We watch... so you don't have to.
If You Don't Know, Shut Up!
You've seen them: Between Kramer's wisecracks or some bone chilling legal turnabout on "Law & Order;" snuggled between clips of the Neville brothers crooning about airline travel, a star of an NBC show pops up against a stark, black background and volunteers some unsolicited advice. Don't drink and drive, says "ER's" Gloria Reuben. Appreciate your teachers, beseeches Friends' David Schwimmer. Have dinner with your family, smirks "Frasier's" David Hyde Pierce. Styled "The More You Know," these public service ads are NBC's way of saying, "Since you watch all our shows, you must want our advice too."
There are a lot of ways I could go with this one; all of them would be justified. I could rail about how it's awfully presumptuous for NBC, a network that regularly airs look-at-all-the-ways-in-which-your-family-can-break-down movies of the week, to tell me how to make the world a better place. I could ask what qualifies ER's Eriq LaSalle to give advice on raising kids. I could take a broader perspective and wonder if TV will ever learn ("Diff'rent Strokes," "Matt Waters," "Blossom") that it's not very good at doling out advice. But I won't. Instead, because I believe in the adage, "Behind every aphorism lies a crock of shit," I say we take a closer look at just three of these life lessons.
"Reason number [something] to stay in school: Smart is sexier than stupid anytime."
As much as I'd like to believe otherwise, this one's wide of the mark. I don't see anyone soliciting nude photos of Janet Reno for French Penthouse, and I don't see too many people complaining that Pamela Anderson's chest is potentially smarter than her head. Is there a man alive who, if forced to choose, would take Ruth Bader Ginsburg over Demi "Hester" Moore? A woman alive who would choose Ron Unz over Fabio? I don't think so.
In fact, I'd say the exact opposite is more likely to hold true. We might call this the Rule of Shore. Pauly Shore, that is. After all, according to Movieline, he's the one for whom Playboy and Penthouse are take-out menus, catalogs for an evening's worth of companions. Yet I think you'd be hard-pressed to find on this planet a less intelligent oxygen-consuming life form. Maybe it's all a ruse and Shore is really Stephen Hawking with a surfer's brogue. But it's his public persona that everyone is familiar with, so it's his public persona that, at least, gets him in the door.
By the same token, maybe what Aniston meant is given the choice between smart-and-sexy and stupid-and-sexy, most people would opt for the former. And that might be true. If so, however, I suggest the trendiest Friend hire a bodyguard and flee to New Zealand forthwith. When all the misinformed would-be drive-thru attendants put off Burger School to get their high school diplomas, only to discover the one-time "Ferris Bueller" star omitted a crucial part of the equation, mark my words, there will be hell to pay. "The Rachel" could become a different kind of cut, if you get my drift.
"If you're about to have sex, and she says no, and you still do, that's rape."
Not quite, Oliver Wendell Silverman. To begin with, it matters quite a bit what she's saying no to. If, for example, he says "Let me rip your clothes off," perhaps this is so. But if he says, "Do you want me to stop?" this wayward definition could set human sexual relations back a couple centuries. Then there's the matter of scope. Say he's walking out the door, and she says, "Wait. I've changed my mind. Let's have sex." Under the Silverman Penal Code, he risks prosecution unless he responds, "I'm sorry, honey, but we'll never be able to have sex now. You see, you said no." And what if she doesn't say no? What if, instead, she says something like--and I'm just spit-balling here--"Get the hell off me you filthy Chinaman"? According to the advice of counsel, I-- . . . I mean, the Chinaman now has a "Didn't Say No" defense.
Indeed, Silverman's statute doesn't come close to covering the full spectrum of rape. Yet thanks to him, an entire generation of "Third Rock"-watching teens is now running around with fresh condoms in their wallets and bad legal advice in their heads. Just for fun--and because I get such a kick out of these things--let's take a look at a real statute, Model Penal Code section 213.1: "A male who has sexual intercourse with a female not his wife is guilty of rape if (a) he compels her to submit by force or by threat of imminent death, serious bodily injury, extreme pain or kidnapping, to be inflicted on anyone . . ." where "'[s]exual intercourse' includes intercourse per os or per anum, with some penetration, however slight; emission is not required."
I dunno, Mr. Silverman. I'm no lawyer, but I say you fall far short. Lucky thing, too. If we wrote statutes like Silverman's, think of the possibilities: "If you get a time slot behind 'Friends,' and your show really blows, and you still employ Ernest Borgnine, that's early hiatus."
Hello, "Boston Common!"
"Drugs are stupid. And if you do drugs, you're stupid too."
In many respects, this is the silliest one of all. To begin with: So? This is a reason not to do drugs? Forget seizures, addiction, brain damage and death; Joey Lawrence says you're stupid. That'll make 'em think. Not exactly the sort of thing that gives pause to a 16-year old with a lit crack pipe in hand.
Silly as it is, however, I have only a minor gripe with Lawrence's inflated self-importance. My biggest problem is with the carelessness of the language. I'm far from hip, but even I know some of the lingo the kids use these days. So that means I know this: Among many of our nation's youth, "stupid" means "cool."
Now, I would never accuse a television network, or anyone with as wholesome an image as Joey Lawrence's, of insidiously plotting to poison America's youth. That's not my thing. Still, this is a pretty significant faux pas for a network that takes enormous pride in its ability to connect with young viewers. (The mere fact that NBC feels comfortable broadcasting these public service messages will attest to that.) Especially if you consider all the other routes they could have gone. Dumb, for instance. To my knowledge, "dumb" has not yet acquired an alternative meaning. Then there's "lame." No right-thinking youth could possibly take lameness as a good thing. Or, if NBC really wanted to connect with the kids, it could have used "whack." I think a brief spot with, say, Courtney Cox would have worked quite nicely: "Drugs are whack. And if you do drugs, you're whack too."
Instead, the network went with stupid--and, in doing so, crystallized everything that's wrong with "The More You Know." Namely, NBC really knows no more than us. Sure, it's nice to think the world's problems can be solved with catchy lines delivered pitch-perfect by attractive actors. But life is not a Blossom episode. Everything does not wrap up neatly in 30 minutes. Actions have consequences, not commercial breaks. And, in the end, NBC and its troupe of wealthy, good-looking, chain-smoking famous people may do more damage than good--like giving guys like me reason to think we have a shot with Jennifer Aniston. And that's just cruel. That's just wrong.