By now, everyone’s heard of Fred Willard’s unfortunate encounter in an adult movie theater. The fact that he was arrested for jerking off wasn’t shocking, as police officers in L.A. have clearly solved all of the other crimes and are focusing their efforts onto the real societal problems. What shocked me is that PBS immediately fired Willard from his new show, Market Warriors. In a world in which noted spousal abusers and all-around assholes Chris Brown and Charlie Sheen keep getting work, 72-year-old Fred Willard’s infraction was just a bit too much for our delicate sensibilities.
I had never heard of Market Warriors before this story broke, but apparently it’s along the same lines as Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers, or Storage Wars. Willard’s role was to provide the voice over. Upon his arrest, however, PBS immediately pulled all upcoming episodes featuring Willard and re-recorded them. Because apparently the fact that Fred Willard jerked it in a movie theater will come through his voice and terrorize all of PBS’s antiques-loving, penis-fearing audience.
Many, of course, are drawing parallels between this story and that of Paul Reubens, aka Pee-Wee Herman. He, famously, also got caught jerking off in a movie theater, and it ruined his entire career. The windowless van-driver mugshot certainly didn’t help his case. Of course, it’s important to note the main difference between the two stories: Reubens got caught in a pre-internet era, when celebrity news was less frequent, and thus bigger. It was also a time in which celebrities tried to avoid scandals, instead of monetizing them.
In 1991, when Reubens was arrested, the collective public did not have first-hand knowledge of Tommy Lee’s penis size, or what Britney Spears’s vagina looked like. They hadn’t seen Kim Kardashian get peed on, only to dry off and build an empire. Nip slips, wardrobe malfunctions. For better or worse, these are a standard part of celebrity culture. This wasn’t the case twenty years ago.
More importantly, however, Reubens hosted a children’s show. His show was full of fantasy and wonder, but that fantasy and wonder could never hope to withstand the image of greasy hair and an exposed penis. Willard’s situation is different. His role in Market Warriors is merely a voice. His audience is not children, but rather elderly antiques-lovers who don’t keep up with celebrity gossip, and people trying to fall asleep or nursing a hangover. Insomniacs and drunks certainly aren’t going to judge a guy for doing what would come natural in an adult theater.
As one of the aforementioned hangover-nursers, my first reaction to Willard’s firing was that of puzzlement. Granted, I have no first-hand knowledge of adult theaters, but were I to go into one and not see a single person with his hand down his pants, I’d be incredibly shocked. After all, you’re not there to enjoy the award-winning writing or innovative camera work. It’s like arresting someone for swimming at a public pool. That’s why you’re there in the first place. Sure, maybe some people just go there to lie in the sun, but at the end of the day, most people are going to get wet.
Fred Willard should truly be the least of anyone’s worries– even PBS. I can still enjoy people finding hidden treasures in antique shops just as well as I could before I understood that poor Fred Willard doesn’t know how to use the internet.