EDITORIAL: TV program not to blame for burning; parents, teens must take responsibility

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Mind if I pour lighter fluid on your legs and then set them on fire?

Of course you wouldn’t let me. You wouldn’t suggest it and you’d say anyone with one ounce of common sense would say “No” as well.

OK, let’s say I’m a 13-year-old and you’re one of my friends and I ask you to do the same thing. We just got done watching “Jackass” on MTV and watched as the show’s star Johnny Knoxville performed a similar stunt, except he was draped in three layers of protective gels and coverings. There were also numerous warnings spoken and written throughout the show to not attempt this at home.

Would you do it then? Or would you have enough common sense to say “Gee, this is a bad idea.”

A couple of Connecticut kids didn’t have that common sense Friday, and one child who had gasoline poured on his feet and legs is in critical condition.

In the wake of controversy about teen violence, the finger of blame is being pointed once again at the entertainment industry. The main finger pointer is former vice-presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.).

The boy’s father contacted Lieberman and asked him to contact MTV about the show, which is televised at 9 p.m. on Fridays and 8 p.m. on Sundays.

“It is irresponsible for MTV to air these stunts on a program clearly popular with young teens, to air it at a time when many of them are likely to be watching and to do so without adequate warnings,” he said during a news conference.

Before, during and now after the campaign, Lieberman has been a frequent and vocal critic of the entertainment industry, asking where the responsibility of these networks is in airing this material.

There is bipartisan support on these issues as the Senate has held a hearing with Hollywood higher-ups about violence in its content and plans on holding more hearings.

But these politicians, as far for their line of work, are taking the easy way out. They are placing the blame on a big heartless organization in MTV, missing a true problem in America.

Personal responsibility.

Where is the responsibility of this kid to use common sense? Where is the responsibility of the parents of these kids to find out what they are watching – a show rated “TV-MA” not recommended for their age group?

MTV and its parent company Viacom are businesses, and their main responsibility is to make money and meet the demands of the viewers.

“Jackass” is aimed at a college-aged audience and does a good job of pandering to this typically low-brow demographic. That’s why it’s on so late at night.

But that’s not good enough for Lieberman.

“I recognize that the program is rated for adults and that it comes with general disclaimers,” he said. “But there are some things that are so potentially dangerous and inciting, particularly to vulnerable children, that they simply should not be put on TV.”

Lieberman’s statements just beg a number of questions. Like how do a bunch of self-declared idiots running around pulling stupid pranks offset by frequent warnings come off as dangerous and inciting? What makes a 13-year-old boy vulnerable? And isn’t it more troubling that a TV show can take advantage of that vulnerability?

This father immediately jumped to the conclusion that television caused his child’s injuries. He should be asking himself why his kid would pour gasoline on his body in the first place.

I first heard of the story Tuesday on Good Morning America, as the “impartial anchors” presented a very one-sided tale that all but convicted MTV of setting this kid on fire.

It’s tough to say to a father, who has listened to his son apologize for trying the stunt while burning flesh falls off his body, that he should look in the mirror when pointing the finger of blame.

It is disturbing that a group of a few children tried to re-enact this stunt, but if this was so influential, why aren’t there thousands – if not millions – of “Jackass” viewers doing the same.

These are the types of questions we all need to ask ourselves – including politicians and members of the news media.

No parent or child should have to endure the torment this family is going though in Connecticut. But until we stop this problem of finger pointing and avoiding the source of harm, we’ll have to keep reliving incidents like this and be in danger of losing our First Amendment rights.

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