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Et tu, Jim Belushi?
On Sunday morning, life was going incredibly well; my weekend included partying on a bus with my Danish friends, conversing with a British drug dealer about his problems getting laid, and hijacking the stereo system at a party (obviously I put on ‘90s music). Then, out of nowhere, I stumbled upon the Thanksgiving Special of According to Jim. From that point on life’s been downhill.
Fun fact: According to Jim ran for eight seasons. Now, try looking at the glass as half-full. In case you are unaware of this show’s existence, you’re probably familiar with Jim Belushi’s unapologetic allegiance to sports, laziness, food, beer, and female subservience. While Jim is ostensibly the portrait of a common American family, the mind-numbing situations coupled with the second-grade level sense of humor make Joe the Plumber look like T.S. Eliot.
How some Americans stoop this low for entertainment is beyond me. I’m assuming viewers use this show as a form of escape, leaping into a simple man’s simple mind. Still, if watching this show is how you cope with depression, there are healthier alternatives—Everybody Loves Raymond, Frasier, or The King of Queens. Okay, these are still piece-of-shit sitcoms, but they have their pockets of genius.
According to Jim, on the other hand, has no redeeming qualities. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the show’s deference to obesity, lethargy, and idiocy represent all that is wrong with this country. Sure, these characters could be engaging in worse activities, but they’re too fucking lazy to pick up a gun or kidnap an infant (and what about the planning? Could these feeble-minded creatures plan a trip to the zoo, let alone an intricate terrorist attack?)
Then there’s the misogyny. In the Thanksgiving Special, guess who gets to cook the turkey all day while the rest of the family slouches in front of the television? If you guessed Jim’s wife, bingo.
But with only this tidbit of information, it may be premature to accuse the show of stereotyping. The gut-wrenching chauvinism becomes fully apparent when the audience sees how Jim treats his wife. After expressing the solitude she feels every Thanksgiving, Jim proceeds to offer no help whatsoever. After a bit more complaining emerges from her lips, Jim starts throwing flour all over the kitchen to make her living hell a little bit worse. To top things off, the wife gets locked on the roof, and Jim only becomes aware of her absence when she destroys the satellite dish. Guess who he’s more concerned with upon this discovery, his shivering wife or his precious entertainment emitter.
Want to hear something even more ridiculous? As the story of Jim’s wife unfolds, his obese brother-in-law assumes the source of the satellite disruption is from an army of vengeful turkeys. As I began to lament the devolution of humanity, my fingers simultaneously trembled at this startling reminder: younger brother John Belushi died when he was 33. Jim is now 58.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this experience was the setting. I am studying in Copenhagen right now, and for the Danes to see According to Jim as a sort of epochal representation of contemporary America is troubling. Is this some kind of cruel joke on the Danes’ part? Are they trying to satisfy their high-mindedness by seeing what these purported superior nations are up to? To my relief, I came up with an answer: this show’s basic application of the English language means Danes can use the show as a practical didactic tool for improving their English. Still, According to Jim playing a pedagogic role sends a shiver down my spine.
At the end of the Thanksgiving Special, Jim sits down with his wife. In a clumsy attempt at empathy, he tells her that he felt some indiscriminate feeling in his gut when she took the whole family, except for him, out to dinner. His wife replies, “Jim, that was loneliness. You felt lonely.” Was this show created for adults whose childhood skimped on Sesame Street or Veggie Tales? Who the fuck has to be taught what loneliness is when he’s 50? Jim, that’s who. And, apparently, the four to six million Americans who tuned in to 182 episodes of this program.
Someone once noted that we’re not really adults; we’re just children feigning maturity. Well, count According to Jim as an exception to this rule. Nothing is feigned. And maybe that’s admirable. Jim’s problems are simple, but with simple problems come simple solutions. Name a genius who went to the grave completely satisfied with himself–it’s impossible. The “ignorance is bliss” aphorism does not take into account the depth of one’s liveliness, but if there’s a textbook example of someone who may be happier with a myopic worldview, it has to be Jim. Here, ladies and gentleman, is the perfect example of a man who has achieved success despite his own lazy efforts. In other words, a man who has lived the American Dream.