Most American families today subscribe to some kind of cable or satellite TV service, and increasingly they are asking themselves (and Congress) why they can't have "a la carte" choice -- the ability to take and pay for only the programming they want in their homes.
One of the channels that offers the richest arguments for cable choice is Comedy Central, which has proven time and again and around the clock that if there's a barrier of taste left, it will smash it to pieces. (Exhibit A is still its "Merry F---ing Christmas" special to commemorate the birth of Jesus.)
One of its bigger ratings successes last year was a "Celebrity Roast" for former "Baywatch" babe Pamela Anderson, which was tailor-made for incessant toilet bowl sex jokes. It drew not just the predictable lines about her artificially, cartoonishly enhanced chest, but a raft of cracks about her genitalia and a pile of gibes about masturbation. The person responsible for hitting the bleep button should have been paid overtime. But the ratings (at least compared to the usual Comedy Central gunk) were good, so they replayed this sleazy spectacle over and over again in heavy rotation until every member of Jerry Springer Nation had watched it twice.
Inspired by the Anderson show, on Aug. 20 it ran a celebrity roast of William Shatner of "Star Trek" fame. Even the promos leading up to the event were filthy. "The Shat Hits the Fan" was a constant advertising line. The TV promos themselves carried so many bleeps it was amazing any actual words remained.
And the show was even worse. The bleep-button pusher was exhausted. With the cast of roasters including Shatner's "Star Trek" castmate George Takei (who played Mr. Sulu), who recently declared he was gay, the audience was buried in man-on-man anal-sex and oral-sex jokes. Ben Stiller wrote a joke letter in which Shatner told 10-year-old Ben to write Takei, instead: "It would make his day knowing that a 10-year-old boy wants some photos from him. And I'm sure he'd want some of you right back.'" Comedian Jeff Ross kissed Takei solidly on the lips, after which Takei licked his lips.
That's not to say the regular heterosexual cracks were any better, especially out of 84-year-old roaster Betty White, who claimed she'd had sex with Shatner and urged him to hurry up, since it was just two minutes before the roast started.
More surprising were the many anti-black jokes thrown at Nichelle Nichols, another roaster and "Star Trek" castmate (Lt. Uhura). A whole pile of racial stereotypes were thrown out there, with comedienne Lisa Lampanelli urging Shatner: "Don't kill yourself. Then Uhura over there won't have anyone's house to clean. I kid. I love you, Nichelle -- or as they called you on the Enterprise, Mammy." Shatner ended the night with more of the same, bashing both Nichols and Farrah Fawcett: "Your skin looks so much like fried chicken that Nichelle's mouth is watering." Where's the NAACP?
But do bear in mind something here. The actual show, pre-editing, was even worse, even more tasteless, three hours of nasty overindulgence. Blogger Lynda Foley of the fansite Trek Nation attended the taping and explained, "I came home and threw up." She found the vulgarity rude even by her own "rude and vulgar gal" standards. (For those who not only like to watch sewage but also swim in it, the "Uncensored" DVD surely will follow, as it did with last year's roast.)
The Shatner roast's audience of 4 million was the most-watched original program of 2006 for Comedy Central, another win ensuring another pile of reruns.
But let's put this in its proper perspective. This also means that more than 190 million Americans did not want anything to do with this garbage, which raises the salient point. The most disturbing thing about this broadcast isn't even the content. It's the fact that more than two-thirds of U.S. cable subscribers were forced to help subsidize this raunch with their cable bills because of the cable industry's regime of forced extortion. Cable choice is the one solution that will truly empower the consumer. Because many Americans don't really care to pay for what Comedy Central thinks is the "final frontier" of tastelessness.