Once again, MTV is basking in the glow of critical acclaim. This time it's a cultural breakthrough called "The Osbournes," a "brilliant" (Time magazine) reality show chronicling the family life of heavy metal has-been Ozzy Osbourne. It's "the most refreshing, funny and subversive 30 minutes of television" the Baltimore Sun TV critic has seen this year. "Hectic and hilarious," says The Boston Globe's reviewer, who adds that the program "puts the fun back into family dysfunction." Some 5 million viewers watched the show last week.
I tuned in to see what all the panting and raving was about. When the Osbournes and their teen-age children aren't cursing their lungs out, they're playing with their dogs, lounging in their Beverly Hills mansion, and snickering at the antics of the addled head of the household. After decades of heavy alcohol and drug abuse, Ozzy is barely intelligible. The star of the show stutters and slurs and stops mid-sentence. His hands shake. He shuffles. And he refuses to quit drinking.
This isn't "hilarious." It's pathetic.
"Sometimes I'll have a drink," Osbourne told a reporter earlier this month. "I'm not too totaled, completely. I mean, I can't do it as regularly as I used to. I shouldn't do it at all, to be truthful with you. But sometimes I just want to unload from this f------ world, you know."
In another interview, he admitted: "I'd never argue about the fact that I'm an alcoholic, drug-addicted idiot. I'm not proud of it, but that's who I am. A lot of people went sober who were once drunks, and now they're miserable. They might as well go on drinking. I'm a guy who periodically gets drunk but doesn't get drunk on a daily basis. Periodics actually die quicker than full-blown alcoholics, but I don't like living in the straight world all the time. It's just not fun."
Some commentators have convinced themselves that MTV is actually performing a public service by showcasing the detrimental effects of alcoholism and drug abuse on poor Ozzy. But the critics are heaping the former Black Sabbath frontman with praise, not pity, for his performances. He's cool. He's adorable. He's a comedic genius. The ultimate effect of the show is to glamorize the brain-fried star's reckless behavior, rather than stigmatize it.
Any impression that MTV might be trying to send a message to youth to be more responsible about alcohol and drug use is quickly dispelled when "The Osbournes" is over and the station goes back to running its music videos. One of its more popular videos these days is an expletive-filled piece of noise called "Pass the Courvoisier." It's a four-minute anthem for the expensive French cognac of the same name. Scantily-clad women dance on top of a bar. Rappers P. Diddy and Busta Rhymes wave around bottles of the beverage more reverently than the American flag.
"Give me the Henny, you can give me the Cris. You can pass me the Remi, but pass the Courvoisier," croons Busta.
"Give me some (expletive). You can give me the cribs. You can give me whatever, just pass the Courvoisier," chimes P. Diddy.
"The song has definitely put that drink on the map," Jason Longs, a bartender at Voodoo Lounge, a Los Angeles hot spot, told Newsweek magazine this week. "Now that patrons know Busta and Puffy are drinking it, it's the drink of choice here." For his part, Busta Rhymes thinks he's helping young Americans survive in the post-Sept. 11 world. "Courvoisier is just about keeping it party," the alcohol-soaked celebrity told The Guardian of London. "Making sure that the people who've been affected by this disaster can also keep in mind that there's a life that we still have to live, and enjoy it while we have it."
Ozzy and Busta. Guzzling down the booze, livin' it up and showing us how to cope in the "straight world." If only real life for the rest of the nation's alcoholics and drug addicts came with a laugh track and an entourage of half-naked dancers.