Still in-your-face television

Despite teen's injury, MTV stands behind bad-boy show Jackass

MTV is holding firm behind its bawdy show Jackass, declining so far to reschedule or alter the show after a Connecticut boy was badly burned imitating one of its stunts.

Jason Lind, 13, suffered severe burns after a 14-year-old friend doused him with gasoline and set him on fire. The boys were imitating Jackass
creator P.J. Clapp (a.k.a. Johnny Knoxville), who, in one episode, put on a suit with pieces of meat tied on, lay down on a giant grill, and had sidekicks set him on fire. Knoxville, of course, was wearing a flame-resistant suit. Lind, of course, was not.

The incident ads more fuel to the escalating debate about kids' adopting violent acts they see in movies and TV shows. Jackass
is an escalation of the kinds of stunts that have been staples of David Letterman in the 1980s and Steve Allen in the 1950s. Catering to its key 12-17 demo, Knoxville engages in riskier or simply grosser stunts-for example, taking a blast of pepper spray in the face or two darts from a Taser.

MTV disavowed responsibility for Lind's injury, saying, "It is made extremely clear throughout the show, through the use of written and verbal warnings, that none of the stunts featured should be tried at home." The network added that warnings include "The following show features stunts performed by professionals and/or total idiots under very strict control and supervision. MTV and the producers insist that neither you nor anyone else attempt to recreate or perform anything you have seen on this show."

But, with a new flight of episodes ready to hit the air this week, network executives said they've made no decisions about changing or rescheduling the show, which airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and reruns several times during the week.

The pal who actually torched Lind was arrested and released to his parents' custody. Privately, cable network executives noted that the boys were old enough to realize the risks they were taking. "At 13, 14, these kids know about playing with matches," a vice president at one network said.

Unfortunately for MTV, Lind lives in the home state of Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who routinely pushes the TV networks to clean up their programming. Lieberman chastised the network, calling for it to cancel the show, tone it down or move it to a later time with stronger warnings. "MTV is an enormously influential force in the world our children inhabit, and with that power and the right to exercise it comes a certain level of responsibility," he said. "I intend to make clear to the network's owners that we expect more from them."

Center for Media Education President Kathryn Montgomery slammed MTV, seeing the show as a symptom of the declining standards of television. "We're in a media environment here with no holds barred. There's no standard anymore; they've torn it into shreds."

There have been even more-serious copycat incidents involving television. In 1993, a 5-year-old Ohio boy set his house on fire, killing his younger sister. The boy's mother attributed his actions to the influence of the popular MTV cartoon show Beavis and Butt-head. About the same time, a young woman from Boston was beaten to death and burned in a vacant lot by a group of youths. When arrested, they claimed to have gotten the idea for the crime from a theatrical movie that aired on television the night before.