By Rebecca Cusey, Special Contributor…
I remember well the last time I watched the hit TV show Two and a Half Men.
It was back in ancient history when Charlie Sheen still headlined the show, before tiger blood and #winning became household terms.
Mr. Sheen played a rich playboy, Jon Cryer (Duckie for those of us from the ’80s), his brother, and young Angus T. Jones was Jake, the brother’s son. They all lived together merrily in the playboy’s mansion. (Ashton Kutcher has since replaced Mr. Sheen after Mr. Sheen’s very public meltdown.)
The scene etched in my memory showed Jake in the kitchen in the morning, just trying to eat some cereal. At the time, his character was prepubescent, a child of 10 or 11 or maybe 12. As he was eating his cereal, one of his uncle’s hot young conquests came into the kitchen clad only in a T-shirt and sexy panties. As she reached up, up, up in a cabinet for a coffee cup, her shapely derriere was exposed. The humor came from Jake trying to peek at the revealed hiney and pretending not to.
Sadly, perhaps, I have been jaded by years of movie critic-dom. You can say the F-word all day in front of me and I won’t blink. Two consenting adults wrestling and heaving around? Yawn. Blast some brain matter all over an R-rated murder movie and I keep munching my popcorn. In fact, Judd Apatow, who knows no lines he won’t cross, is one of my favorite directors.
But the scene of a little boy and a shapely bottom grieved me.
Are we at the point now in our culture when we laugh at the inappropriate sexualization of a child? Is it funny to parade loose, scantily clad women in front of barely adolescent boys?
That’s what’s funny?
As a mother, I would protect my children from such sexualization, and from the message that women and sex are little more than shapely bodies to be used and ogled for men’s pleasure.
Maybe that’s just me.
When Angus T. Jones surfaced in a video saying the show is filth, he’s not far off.
But let’s be clear in the storm of scorn and ridicule that is raining on his head.
When Mr. Jones signed on to the show, he was a child. He was 10 years old when the show started in 2003. As a child, his parents had the final decision on whether to take the role, with advice from his agent and other people. He did not technically choose. Once he had a contract, which in Hollywood is the legal equivalent of Fort Knox, he also did not have a choice to leave the show.
That he has grown to a young man of 19—able to think for himself and consider the values of the show for himself—is laudable, not laughable. We would all want our own children to think for themselves as they became adults.
Mr. Jones has since apologized to his cast and crew, although he has not retracted his “filth” comment. He renewed his contract for another year. His return, although in a diminished role, not only means he receives $8 million. It also means others benefit. When you star on a successful sitcom, there are hundreds and hundreds of minor cast, crew and assorted assistants who depend on the show for their livelihood. Throwing a show into turmoil is not a small thing.
Perhaps Mr. Jones can have some impact on the show, or perhaps all his impact will be speaking out in the public arena. His newfound faith seems to be motivating him well.
However, the best outcome would be if instead of deriding a young man who has begun to come into his own, we had a grown-up conversation about what lines remain in our culture, and if we’re comfortable with that.
I know I’m not comfortable with the show that made a comedy theme of hyper-sexualizing everything in Jake’s world.
To me it seems closer to child abuse, of both the character Jake and the actor who played him, than to humor.
Ms. Cusey is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area. This essay first appeared on Patheos.com.