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British born Ozzy Osbourne – as American as apple pie? You betcha! And what’s so American about some guy old enough to be your grandfather whose hairdo, perpetual sunglasses, and black-on-black wardrobe makes him hipper than your grandson? Simple – in the great American tradition of car dealers, carpet salesmen and aluminum siding guys, Ozzy has cut out the middleman and brought his product directly to you.

The product, of course, is family dysfunction. In the old days, Americans had to rely on wholesalers like Oprah-Sally Jesse-Jenny-Murray-Jerry to bring out the lurking weirdnesses of New Age life. They or their producers had to decide which “acts” to schedule, then screen out the true (or at least violent) psychotics, put them in makeup, feed them the scripts, prep them, edit them, pay them, house them and then torture them on air. The result? Gay Nazis, polygamous goldfish and people who married themselves.

But with the advent of the Ozzy Osbourne show, “The Osbournes,” no more middlemen. Americans can now indulge their voyeurism and get their schadenfreud direct from the Osbourne family living room. Some of you may remember that a few years ago, slime-ball pornographers were offering live-cam websites of co-ed bedrooms and bathrooms to allow 24/7 titillation for those sick enough to need it. Well, the Ozzy Osbourne show is sort of an Oprahfied equivalent – only Ozzy’s getting paid a lot more to “bare” the family soul.

For those who don’t know, Ozzy – a former musician with ’70s rock group “Black Sabbath” – has let MTV’s cameras into his home for some unscripted “quality time” with his family. There’s Ozzy’s wife Sharon, his children, friends of his children, assorted mooches and others who have that “hanging on the Post Office wall” look, if you know what I mean.

What these people do is argue and swear. Only MTV, in a last tip of the hat to decency, “bleeps” out the profanity. And believe me, “expletive deleted” hasn’t been as popular since the Nixon tapes during Watergate. But Nixonian scatology was nothing compared to the Osbournes’. And that includes every adult, child and pet in the house. It usually goes something like this:

Speaker: “Well [bleep] as far as [bleep] [bleep] and so [bleep] but [bleep] [bleep] and take it [bleep] [bleep].” (Grammarians please note: On the Osbourne show, there are very few troublesome verbs or confusing adverbs to consider – only strings of beeping conjunctions. It sounds like an intensive-care ward.)

Taking pleasure in the dysfunction of others is an ancient American custom. In Colonial days, petty criminals were pilloried while crowds gathered to jeer and throw fruit. In the Wild West, routine public executions in county seats never failed to draw a gaping crowd. It was only with the advent of that authentic American genius P.T. Barnum that somebody figured out how to turn a buck on it. Barnum’s famous museum in New York City featured bearded ladies, midgets and wild men from Borneo. Not only did Americans flock there in droves, it was considered such an important symbol of Yankeedom that, during the Civil War, Confederate arsonists actually torched the place.

And that’s what the Osbourne show is all about – Oprah for the Gen Xers, but with a twist. For starters, since everybody works these days, there’s no point in running this kind of a show in the afternoon. So MTV runs it at night. And, as befits our age, instead of watching some poor anonymous deadbeat with bad teeth twist in the televised wind, the new tortured party is a bunch of rich celebrities with bad teeth.

There’s another big difference worth mentioning. An at-home show featuring poor people wouldn’t work because there’s nothing in a trailer home that generates envy. But the Osbourne’s mansion in Bel Air is loaded with consumables. Their kitchen has the latest appliances, the furniture is luxurious, the d?cor a decorator’s delight, as befits a rock star. You know, Maury Povich meets Robin Leach’s “Rich and Famous.”

It’s all of a piece. And it’s not just for Gen X musicmeisters more comfortable with MTV than Fox News. At last week’s Washington Press Correspondents’ Dinner, who do you think was the big draw? I was there, and trust me when I tell you that it wasn’t anybody from the New York Times. It was Ozzy Osbourne! And when President Bush met the rock star, Ozzy pulled a shank of his red tipped locks and said to the chief magistrate, “You should wear your hair like mine!” A little later, Ozzy mounted a chair to the applause of people, most of whom run the country.

I’ll confess it right now – I don’t get it. Maybe I’m too old. Maybe I’m not old enough. But one thing I can say: Who the (bleep) can believe this?

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