Like any open-minded dad would, I took my daughters to see Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience when it opened last month, and we had a great time. I was easily the oldest person in the crowded El Capitan auditorium, by a good 30 years, and I was also perhaps the only male, other than those gentlemen decked out in El Capitan regalia kindly showing ticketholders to their reserved seats. It was a bit like Beatlemania, what with all the screaming and swooning going on in the audience, and on screen too. Fratelli Jonas, in between 3D concert segments, revert to 2D and are pursued in a very self-consciously Hard Day’s Night manner, by a throng of female teenaged fans thousands strong as they move through Manhattan to promote their new CD. The filmmakers, and even the boys themselves, barely have their hearts in these segments, which come dangerously close to filler; or they would if the audience to which this movie is pitched cared a damn about anything like a substantive look at pop celebrity or the marginalia of fame. They’re too busy screaming, Tiger Beat-ing themselves into a frenzy while mentally and rhythmically crossing their fingers and toes in the hopes of hearing their JoBro favorites.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those high-minded snobs who feel like they must insist on only exposing their kids to the Beatles or Dylan or some other culturally approved musical talent that young ones are likely to experience as inaccessible dinosaurs. (Well, maybe not the Beatles. My girls love the Beatles.) These parents are also likely to believe that there is some way to resist the insidious cultural tide commanded by the Disney brand. I once thought that. But as soon as I heard my girls coming home singing Miley Cyrus and Jonas Brothers songs without ever having been exposed to them at home, I knew that it was now not a matter of protection and deprivation but instead one of monitoring and evaluating. And in that light, I don’t mind the Jonas Brothers at all. Their stage presence is accomplished, if a bit too self-conscious, and as Chris Willman wisely observed in his review of the 3D Concert Experience movie, “if you have children with any kind of musical aspiration, perhaps you could find better targets for your scorn than kids who write their own songs and--urban myths to the contrary--play instruments.” Willman also points out that parents and others who go out of their way to fret too much about the Jonas Brothers are forgetting that these boys are in effect carrying the torch for precisely the kind of pop and rock music that remains dear to them, and carrying it in the face of a darkening abyss of bland synth pop and faceless R & B that is the antithesis of the Jonas Brotrhers’ homegrown and hook-laden pop sound.
I like Willman’s spirited defense of these youngsters. But even so, something happens in the concert movie that ought to give parents (and anyone else, really) pause and reason to question the judgment of the Jonases, their handlers, or even the Walt Disney Company itself (if one is allowed to do that sort of thing these days). It happens about midway through the movie, before (if I’m not mistaken) the onstage arrival of the sassy, likable Demi Lovato and tiny blonde hurricane Taylor Swift, both of whom acquit themselves admirably and with much melodic energy. All three of the boys haul out giant fire hoses and point them at the audience. This’ll be amusing, I thought. What’s water shooting out into the audience in 3D going to look like? Boy, those kids in the front row are in for quite a soakin’! It was when the first Jonas boy—Joe, was it?—positioned his fire hose at about hip level that alarms started ringing in my head. What the—And they’re they go! The first five or ten rows were blasted with a barrage of water from the—Wait. That’s not water. A shot of the audience then revealed a good percentage of the audience near the stage covered in a white, sticky goo—yes, a white, sticky goo—and loving every minute of it. It appears, despite the G rating of the movie, despite the Jonas Brothers’ very public sporting of purity rings as a pledge of their intent to remain virginal until marriage, despite the family-appropriate reputation of the Disney label (we’re not talking Miramax, or even Touchstone Films of Hollywood Pictures here, but the Disney label, with that familiar signature logo), the Jonas Brothers just high-pressure ejaculated all over their live audience! Who gives a good goddamn about purity rings and pledges if you can get away with splunging upon the faces of teenaged girls on a relatively massive scale?
I have wrestled with the reverberations of this bizarre occurrence for the better part of the month since we all saw the movie—it is an anomaly in the context of the rest of the picture; other than the occasional microphone jutting out into the audience, a de rigeuer stunt for this type of affair, overt sexual referencing (one could hardly call it innuendo) is not the game the movie plays. So what gives? This super-sized unloading went sailing over the heads of my nine and six-year-old, but there were plenty of 11 and 12 and 13 year olds in the audience who probably got exactly what that image was all about; maybe on a subconscious level, but if they’re pubescent, they got it. The whole thing seemed so bizarre that I almost came to believe I had hallucinated the entire episode. Willman certainly never mentions it, at least not in his Huffington Post piece. He makes an excellent case for us musical sophisticates being able to draw a line from the unpretentious pop charm of “Can’t Buy Me Love” and what the Jonases are up to musically, but I don’t ever remember Paul McCartney shooting buckets of jism out of the neck of his bass onto the waiting and appreciative faces of those screaming girls in Ed Sullivan’s audience. Lisa Schwarzbaum did notice, and she was clearly, if too briefly, disturbed by what she saw too. Did nobody else think of this as a big deal? Am I already turning into a paranoid prude of a dad?
Leave it to Trey Parker and Matt Stone to Sum It All Up For You. I hate to think of the Disney label as being home to this kind of gross pandering, which seems damn close to irresponsible behavior on their part. But I must remember, as we all must, that above and beyond their well-known code of family-friendly conduct, Disney is a corporation whose bottom line, as it is for every corporation regardless of the product, is the making of profit, and if this Jonas hosing is the most blatant example of tweaking and selling sexual imagery to immature kids who are exposed earlier and earlier to messages and behaviors which most parents would not actively endorse, it cannot be the only one. (Take an hour and listen to the overproduced girls and boys growing up way too fast on Radio Disney.) This darkly hilarious excerpt from South Park viciously dissects the greed-head impulses underlying the sexual element of the Jonas Brothers phenomenon in a way that flays awfully close to the truth bone, making the laughter it generates the bitterest kind. And until someone can convince me otherwise of the playful innocence of that foamy dousing, the explanation offered by this brilliant two minutes of social (and film) criticism courtesy of two of our most fearless pop culture satirists is what I have to believe is true. Nothing else even remotely makes sense.
The Jonas Brothers incur the wrath of the Big Boss when they decide to ditch those infamous purity rings