Well, there goes another Half Man. It’s been more than a year since Charlie Sheen’s public meltdown, which you might recall began with a public feud with Two and a Half Men producer Chuck Lorre before Sheen sailed, Apocalypse Now–like, deep up a river of tiger blood. Now Lorre faces an unexpected rebellion from Angus T. Jones, who plays titular “half man” Jake. Jones, 19, assailed the show in a YouTube video in which he talks about his Christian faith and how it no longer squares with the “filth” he has helped make for nearly a decade on Men.
“If you watch Two and a Half Men,” he says, “please stop watching Two and a Half Men. I’m on Two and a Half Men and I don’t want to be on it. Please stop watching it. Please stop filling your head with filth.”
It’s easy to snark, as I have myself, that Jones has been and still is filling his pockets with “filthy” money, from a show he says is not just bad but pernicious to its viewers. That said, it’s not fair to write off the criticism as prudish religiousness run amok. People should care about the morals and messages of TV shows — God knows I do as a critic — and that extends to the people who make and star in them. We should be more concerned if they don’t care about what their shows are saying.
I can’t say whether I agree with Jones’ criticism, though, because he doesn’t really spell out what part of the filth he hates and why. It’s definitely a raunchy show by broadcast standards, but to me there’s good dirty comedy and bad dirty comedy; my problem with Men is how sour and mean-spirited it is, especially (though not limited) to its female characters. But I don’t know what Jones’ objections are — to a specific attitude, or general vulgar content? — so it’s hard to discuss them.
More generally, to do Jones the favor of taking his stance seriously, as much as I dislike the show I can’t accept his premise that we should be concerned because of “the effects of television [on] your brain.” The idea that stories have simple, direct and predictable effects on the public — that they make people immoral or selfish or bigoted, &c. — is a common one among not just religious culture warriors but also often secular ones, left and right.
A lot of people are invested in the idea that Pop Culture Work X has Effect Y, which both justifies attacks on programming and supports the corollary that if only we had more of one kind of programming and less of another, we could achieve [insert your desired social outcome here]. People would be more moral, society would be more kind, voters would choose the right candidates and so on. I believe that art (and I use the term very broadly) affects people deeply but not predictably; it’s a nonliteral form of expression and thus immeasurably complex in its effects. Which is why, even if I’m no fan of Men, I don’t want to simply endorse the idea of, See, even the guy who stars in the show says it’s bad for you! (As opposed to simply bad, which I would not argue.)
In any case, watching the video, I’m not sure Jones’ problems with the show are well thought-out, and he may be working through a lot of complicated issues in public. (I’d actually like to hear what he thinks of casting a young child in a show like this, as he was when he started on the sitcom.)
But thought-out or not, Jones’ testimony could have ramifications for the show, which has already replaced a bigger star in Sheen and survived. Maybe Lorre could save himself some trouble and rethink the whole title: How about One Man, starring Jon Cryer?