- Singer, model, television personality and inexplicable celebrity Tia Tequila announced in December that she was engaged to the heiress to the Johnson and Johnson fortune, Casey Johnson. The troubled Johnson turned up dead in squalid circumstances in January, prompting a grief-stricken online statement from Tia in which she spelled her beloved’s name wrong. Shortly after this, it was revealed that the engagement was a publicity stunt by Tequila, who barely knew Johnson. Fake romances for publicity purposes are as old as the Tudors, but this sort of thing further trivializes truth for an entire generation. B-List celebrities like Tequila, who depend on keeping their names in the media and their photos on TMZ, should be subjected to a strict rule: an intentional hoax results in one year ban on the web for anything other than a real accomplishment, like a novel or the Nobel Prize.
- Meanwhile, Balloon Boy’s dad, Richard Heene, began serving his 90 day sentence after showing up on TV to swear that it wasn’t a hoax after all. Heene admitted guilt under oath in court, you may recall, as did his wife. His subsequent claim that he falsely did so to save Mrs. Heene from being deported (Federal authorities say that was never threatened or likely) strikes at the Achilles heel of the plea bargain process. A guilty plea is supposed to be sincere, even though authorities know it sometimes isn’t. Going on TV after pleading guilty in court to say you didn’t mean it makes everyone look bad, and violates the plea agreement—not enough to be punished for it, just sufficiently to embarrass the justice system. But who is going to believe Richard Heene? I still want him to explain how a “scientist” like him could believe a flimsy Mylar balloon would carry a six-year-old boy.
- Anti-smoking advocates really are condemning the blockbuster film “Avatar” because the character played by Sigourney Weaver is shown smoking. The logic behind this would soon lead movies back to the old Hays Code, which held Hollywood in its censorious grip for decades, decreeing that only morally positive messages and images be conveyed on screen. The film is a work of art. It is intended for a broad age group. It is science fiction. Weaver’s character is hardly presented as any kind of role model. Many, many worse things occur in the movie than smoking, as is pretty much necessary in all drama. Why not object to, say, all the killing and genocide? And how do we even know that what Weaver’s character smokes even contains tobacco, it being a hundred years in the future? The movement to ban depictions of smoking on stage and screen is disrespectful to the arts and freedom of expression. I’d be happy to see cigarettes banned as health hazards, but fictional characters must always be allowed to do whatever they want.
- It seems that a series of Russian science fiction novels from the Sixties were at least a partial inspiration to “Avatar” creator/director James Cameron. The stories, like the film, take place on a rain forest world called “Pandora” in the 22nd Century, and while Cameron’s indigenous people are called the Na’vi, the “Noon Universe” series chronicle the exploits of the “Nave.” The similarity end there, apparently, but Cameron owed the authors (Arkady and Boris Strugatsky) at least an acknowledgment.
More Late Night Ethics
- NBC executives are, predictably, circling the wagons around Jay Leno, who has been sharing the brunt of criticism over the “Tonight Show” debacle with NBC’s president, Jeff Zucker. The company line now is that Conan O’Brien just couldn’t cut it, and his shortcomings were the cause of the whole meltdown. O’Brien’s version of “Tonight” was not working so far, it is true, but Leno’s 10 PM show was far worse, and both stars were unfairly handicapped by the network’s awkward planning and failure to commit its resources. The ethical course now would be for NBC to make Zucker to leave in well-deserved disgrace, apologize to Leno, O’Brien, and the audience, stop blaming the obvious victim of the fiasco, Conan O’Brien.
- Tough call: ABC’s late night host Jimmy Kimmel appeared on Jay’s prime time show last night, and used the opportunity to skewer Leno for his role in NBC’s programming mess. For example, when Leno asked Kimmel what his favorite prank was, Kimmel replied, “I told a guy that five years from now, I’m going to give you my show, and then I gave it to him and took it back almost instantly.” Later, Leno asked Kimmel about strippers.
Kimmel pounced again, saying, “I don’t like strippers because you have a phony relationship with them for money. Sort of like the way you and Conan were on ‘The Tonight Show’ together passing the torch? You know what I’m saying.”
I’m torn about the fairness of this performance. On one hand, it was great TV: if Leno had been able to get more interviews like this one, maybe his show would be doing better. On that same hand, Kimmel’s comments were on the mark, and Leno should not come out of this mess with his good guy image completely intact. On the other hand, Kimmel was Leno’s guest. Attacking one’s guest, even when both host and guest are comedians who will do almost anything for a laugh, is still wrong.
I think I’m going with that hand.