MTV really knows how to stage the stunts that generate big publicity for their major events. In 2004, MTV produced the CBS Super Bowl halftime show where Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson’s breast. In the fall of 2003, Britney Spears kissed Madonna suggestively at their Video Music Awards program. They’ve done it again with the 2009 MTV Movie Awards show. Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s dressed like an angel flying over the audience during the live show went badly awry. He crash-landed in the audience and ended up upside down with his bare buttocks exposed right in the face of the rapper Eminem.
The seeming perfection of this gross-out embarrassment, complete with Eminem wearing a microphone, having a swearing fit, and walking out of the theater, caused some to smell a calculated stunt. Cohen seemed to be wearing a thong so the gross-out didn’t include an upside-down whole-crotch hangout. So was it a fake? Scott Aukerman, head writer of this sorry program, admitted they staged this disaster. "That’s all anyone wants to talk about, so let’s get it out of the way. They rehearsed it at dress and yes, it went as far as it did on the live show then."
Can you believe the chutzpah of MTV, disparaging the media they’re shamelessly exploiting, that "all anyone wants to talk about" is that they’d manufacture this new low, this shock-jock-strap plot? This certainly should make any doubters reconsider whether the Janet Jackson Super Bowl breast exposure was staged. The only surprise for MTV was that people were more outraged than they expected.
At the center of this latest sordid publicity stunt is commerce, of course. Cohen is plugging a new movie after his America-bashing sensation "Borat." This time, he’s "Bruno," another self-involved idiot, this time a flamboyantly gay fashion reporter. But the biggest controversy for Cohen is his exploitative modus operandi: He doesn’t make fictional films. His fictional idiot bursts in on real-life Americans unsuspectingly to get their shocked nonfiction reactions.
Here’s a new case in point: A woman in California who ran a charity bingo tournament has sued Cohen and his corporate promoter, NBC Universal, for causing her a brain injury that’s forced her into a wheelchair. Rochelle Olson claims in her lawsuit that Cohen grabbed the microphone at the event in Palmdale, Calif., and started using vulgarities in front of an elderly audience while calling the numbers. When she tried to take the microphone back, she states, she was surrounded and attacked by the camera crew, looking for a "dramatic, emotional response." When she ran from the stage, she fell and hit her head on a concrete slab.
Cohen and NBC Universal are offering no comment on this story.
Then there’s Eminem, Cohen’s comrade in shock, who is trying hard to sell his newest slab of hate-rap after a five-year hiatus — so hard he’s willing to have a bare male butt thrown in his face, twice. Once was more than enough for the audience grossed out at home. But Eminem was thrilled. He told the website RapRadar.com "I’m thrilled that we pulled this off better than we rehearsed it."
A few weeks ago, Time magazine’s Josh Tyrangiel suggested Cohen surpassed Eminem in shock value through his Borat stunts. "Baron Cohen was darker, funnier and way more misanthropic than Eminem — which is how it goes with cultural instigators," he wrote. "They poke, we react; they poke again, we react a little less, until eventually someone with a sharper stick and a bushier mustache comes along."
What surely troubles most in that sentence is Time magazine’s gleeful admiration for misanthropic instigators who are mining the bottom of the barrel for the newest, darkest mockery. Cohen was admired for broadening the attack on decency to "mocking all Americans … for being naive enough to believe their own mythology." Cohen painted Americans as racist, anti-Semitic, and stupidly in love with their own country.
By contrast, Tyrangiel thought Eminem wasn’t really sincere enough with his instigating on his latest disc. By the middle of the first song, he’s "masturbated to Hannah Montana and left a pile of bodies behind the counter of a McDonald’s."
Tyrangiel continued, "On ‘Medicine Ball,’ he promises to rape the Pussycat Dolls and spits out a couplet of abuse for Madonna and Rihanna, while ‘Same Song & Dance’ has him raping Lindsay Lohan in one verse, and Britney Spears in the next. Suffice it to say that many more rapes occur and I stopped taking notes."
Just as the average Time reader would put down the magazine in revulsion, Tyrangiel yawned in print. "Are you outraged or just bored? Eminem has trampled these boundaries before."
When on Earth do our sick-headed "tastemakers" find enough is enough?