Friday, October 28, 2011

Tosh.0: friend or foe?

Tosh.0 is a show that I won’t let my mom watch.  I just … can’t.  It’s far too raunchy, graphic, and I have to explain everything.  But I watch it myself in part so I’m aware of things that nobody should be aware of.  Like “cinnamon challenges,” “The Human Centipede,” and—in accordance with the theme of this blog—salvia.
            Tosh.0 can be funny[1] in part because it is filled with horrible ideas.  If heapings of schadenfreude are funny to you, you’d probably like Tosh.0.  What “America’s Funniest Home Videos” was 20 years ago, Tosh.0 has managed to update by mining the dredges of YouTube.  It’s basically the “Talk Soup” format only with internet videos, which is a guaranteed recipe for success[2].  It is insanely popular among the high school students who I teach.  Is this a problem that every episode makes light of pain, inebriation, fights, and people either less fortunate or less self-aware?
            The previous “Breaking Bad” entry opened up a world of discussion about the role of popular culture in the acceptability of drugs.  Does TV, music, and film give us more bad ideas about drugs than it does good ones?  I would argue that it’s ultimately not the responsibility of popular culture to hold back from anything—real or scripted—that large markets of adult viewers actually want to see.  This argument applies to adults, whereas kids and knuckleheaded man-children are different, to which I invoke the Charles Barkley postulate of individual determinism and something called “parenting.”
            However, popular culture is also, of course, popular.  It’s not necessarily a good thing to let masses of otherwise-unknowing collegiate Comedy Central viewers know that there are a range of quasi-legal substances that are: (1.) widely available; and (2.) funny.
Even though I research substance abuse issues, the first time I heard about salvia was from Tosh.0.  More specifically, from friends talking about Tosh.0.  I think my first question was, “what is Tosh.0?”  Then, “what is salvia?”  What I found was a clip from the first season where host/comedian Daniel Tosh himself simultaneously attempts several of the more dubious internet “challenges,” resulting in a surprisingly compelling segment of high comedy.
You can see the clip here.
I find it interesting that, though currently legal in most states, Comedy Central couldn’t show salvia being smoked[3].  All you need to know is that, essentially, salvia completely impairs you for about 15 minutes, producing complete loss of motor skills and mild hallucinations, depending on the dosage[4].  And attempting to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon also, basically, fucks you up—choking, vomiting, crying—nonetheless it’s widely attempted online.  Saltine crackers are nothing new, and as for the coconut thing, I believe that was premised on a guy who actually tried to karate chop 100 coconuts and didn’t get far.
Tosh doing all of these things has a certain internet Jesus quality to it: he suffers for us so we don’t have to.  But, of course, we do.  Everything on TV has the potential to be emulated with disastrous results.  This is why shows like Tosh.0, Jackass, etc. are all bookended by disclaimers that are inevitably and routinely ignored.
What’s more, Daniel Tosh seems to have a real thing for salvia.  There was the above salvia/cinnamon/saltine/coconut challenge.  Then in an event dubbed “weed vs.salvia” he pits Tommy Chong (representing team weed) vesrsus “Salvia Eric” who is known for doing lots of salvia and documenting it online.  More recently Tosh.0 featured a breakdown of a clip of a guy climbing and eventually crashing through his apartment window after smoking salvia.  It looks like a pretty painful fall, and would have come across as a purely cautionary tale if not for Tosh’s mock-instructing viewers on how to find salvia online—he even goes so far as to spell it out and highlight its availability online:
“Remember kids, salvia is completely legal and you can buy it anywhere online.  That’s s-a-l-v-i-a, salvia, and for that, we just say no.”
I think I “get it,” but the nuance of the “joke” will surely be lost on the hundreds (or more) Tosh.0 viewers who are feeling experimental and will inevitably heed Tosh’s advice.
But in an episode that aired two weeks ago, he “redeems” a guy who had his shroom-induced freakout go web-viral by offering a smorgasbord of terrible ideas: bath salts, air dusters and (worst of all) jenkem (which I’ll get to).  This is not to be confused with Tosh’s redemption weeks earlier of the “naked wizard” who was tazed repeatedly at a music festival while on LSD.  The take away seems to be: if you manage to survive an unfortunate and traumatic experience with psychoactive substances and if you have the additional misfortune of having your embarrassing/injurious episode being documented and posted online, then there’s an off chance Tosh.0 will extend your 15 minutes of infame.
Granted, these “web redemptions” are satirical, scripted bits.  But there’s a lot of real information (or misinformation) about what these drugs are, without at all cautioning against them.  Sometimes he seems to convey the opposite of caution.  Tosh describes jenkem as “pee and poo and spit,” and then, tounge-in-cheek, “but don’t worry, it’s mine.”  And yes, that is basically the raw ingredients of jenkem, a.k.a. “butt hash,” which captures the toxic emissions from fermenting human detritus in a balloon or bag that is then (ugh) inhaled.  Here’s a not-so-recent news report from (surprise!) Florida on the troubling trend among high school kids.
            If there’s a case for the legalization of marijuana, it’s jenkem.  It’s foul, and homemade, and like what Robert Oppenheimer said about the atom bomb, it cannot be un-invented[5].
            Bath salts are different and are more in the salvia class of currently unregulated but clearly very potent and dangerous substances.  And air dusters are great for cleaning keyboards, but otherwise horrible as inhalants of choice.  Just take, for example, the “Intervention” episode with Allison.  Could there be a more persuasive argument against inhalants?
            Tosh.0 can be funny, but the show seems to be relying more on drug bits to separate it from the deluge of crotch shots and alternative sport calamities found on “Rediculousness.”  And as far as drugs go, Tosh.0’s increasing recklessness is disconcerting: why must it continue to inform its relatively large and (I’d argue) already-drug-prone audience about the latest substances of abuse?
            The answer, I presume, is because since occupying this niche of esoteric drug glamorization several seasons ago, nobody else on TV either can, or wants to claim it.  Even though Tosh.0 is arguably the leading culprit of popularly portraying an expanding drug catalog, they (he and his writers[6]) are not the only ones.
            Grantland writer and Bill Simmons entourage member Dave Jacoby (a.k.a. “The Reality TV Czar”) routinely jokes about “celebrity” bath salt use in the Grantland Reality TV Fantasy League.  “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is a dark comedy that I, and a relatively large (cable) audience enjoy, despite regular inhalant and other drug use among many of its main characters.  And ecstasy, steroids, and huffing abound on “Eastbound and Down” which features one of my favorite anti-heroes ever in Kenny Powers[7].
            But with Tosh.0, drugs are not merely a plot point.  It’s “hey, look at this … let’s laugh at this.  Come on my show and let’s trivialize drugs together!”  And even worse, as with salvia: “here’s more examples, kids … they’re everywhere, here’s how to get them.”
            Just this last week Tosh addressed the futility of his show’s legal disclaimers by mocking his own insistence that viewers don’t send in their own examples of “pie smash, nut tap, bitch slap” (which is precicely what it sounds like), only to follow with several fresh examples sent expressly from impressionable viewers eager to emulate the latest Tosh.0 trend.  Is it really that much of a stretch to assume that, as I type this, some poor Tosh.0 fans are out there stewing homemade jenkem?
            I know I’ll keep watching, if only to learn about drugs that I otherwise wouldn’t, and other terrible things that I probably shouldn’t.  And chances are I’ll laugh, even as I shake my head in disapproval.

