IT’S 50 YEARS since the release of “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” and not quite three since I first invoked that film’s closing image — of a doctor surveying war’s carnage and muttering “madness, madness” — to capture a media world that appears to have gone slightly nuts.Yet here I am again, flipping through TV and newspapers only to be overcome by the strange sensation that either I’m losing it, or everyone else must be. This week’s battiest if most amusing moment came courtesy of the popular CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” where series co-creator Chuck Lorre’s vanity card — which flashes on the screen for only about a second, the producer‘s bonus treat strictly for those who know to look for and freeze it — was vetoed by the network. Those who care to peruse the text can find it at chucklorre.com, but to summarize, Lorre used the space to address the show’s critics and specifically those offended by its risque humor. To make his point, he told an old joke about a hunter who keeps pursuing a bear despite the fact that the beast keeps disarming and sodomizing him. Given the hunter’s persistence, the bear finally says after several encounters, “You don’t really come out here to hunt, do ya?” Funny, but Lorre’s not-so-subtle message to those in the outrage business — namely, if you’re really that offended, don’t watch, otherwise you must kind of like being offended — was deemed, er, too offensive and potentially indecent, even though viewers would have to go to the trouble of TiVo-ing it to read his screed. Then again, that wasn’t the only underdeveloped sense of humor on display this week, as the New York Times made the Olympic-worthy leap of transforming the level of slapstick violence in this year’s Super Bowl ads into some kind of referendum on the war in Iraq. Advertising can subtly reflect cultural trends, but the stretch from beer commercials’ attention-grabbing devices to tragic military quagmire makes me wonder what the Marx brothers and Three Stooges were a referendum on. IT’S A TOSSUP who’s more insane, meanwhile — Cartoon Network for going to the trouble of implementing a bizarre “guerrilla marketing” campaign promoting an animated property called “Aqua Team Hunger Force,” or Boston authorities for their hysterical reaction to the stunt and subsequent attempt to pin the entire blame on Time Warner. In another loony collision of showbiz and government, Democratic lawmakers — many of whom haven’t watched TV since “Petticoat Junction” — are again making noise about weighing in on primetime’s content standards, decrying the “appalling” state of TV during a recent Senate hearing with the Federal Communications Commission. Here’s a nod also to the Los Angeles Times for providing humorist Joel Stein a weekly forum to advertise his availability to work on sitcoms. Maybe this week’s column — an ode to the intelligence of TV executives, which certainly requires guts when you’re prodding them to hire you — will help jump-start the process, freeing up valuable op-ed real estate. OTHER INSTANCES of madness simply involve lazy use of language. Consider for example the much-huffed-about “snub” of “Dreamgirls” — a term implying a conscious act by 6,000 Academy members, as opposed to voters sifting through the candidates and independently judging the musical the sixth-, seventh- or eighth-best film of 2006, which really isn’t a snub at all. Then there’s the coverage of “Grey’s Anatomy” star Isaiah Washington seeking “counseling at a residential treatment facility” for insensitive remarks toward gays, joining the trend of responding to racism, homophobia or sexual dalliances (thank you, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom) as if those were “conditions” that could be treated much like a chemical dependency. There’s actually more evidence that Christmas spirit can make a Grinch’s heart grow three sizes. Finally, despite the understandable sadness surrounding the death of Barbaro, news accounts breathlessly label infants and racehorses “courageous” when they cling to life, confusing the distinction between true bravery and mere instinct. So yes, doctor, there’s madness out there all right, and not the good kind that comes each March during the NCAA tournament. Or maybe everything just looks and sounds nuttier if you watch and read too much.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more