling F-words from their then-reality show stars the Ozzy Osbourne family. In 2001, host Jamie Foxx put on screen a picture of the band Red Hot Chili Peppers wearing nothing by tube socks on their genitals, and followed up with a picture of Foxx with an extremely long tube sock. "They said I was too cocky," he joked. In 2000, the Wayans brothers mocked wild-haired singer Macy Gray in a satirical video by singing "My hair is the same way when you go down there" and then showing an obvious wig under a pair of panties.
After their Janet Jackson striptease debacle, what would MTV offer now?
Set in Miami this year (or Skin City, as some call it), MTV's Video Music Awards disappointed the raunch-loving TV critics by staying comparatively sedate. The most dangerous moment was comedian Dave Chappelle joking that putting him on the show was "the biggest mistake since you put Janet Jackson on the Super Bowl." The bleeps only came with the foul-mouthed rap songs like Terror Squad's "Lean Back." On the other hand, rapper Kanye West performed his song "Jesus Walks" for a little inspirational balance.
The main news the next day focused on MTV's relentless attempt to tell the young people to vote, especially when they showed John Kerry's daughters Vanessa and Alexandra on stage as well as President Bush's twins on tape from the convention scene in New York. The girls drew both cheers and boos. It didn't sound like a year for optimism for a greater turnout among young voters.
The VMA's were the most watched cable show of the week, and quite a marathon considering the three-hours trophy show was sandwiched between three hours of pre-show and post-show festivities. So what did the critics think of the relatively sanitized production? "By all accounts...it sucked," sulked Lisa DeMoraes in the Washington Post. She suggested many may have tuned in over rumors Britney Spears would mock marriage again by getting married during the awards show.
In USA Today, the reaction of reviewer Ken Barnes was summarized by the headline: "Well, so much for titillation: MTV's Video Music Awards Sunday night had a glut of glitz, endless celebrity cameos and a non-partisan stance in favor of voting. What they lacked was outrage." Oh, darn.
The battle for cleaner television is between millions of parents who can e-mail Washington and Hollywood versus the hypesters of hip, the sultans of sleaze in the TV-reviewing crowd, and the good guys finally have a bit, a little bit, of a reason to smile.