[1] Though I’d argue it peaked during the first two seasons.
[2] It has since been emulated by the more sports oriented “Rediculousness,” which has even recycled a lot of the same painful internet footage seen in Tosh.0 episodes.  But “Rediculousness” doesn’t do drug stuff, which is thus why I’m solely interested in Tosh.0.
[3] This, from the network that allowed “shit” to be said hundreds of times in a single episode “South Park,” and allowed Anthony Jeselnik (who I love) to tell Steve-O “don’t give up on your suicide.”
[4] For more about this, there is a pretty good peer-reviewed journal entry from colleague and friend Jim Lange and SDSU, who actually used YouTube footage as original qualitative data.  I think the more valuable scholarly contribution there might be the methodological viability of YouTube as qualitative data, but since there is virtually nothing published on salvia, it’s an invaluable article in multiple ways.
[5] I have no idea if I’m attributing this properly, but I know that somebody’s said it about the a-bomb, and the analogy has also been applied to meth.
[6] Including Todd Glass, who I like a lot.
[7] Like Tosh.0, the last season of EB&D was a relative letdown.  However, I’m encouraged with the recruitment of Jason Sudekis to play Kenny’s new catcher, wingman, and (supposedly) equally John Rockerish dipshit in the upcoming third (and hopefully last) season.

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