From Punks to Punk'd
By Wil Forbis
Punk'd art by Daniel Gordon
Click graphic for larger version
Several years ago, I wrote a column entitled "Undressed for Success" in which I took a long hard look at the lengths MTV was willing to go to capture the youth market. I focused exclusively on a show that was then appearing on the cable music channel, a teen soap opera called "Undressed" in which nubile young thespians pranced around using any excuse to show off their heaving bosoms and manly six packs. ("Of course I'm not wearing a bra - it's casual Friday!") As sin-filled as the show seemed to be, it kind of grew on me and I ended up having only one complaint - the actors didn't getting naked enough! The FCC, a longtime enemy of public nakedness and all things fun wouldn't let MTV follow through with the promise implied by the show's title (Maybe it should've be called "Kinda Dressed.") The only way hard working voyeurs like myself could see real teen flesh on their television screen was by taking the trouble to install a video camera in the dorm room smoke detectors at the local Catholic Girls School.
Of course "Undressed" was about more than sex, it was about characters. There was a delightful array of comically troubled teens, an "Archie and Gang" for the nineties, whom I grew to love and respect as my own family. Like, whatshername, that blonde tart with big breasts who was always walking around wearing a towel. Or that black chick who had this dark, see-through lingerie so you couldn't tell what was fabric and what was the beginning of her sweet, sweet netherworld. Or that funny old guy who always seemed to muttering and went by the nickname "Dad." (Wait - maybe that really is my own family.)
During my recent incarceration, I found plenty of time to start watching MTV again and was shocked to find that "Undressed" was gone! The show that had defined a generation had run its course and MTV had locked it up in the same attic they keep the shriveled mummified head of Martha Quinn. But I still found plenty of entertainment on the channel and thought that this might be a good time to share my ruminations on the state of Music Television with you, my loyal, if not particularly bright audience. As I know your time is short, I'd like to focus on two shows - "All Things Rock" hosted by the twin brothers Benji and Joel, and the now infamous, "Punk'd."
In my recent piece on film director, Penelope Spheeris, I mentioned "Headbanger's Ball," the all-metal video showcase MTV aired in the height of the hair metal days. "HB" has been updated for the zero generation in the form of "All Things Rock," hosted by the twin brothers Benji and Joel Madden of the candy punk band "Good Charlotte." I think my reaction to first seeing the Madden brothers was similar to most folks: "Who the fuck are these morons!" But y'know... Benji and Joel kind of grow on you. Their often pained attempts fill up airtime with conversation that doesn't sound like a teenager high on banana peels possess a certain charm. MTV spent millions of dollars growing their first attempt at teenage idiocy, Jesse Camp, in a laboratory before they tossed him into a dung heap of drug addiction and celebrity irrelevance. With Benji and Joel, they simply plucked their protagonists from the punk rock subculture and let them roam free. And truth be told, Benji and Joel are actually smart chaps who manage to get away with a few feats of chaperoned subversion while hosting their show. If they're introducing a band they like, they make no bones about passing on the accolades. But if the next video up is some dreadful nu-metal group, their comments dry up and the look in their eyes clearly states. "These guys are wack, y'all!"
And there's an interesting conundrum inherent in "All Things Rock." Benji and Joel are tried and true punk rockers. Punks rockers are mortal enemies of corporate media giants like Viacom, MTV's master. This creates an unspoken tension to the show's dynamic. Are the Madden bros media sell outs who traded their street authenticity for fame and the sales boost guaranteed video airplay would give their album? (The record, entitled "The Young and the Hopeless" is a damn catchy piece of punk-pop, with every song proclaiming the band's status and punk provocateurs who live life on the outside (while making hella cash from the teenage girls driven soggy by thoughts of being the turkey in a Benji and Joel sandwich.)) Or are Benji and Joel underground warriors operating in the belly of the beast, hoping their media access and snide sarcasm can inspire and new generation of punk rebels. This, is the great unspoken question.
But if you wanted philosophical quandaries you'd be watching “Matrix Reloaded,“ so let's move on. The real star of MTV's new lineup has gotta be "Punk'd." Featuring "That 70's Show" star, Ashton Kutcher, "Punk'd" is a revival of the classic Candid Camera formula - unsuspecting nimrods are tricked into an uncomfortable or embarrasing situation, all the while having their displeasure and humiliation caught on camera. The twist is that Punk'd's targets are the sorts of people that every right thinking American hates with a passion: young Hollywood celebrities. (C'mon, admit it - you can't stand them!) Why do we hate them? Because the average life of a celebrity involves taking designer drugs, getting $2000 facials, having sex with other hyper-attractive people and occasionally "working." (Which simply means standing around showcasing their latest botex injection or silicon enhancement while unemotively reciting dialogue from a teleprompter placed just off-camera since they couldn’t be bothered to memorize their lines.) But when these clods are on Punk’d, they get to experience what life is like for the rest of us. They feel the tribulations of an existence where the world is laughing at your expense and everyone is out to get you. "Punk'd" is the revenge of the common man against our depraved breed of undeserving American royalty.
Of course, the kicker is that Kutcher, who apparently created the show in addition to hosting it, is the reining example of these celebrity uber-hipsters. He gets to degrade and humiliate his fellow performers because he has been crowned their king and they know better than to defy him. Instead, they just take it on the chin with a smile, hoping that being a good sport will get them invited to the big party in the Hollywood Hills, or a chance to play second fiddle to Ashton’s character in “Dude, Where’s Your Car Pt VII.” But if you or I were to stiff Steven Dorf with an insane restaurant bill or strip search one of the Backstreet Boys we’d be on the receiving end of a lawsuit designed to commit the next seven generations of our family to indentured servitude. Barbra Streisand sues someone when they the take a photograph of her house, imagine imagine the fit she’d throw if some everyday rubes tricked her into thinking George Bush had labeled her a terrorist and was demanding she be deported to Camp X-Ray.
But we can dream can't we? That's why I'd like to close this column with...
...A Coupla Punk'd Scenarios I'd like to see (but never will)
1) The target: Martin Sheen, star of thousands of movies and TV’s "The West Wing."
The Prank: Sheen’s son, Emilio Estivez, who, like everyone else, is in on the gag, shows up at his father’s house. “Dad,” he says, "I’ve got bad news. Charlie relapsed and had an overdose. They found his body this morning in his apartment. He’d been dead for over 50 hours.” Martin lets out the obligatory, “Noooo, not my son!” and collapses on the sofa. The doorbell rings and it’s Ashton. “Dude,” he says. “You’ll never believe what I found!” He pulls in a zombified corpse of Charlie Sheen who says, “Gotcha Pops! You’ve been punk’d, bitch!” Martin, who suffered a heart attack on the set of “Apocalypse Now” starts clutching his chest.
2) The Target: Limp Biskit’s Fred Durst.
The Prank: Fred, Ashton, and an assembly of young Hollywood are partying at the Playboy Mansion. Durst impressing the gathering of hotties with his streetwise demeanor. Suddenly gangsta-rapper Ice-Cube, (in on the gag) shows up with his posse, armed to the teeth. “I’m taking you honkies out!” he commands. “You’ve been co-opting the language and culture of Black America long enough!” He the then lines the row of crackers up and proceeds to go down the line, simulating the act of sodomy with each if them. Durst, at the end of the line, is getting nervous, especially when Cube gets to Kutcher and Ashton, pants at his knees, mews out pained cries. Then Durst starts laughing – it’s the old reverse prank, the joke isn’t on Durst, it‘s on Kutcher who really is being sodomized by Cube! Ha! Good one! Now who’s been punk’d!?
Never gonna happen, is it…
Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy, he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.