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We Hate It When Our Celebrity Obsessions Become Successful: Ruminations on The Osbournes
It was 1983 and I was eleven when I was introduced to Ozzy by an older neighbor kid. She came over to my house and disparaged my record collection which consisted of the Grease soundtrack, Kenny Rogers' The Gambler, and albums by Sha Na Na, and The Partridge Family. "Do you like Ozzy?" she asked. I didn't listen to the radio at this age and was clueless. "Who's Ozzy?" I said. "You don't know who Ozzy Osbourne is?!? He's only the greatest singer of all time!" she said. She ran home and brought back Ozzy's Bark at the Moon album. I played it and stared at a wolfman-like Ozzy on the cover. I was already a KISS fan, or at least a fan of their makeup and toys, and very into monsters and horror. My parents would never have bought me an album with a cover like that, so I simply filed the information and the driving riff of the title song away in the back of my head. At 13, I explored heavy metal and hair bands openly, using my babysitting income to buy a Ratt T-shirt and many issues of Circus magazine. My favorite bands were Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, and KISS. When I started high school I forsook metal and got heavily into alternative music. I made fun of the burnouts who liked Motley Crue, Ozzy, and Poison. Secretly, I liked some of the hair band hits, but I wouldn't admit it publicly.
When I reached my early 20s, I decided to embrace my inner metalhead. I finally went to see KISS and Metallica. I bought up the seminal albums of the genre, and that included Ozzy's Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. I went to Ozzfest during its inaugural year, 1996. I was wowed by Pantera and Type O Negative and thrilled to finally see Ozzy himself, giving the audience his all, singing all his solo hits and some of the Black Sabbath classics. He was having a great time, leap-frogging and spraying the crowd with a water cannon, and his energy was infectious. I haven't missed a concert since.
Being an Ozzy fan wasn't cool outside of the metalhead circuit. I found myself spending a lot of time defending Ozzy, explaining the bat-biting and Alamo-pissing incidents, reciting the lyrics of "Suicide Solution" to prove the song was a warning about the dangers of alcoholism, not an incantation to bring teens to the brink of suicide. As I became a bigger fan, I started collecting Ozzy memorabilia and acquired a video off eBay that had footage of Ozzy and his family cavorting at their homes in LA and England. I enjoyed Howard Stern's hilarious interviews with Ozzy, Sharon and the kids. I bought the Live and Loud video and saw Ozzy teaching a young Jack how to take his final bows on stage. A pixie Jack repeated, "We bow to the left, then we bow to the right, then we bow to the middle, and we say thank you, we love you all." It was too cute for words. It seemed like only the true Ozzy fans knew about his complexities-his low self-esteem issues, impoverished background, inner demons, and deep love for his family. Nobody else paid any attention to the man behind the curtain.
Then came The Osbournes. I'm as surprised by the success of the show as the Osbournes themselves seem to be. I knew how entertaining the family could be from the earlier footage I'd seen, but I didn't think they were ready for prime time. I agree with other critics who have called this reality sitcom groundbreaking, hilarious, and brilliant. For me it's must-see TV. I never dreamed I'd get a chance to be a voyeur in Ozzy's home.
Suddenly, friends who always disdained Ozzy are telling me how hilarious and lovable he is. They want to know more about him. He's America's favorite TV dad. I'm happy that people are getting to know Ozzy, but at the same time I feel a little bit like those hip kids in college who stopped liking alternative bands as soon as the bands cracked the top 40. I stuck with Ozzy through the rehab and power ballad lows, and now there are all these fair-weather fans. The crazy Ozzy has been sedated, and now he's Al Bundy. And if they keep showing him snoring and coloring, he's going to become as bland as Bob Saget.
As thrilled as I am to see Ozzy change the trash bags each week, I do question why he's doing this show. Of course, we owe The Osbournes concept to Ozzy's svengali manager/wife, Sharon, who got ready for prime time by having her hair highlighted and her stomach stapled. Sharon's greed knows no bounds. I've complained for years that she works fiftysomething Ozzy too hard, with the constant touring. She's smart and extremely manipulative (note her condescension and use of a baby voice whenever she's trying to get Ozzy to try on an ugly bat jacket or coax Jack into going to school). At times, I'm convinced she's pure evil, such as in the scene where Ozzy demands a tour itinerary and she blatantly lies to him, denying that she's scheduled back-to-back concerts. When he finds out the truth, a plaintive Ozzy says, "You can't do that to me. I'll blow my voice out." And this is true. I've seen him on the second night of doubleheaders several times and he's been ragged and apologetic about his inability to hit the high notes. The mad icon crumples before his adoring audience's eyes. We love him anyway, even when his voice cracks on "No More Tears," but we don't like to see him weak and hurting. "You only care about the money," Ozzy says, and Sharon winces. Sharon must have noticed Ozzy's vocal problems and pain over the years, yet she continues to schedule him back-to-back, as this year's Ozzfest itinerary attests. She not only disregards her husband's feelings but also shows little regard for the fans who are now being charged over $80 for tickets to see her hoarse husband.
Now in addition to pimping out her husband, she's exploiting her teenaged kids. Maybe the kids wanted to do it, wanted their father's fame. But isn't it hard enough being a teen and the offspring of a fried rock star without having thousands of people all over the internet calling you fat and ugly? Does Sharon look back at her own yearbooks and instead of cringing the way the rest of us do, say, "Gee, I wish I'd lived these awkward years on national television"? Jack and Kelly looked happy enough while hosting MTV's spring break coverage in Cancun, but I can't help believing the show is going to have aftershocks for them. Just as its protagonist has a dark side, so does the sitcom.
Yet, Sharon Osbourne is too complex to be dismissed as a monster. I'm convinced that Ozzy wouldn't have survived the 70s without her. She intervened in his life when he was at his lowest point, living in a motel, drinking and drugging and contemplating suicide after being kicked out of Black Sabbath. She hooked him up with Randy Rhoads and got his solo career going and she's managed him ever since. Without Sharon, there would be no "Crazy Train", no "Mama I'm Coming Home", no Jack, no Aimee, no Kelly, and probably no Ozzy. And Sharon and Ozzy do love each other. They cuddle and still seem passionate after all these years. They love their kids and they're decent parents, giving their kids room to form their own identities.
I still want to know why they're doing it. It can't just be about money, because they were already mega-rich. Maybe Sharon wanted to be famous herself. Or maybe she was motivated by a desire to show the world the softer side of Ozzy. She's probably more sick of explaining the dove-decapitating incident than I am. I guess that's admirable, but I hope that all of the people who are laughing as Ozzy falls out of a chair will also come to realize he's a legend with one of the most distinctive voices ever. Those 6 million weekly viewers haven't rushed out and bought Ozzy's poorly-selling new album Down to Earth. Ozzy may not be notorious anymore, but he's still not getting any respect, especially from his wife.
I guess I don't like seeing Ozzy turned into a cartoon. I hope that everyone who's amused by his tremors, stammering, and shuffling gait will realize that these are the effects of years of chemical abuse. This is a sad, haunted man and his life hasn't been a sitcom. In the end, the best advice kids can glean from watching The Osbournes echoes the theme of the family meeting in a recent episode: just say no.
The crazy train has left the station.
Am I being too hard on Sharon?
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