Reality Bites More Than A Bat Head

The past few weeks, more than six million Americans have tuned in to MTV to watch the latest example of so-called "reality television." This is the largest audience in that network's history. Part of the "reality" they're seeing is a lesson in the personal and cultural consequences of the 1960s spirit of personal liberation. "The Osbournes" tells the story of singer Ozzy Osbourne, his wife, Sharon, and their two children, Kelly and Jack. Osbourne is the father of "heavy metal" rock music and is nicknamed the "Prince of Darkness." His best-known antic is biting the heads off live bats during his concerts. MTV cameras followed the Osbourne clan through their daily lives for six months. The show's entertainment value lies in the juxtaposition between Osbourne, the outrageous rock icon whose career was built on pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and Osbourne now, the overwhelmed family man. Thus, the audience is treated to a sight of a tattoo-covered man fulminating against his daughter for getting a very small one. Then there's drugs. Osbourne was legendary for his heavy drinking and drug use, which makes it hard for him to say anything about his daughter's marijuana use. It's clear that Osbourne and his wife adore their kids, and their kids adore them, but there's more to being a parent than affection. There's a need to teach right from wrong, to be a good role model, and to instill a sense of moral limits. These are problems for "The Osbournes." It is almost impossible for them to assert any moral authority over their children at all because their well-publicized lifestyle and values disqualify them as moral teachers. But the Osbournes try. He and his wife lecture their kids, but Kelly, the daughter, fires back: "What you and Dad have to understand is that me and Jack have been brought up very differently from everyone else"—in other words, a libertine lifestyle. That's why the Christian Science Monitor says, "Osbourne is a poster boy for 'don't do what I did, honey.'" But it's more than just parental hypocrisy or inconsistency. Osbourne and his antics are the extreme embodiment of the sixties worldview that has shaped many of today's parents. This worldview values such ideas as self-expression and individual autonomy above everything. It believes that the Church, government, and family have led us astray. So salvation lies in liberation from the constraints imposed by these institutions, and nowhere is this worldview more dominant than in the music world Osbourne inhabits. And as audiences are learning every Tuesday night, what works for a rock star onstage fails him offstage. That's because before you can expect someone to exercise self-control and respect authority, you have to provide them with a belief system that treats those virtues as important and be a role model. Parents who aren't notorious rock stars shouldn't feel smug about the Osbournes' dilemma. Most American parents, and our educational system, subscribe to the same values we see on display at Ozzy's house. The results may not be as extreme—or as lucrative—but their impact is just as real on the lives of the kids who aren't going to embrace good values they've seen their parents reject. In the end, the real lesson of "The Osbournes" isn't about fame or fortune. It's about how what we believe shapes not only our lives, but the lives of those we love most.
For Further Reading and Information
Charles Colson, Answers to Your Kids' Questions (Tyndale House, 2000). Gloria Goodale, "Ozzy and Ozzie: TV Family Guys, One Tattooed," Christian Science Monitor, 19 April 2002.


Chuck Colson



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