Miserable for the Benefit of Humanity
I've been a fan of Jackass ever since the show first hit MTV in 2000, and in the years since I've gotten awfully sick of hearing Joe Lieberman and other professional joykillers, church ladies and stuck-up stickybeaks attack the Jackass boys and their fans. All too often, I get the feeling that these people have never troubled themselves to watch more than a few minutes of the show, and now, with a new Jackass movie crashing its way into the multiplexes, we're hearing those same tired, ill-founded criticisms all over again:
The Jackass guys are completely irresponsible, and their antics encourage people to hurt themselves. The show ran endless disclaimers and warnings, often scrolling them along the bottom of the screen during the most dangerous stunts. When the Jackass guys get hurt, they show it, sometimes following the luckless, groaning victim through the subsequent hospital visit and x-rays. Johnny Knoxville spent much of the first season on crutches following a stunt that went wrong. When the copycat stuff started, Jackass was moved to a later time. Then, at the height of the show's infamy, Knoxville himself decided to shut it down and do an R-rated movie version instead, so kids wouldn't be able to see it. They did everything but hire a dirigible and drop leaflets from the sky reading, "Please don't imitate our stupid show," and if that idea had occurred to them, they probably would've done that too.
They're a bunch of repressed homos. Ain't nothing repressed about it. There is a lot of very weird male bonding in an average episode of Jackass, and these guys see each other naked with some regularity. Then there's the constant gender-fuckery: they perform roughly half their stunts while dressed up like fairy princesses or little Dutch girls. When the website Dark Horizons asked Knoxville if he'd ever played a gay character, he replied, "Oh well, Jackass, it's about as gay as it gets. We try to make it as gay as possible." Chris "Partyboy" Pontius, easily the, uh, least homophobic of the Jackass gang, once described his plan to become a prostitute catering to men, with a tattoo on his belly reading "Chicks pay double." In a recent interview on MySpace, Pontius pledged that the new film will be especially "homoerotic." The interview didn't say so, but I like to imagine that after he said this, Pontius let out one of his hearty pirate chuckles: "Har har har!"
They're a bunch of violent, sadistic freaks. There's a certain amount of locker-room hazing in the Jackass troop—chasing each other around with hands covered in horse semen and all that—but really, these guys take far more pleasure in getting hurt than in hurting anybody else. Steve-O, for instance, has become notorious for stapling certain parts of his body to other parts of his body, but he has a sunny, hippie-ish disposition and is resolutely opposed to harming others. He will kick fans in the nuts if they specifically ask for it, but, as he puts it, "There's a big difference between hurting a man on purpose and fulfilling a man's wishes." You wouldn't want the Jackass boys to stay at your house for a week, but generally they're a pretty decent bunch. (Well, except for Bam Margera, who is like the bad guy in one of those detective stories about an obnoxious, spoiled rich kid who turns out to have a bunch of mailmen buried in his back yard.)
They appeal to the worst in human nature. Well, it all depends on how you look at it. I find their camaraderie and absolute fearlessness inspiring. When you see them getting into shopping carts and crashing headfirst into hedges in the parking lots of suburban shopping malls, without any pads or helmets, there's something genuinely awe-inspiring about that. They know it's going to hurt like hell, and they do it anyhow because for some strange reason, they like it and it makes them feel more alive. Is that any worse than football, where guys smash into each other for hours at a time in rigidly ritualized combat, while scantily clad females mindlessly cheer them on from the sidelines? Football makes me feel that humanity is nothing more than a bunch of shaved apes, while the Jackass guys show impressive individuality, creativity and conviction. And football will never offer anything as adorable as Jackass' Parking Meter Fairy, a grown man with glittery wings and a wand, daintily sticking it to the man by skipping through the streets and feeding quarters into parking meters so people wouldn't get tickets. Could a creature as wonderful as the Parking Meter Fairy really exist? Indeed he does, Virginia, as long as we believe in him.
They're stupid. Several of these guys, including Knoxville, started off as professional writers, and all are remarkably funny off the cuff. (When Jon Stewart asked Knoxville what the Jackass fellas had been up to lately, Knoxville replied, "A lot of, uh, grappling amongst men.") Steve-O can come across like a stoner idiot, but he also has a gift for memorable and strangely profound soundbites. "Everybody's gotta slow down and turn their head to look at an accident," he once remarked. "So I guess the same is true for the accidents we deliberately create. People just love the misery of others, and we're willing to be miserable for the benefit of humanity."
See? The Jackass boys set themselves on fire because they love you. Can Joe Lieberman say the same?
JACKASS: NUMBER TWO WAS DIRECTED BY JEFF TREMAINE; WRITTEN BY SEAN CLIVER AND PRESTON LACY; AND PRODUCED BY TABREZ NOORANI. COUNTYWIDE.
Related story: Scott Foundas gives Jackass: Number Two two scarred and tattooed thumbs up in New Reviews.
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.