Angus T. Jones, the fraction in the CBS sitcom "Two and a Half Men," made news recently when he called the series "filth," bemoaned his own participation in it, and advised people not to watch it. The call came in the course of what he at least would call a religious testimony, delivered on video and posted on YouTube.
On ABC's "Nightline," Dr. Damon Raskin, a former child actor himself, described Jones' behavior as "very self-destructive"; on his blog, TV comedy writer Ken Levine called him "an incredibly ungrateful confused young man who has just committed career suicide and left himself open for major lawsuits."
Some of the reaction to Jones' announcement has really been a reaction to self-styled minister Christopher Hudson, who made the video and appears in it. Hudson's Forerunner Chronicles mixes Seventh-Day Adventist notions of the apocalypse with a wider selection of popular paranoid conspiracy theories; Jones, who attends an Adventist church in Los Angeles, thanks his new friend for "the information" he provides, without specifically endorsing his views.
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It may well be that he is being fooled — "exploited," worries mother Carey Jones — or being foolish. But he isn't only being foolish, it seems to me.
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of this article identified Debra Paget as an actress who left Hollywood to become a nun. Dolores Hart is the actress in question.
Rather, he appears to be making a stab at becoming a better person and some version of a responsible adult. The story of worldly dissatisfaction and sudden spiritual revelation he relates on the video is not out of the ordinary. And his malaise, if not necessarily his response to it, seems typical enough for a 19-year-old — an age susceptible to outsized attacks of seriousness, elation, frustration, boredom and despair. It's not for nothing that Shakespeare made Hamlet a college student.
Jones is not the first 19-year-old, after all, to conclude that television is bad for you. Nor is he the first rich kid — his 2010 contract with "Two and a Half Men" guaranteed him $7.9 million over the next two seasons — not to be made happy by his riches. Nor is he the first actor to attack a vehicle, or the first performer to feel himself swayed toward a holier path: I give you the Rev. Al Green, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens and actress Dolores Hart, who left Hollywood to become a nun. To the extent we look at such transitions as comical or sad, misguided or self-defeating or limiting, we only confirm the narrowness of our own ideas of what can constitute a Good Life.
"Filth" is a loaded word, admittedly. It is not like "smut" or "porn," which have become almost cute. It suggests contamination. But is it even controversial? As to the sitcom's actual content, let me simply refer back to my review of the first episode of Season 9, the dawn of the Ashton Kutcher era, which "hunted for laughs in herpes, chlamydia and vaginal warts" and gave Conchata Ferrell a line about "hosing the vomit off the occasional drug-addled hooker."
The number of viewers that will heed his call to rejection will be, I would guess, statistically close to zero. The ratings for the first episode after the news broke, an episode in which Jones' character, Jake, announces he's contracted an STD (title: "I Scream When I Pee") were as good as any this season, and I would guess that everyone is sleeping just fine over at Chuck Lorre Productions. Given their experience with Uncle Charlie Sheen, they may regard this as an opportunity, assuming the show is picked up for another season.
Times change, of course: One generation's cutting edge is a dull blade to the next. Pornography is now just another thing that lives on your Internet. But if we have long understood obscenity to be something relative, subject to the venue — sexual matters that can seem lazy or cynical on CBS' "2 Broke Girls" might feel perfectly fitting on HBO's all-but-explicit "Girls" — the fact is that broadcast television runs chockablock with sex nowadays. And there remain plenty of viewers for whom that makes it a minefield.
Jones also had the proximate example of former costar Sheen, a walking cautionary tale in the way that youthful celebrity can arrest development, if not necessarily success. Seeming to miss the point, the Rock Star from Mars has invited Jones on to his own, raunchier new series. And though Sheen pictured Jones as undergoing a "Hale-Bopp-like meltdown," nothing of that sort seems to be underway. Jones, for his part, quickly issued an apology to "all of the wonderful people" he'd worked with and for on the show and acknowledging their "support, guidance and love." To the extent that he has mentioned anyone by name, it is not, as Sheen did, to pick a fight.
It seems not unlikely that Jones may be nearing the end of his major-league acting career. He does not seem to have been particularly passionate about it, even before these recent developments, and history is in any case littered with former sitcom stars who never caught another break.
Still, I wish you well, Angus T. Jones. I would, however, recommend you take a sliver of your enormous salary and invest it in a first-class liberal arts education, to put that "information" you've been scraping off the Internet into better perspective. The end may be further off than you imagine, there is much to learn, and you are young yet.