Trashing Icons of Innocence

ted.JPGIn June of 1989, rocker Don Henley struck a chord with his melancholy musical commentary “The End of the Innocence.” In that song, guileless idealism runs headlong into harsh realities of adult life. Divorce. Deception. Duplicity. But Henley’s Top-10 hit didn’t chronicle the final, dying breath of sweetness and naïveté in America. Twenty-three summers later, there’s still a little left. And it’s taking a beating.

This weekend marks the release of Ted, a subversive R-rated comedy about a cuddly teddy bear who, wished to life decades earlier by his young owner, has “matured” into a beer-swilling, bong-smoking stuffed animal that solicits hookers and has a mouth like Joe Pesci in a mafia flick. He’s a child’s plaything stripped of its innocence. Think Chucky without the homicidal tendencies.

“They called Ted a ‘hard R movie.’ I don’t see it as a hard R movie,” says the film’s writer/director (and voice of the bear), Seth McFarlane. McFarlane made a name for himself as the creator of Fox’s edgy animated series Family Guy, which has plumbed for laughs by turning another symbol of innocence—the fresh-faced suburban toddler—into a sexualized sociopath. Yet rather than deeply offending America’s sensibilities, little baby Stewie can be seen doing Wheat Thins commercials.

“It’s so difficult to shock America these days,” raunchy writer/director Judd Apatow told USA Today in 2007.

Indeed, but since crass comedy relies on shock value, writers keep trying. So when nothing coming from the mouths of adults can deliver the same blue comedic jolt, the answer now involves giving those lines to icons of purity and goodness: A TV baby uttering homoerotic double-entendres. A teddy bear spewing the f-word. Frank sexual dialogue from little old ladies and grade-schoolers…

If writers can’t lower the bar any further for what gets said, they’ll lower the bar for who says it.

For example, you may recall last year’s Paul, an off-color Simon Pegg comedy about a profane, pot-smoking alien on a road trip with a couple of sci-fi geeks. Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of friendly extra-terrestrials have close encounters with people. Paul turns that subgenre on its head by imagining how E.T. might’ve behaved had he been socialized by Cheech, Chong and an American Pie marathon.

Is this, as Don Henley suggested, the end of the innocence? I’d hate to think so. But it sure feels like Hollywood is working overtime to undermine symbols of gentle fun and childhood innocence, recasting them with a hedonistic cynicism just as offensive as the dialogue coming out of their mouths.