Stop Watching 2 1/2 Men?
by S.T. Karnick
Issue 217– December 12, 2012
Some interesting Man Bites Dog and the Hand That Feeds Him cultural news: a teenage member of the main cast of the CBS TV sitcom Two and a Half Men—I suspect that he is the half man referred to in the show’s title—has told people not to watch his show.
In a YouTube video, Angus T. Jones, who plays the teen Jake Harper on the CBS sitcom, tells viewers not to watch the series because it contains “filth.” His comments are part of a religious testimony given to The Forerunner Chronicles.
“If you watch Two and a Half Men, please stop watching Two and a Half Men. I’m on Two and a Half Men. I don’t want to be on it. … Please stop filling your head with filth,” he says just past the 7-minute mark of the video.
He continues: “Do some research on the effects of television and your brain, and I promise you you’ll have a decision to make when it comes to television and especially with what you watch on the television. It’s bad news. … I don’t know if it means any more coming from me, but you might not have heard it otherwise.”
I have written elsewhere (specifically in the journal Academic Questions) that although the content of Two and a Half Men is indeed a string of dirty jokes, the show does not convey the characters’ bad behavior as admirable or likely to inspire people to think that emulating those choices will lead to good consequences. Of course, the flip side of that is that consistently depicting life as a string of dirty jokes and thus seeming to characterize self-destructive behavior as normal could send people, especially the young, the message that such is the way the world is and it’s unavoidably so, so one shouldn’t even strive to be good.
So I’m probably as ambivalent as most people are regarding the current state of the nation’s culture. I think that moralists who state that the culture is thoroughly evil and has to be reformed by force tend not to understand that showing destructive behavior does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of such activities. I also think that people who blithely tell others “Don’t watch if you don’t like it” ignore the fact that the culture is pervasive and doesn’t affect just me but also ye and he and she. Anybody who cares about their society ought to care about the culture and never cavalierly dismiss its potential effects.
Which brings us back to Mr. Jones. I am impressed that Mr. Jones has the nerve, stubbornness, or stupidity to speak his mind in this way. I hope that that his decision to go public with his worries about his show’s potential effect on its audience will not turn out to be as disastrous as the choices made by the characters in the show. (So far, his bosses have kept their cool, according to ABC’s Good Morning America.) And above all I hope that this incident might get people on both sides of the debate over the state of the culture to consider the importance of understanding both sides of the issue: what cultural products really mean when they show self-destructive and other-destructive behavior, and what the pervasiveness of self-destructive and other-destructive behavior in a culture can do to the ethical sense of their audiences and the society at large.
Bruce Edward Walker replied:
Well said. Yes, the show IS a string of dirty jokes and the characters display arrested development and misogyny on steroids — but the main character on which the show revolved certainly received his comeuppance when he was more than likely pushed from a train platform to his death after found cheating on his gf. And, as noted repeatedly, he was a lonely man — a hound who couldn’t make a commitment (slight attempts were made to pinpoint the source of this on the characters’ mother). For me, most of the above was a morality tale that displayed the downfalls of rampant hedonism despite that said hedonism was played, sometimes hilariously, for laughs and involved the sexual exploitation of, more often than not, flaky young beauties. Many of these women would reappear in later episodes to tell Charlie how he had hurt them. Other women were portrayed as strong, independent, successful — and yet they still fell for the schtick, but ended up dumping him for his lack of maturity. The show jumped the shark for me when the younger brother, Alan, a unrepentant mooch, ran a Ponzi scheme on all those closest to him. This too was played for laughs, but it was anything but funny. Blame the writers or the actor for not pulling it off, or just blame the fact that exploiting those closest to you for financial gain is pretty difficult comedic fodder.
Thanks for your comment, Bruce. The details you add here are very helpful in understanding the show. I wonder about the difference between sophisticated viewers such as yourself, and naive viewers who won’t understand the appalling implications of the characters’ behavior. Perhaps it’s unlikely that many people could fail to see these implications.
S.T. Karnick is editor of and Bruce Edward Walker a contributor to The American Culture (www.stkarnick.com/culture) , where this first appeared.