F-bombs were dropping on the MTV Movie Awards Sunday night like ducks from the sky during hunting season. It was a display of potty-mouthed excess the likes of which I have never seen on live television. Adult men (and a couple of women) took the stage one after the other in giddy anticipation of that exciting moment when they would be able to let fire a naughty word or two (mostly the F word and the S word) in a misguided effort to impress the teens and young adults they so desperately need to buy tickets to their frequently lousy movies.
It was startling, fascinating, discomforting and somewhat embarrassing, even if most of the cursing was beeped (or, more accurately, dropped out). I'll admit I couldn't stop watching right through to the end, when "Twilight" star Peter Facinelli closed the show with a barrage of F-bombs that was so unrelenting the censors seemed to surrender in utter defeat. Talk about shock and awe. I'm not sure if he intended to, or if he was simply f-ing around, but Facinelli delivered a verbally kinetic performance piece that should be preserved online (and uncensored) for all time.
After more than 20 years of critiquing and analyzing television programming in a professional capacity, I really don't know what to say anymore about such displays of potentially objectionable material. I'm not offended by bad language, though I am uncomfortable listening to it if I'm watching television with senior citizens or children. Personally, I'll take a sprightly F-bomb or a glimpse of a bare behind over a shocking display of gratuitous violence any day, but I think I am in the minority on that, given the outsize popularity of crime dramas filled with graphic images of murder, torture, brutality and depravity, but not foul language or nudity. Putting aside political issues of broadcast versus basic cable, it would seem to me that the people have spoken.
My fascination with the merry madness last Sunday on MTV speaks not so much to action as to intent. As I listened to one actor after another (including Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Sean P. Diddy Combs, Steve Carell and especially Mark Wahlberg and Peter Facinelli) try to out-curse each other, it occurred to me that they were just acting the way men have always acted when they get together -- except that they were doing it during a live telecast pointedly directed at young people, including children and tweens, given the heavy emphasis on all things "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" and all those close-ups of cute couple Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. This may have been the most open, honest, damning display of unrestrained Hollywood behavior ever presented for public consumption.
Interestingly, my goddaughter (who will be 16 in three weeks and has been watching the MTV Movie Awards for many years) told me the following day that she was offended by all the cursing -- not because of the words themselves but because of the overall attitude of the grown-ups on the show. "Just because we're teenagers, it doesn't mean they need to swear all the time to get our attention," she fumed. Apparently her friends at school agree with her. I agree, as well. I have only to consider the boundless enthusiasm that kids, tweens and teens have for "Glee" and "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" to know that they prefer entertainment that treats them with respect and never talks down to them.
I have to give MTV credit once again for putting on a movie awards event that is dramatically superior to the Academy Awards both as an entertainment spectacle and a celebration of true success in the industry. Whoever decided to revive Tom Cruise's hilariously reflective Hollywood mega-producer Les Grossman from "Tropic Thunder" and cast him not as the host but as the producer of the MTV Movie Awards is a genius. This is the kind of creativity so woefully missing from the Oscars, where the likes of Bruno and Borat are forbidden to appear.
But I need to point out that the so-called apology MTV released on Monday in response to complaints about this unprecedented display of bad adult behavior seemed less than sincere. (The network said it had something to do with setting its "guests" loose in a party-like atmosphere.) MTV started the show with a great big scripted "God damn" (during an opening clip featuring Grossman firing F-bombs at "Twilight" hunks Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner). When used together and spat with such vigor, I find those two words more offensive than the F and S words, but that may be because I was raised to respect others' religious beliefs and sensitivities. (Interestingly, when Pattinson mumbled "Jesus Christ" during a comedic moment with co-star Kristen Stewart, the harried censors beeped the "Christ.")
Further, two of the categories on the show, Best Scared-as-S*#t Performance and Best WTF Moment, seem to have been custom-designed to generate dirty talk. In fact, the four young stars of the upcoming movie "Scout Pilgrim vs. the World" who together presented the WTF Moment award were each provided with scripted F-bombs to drop during their remarks.All that cursing paid off well for at least one sponsor, in the form of carefully timed, customized messages for Orbit Gum, a product, we were told, that is the perfect treatment for a foul mouth. ("Dirty Mouth? Clean it up with Orbit," chirped a sexy network censor.) They were great fun and very effective. If more advertising executives took as creative an approach to television advertising, we might hear less griping about DVRs and channel surfing.