The Simple, Primal Pleasures of Jackass
Jackass's Pleasures are Simple and Primal, just like him.

The Simple – Primal Pleasures of Jackass: Jackass’s Pleasures are Simple and Primal, just like him.

The Simple – Primal Pleasures of Jackass

There was hardly a moment of silence during my Jackass Forever showing at the Alamo Drafthouse in San Antonio. Brief moments of stillness were disrupted by whispers of “oh no” and “oh God” and “I can’t watch,” which were frequently traced back to me, who was wiggling around in my own comfortable seat, delighting in the attention.

The most memorable moments were when our nearly sold-out cinema erupted in a synchronized commotion that alternated sporadically between shrieks of fright and howls of hilarity. I was reminded, as I am every time I see a film of this caliber, of what it is that makes moving pictures so beautiful throughout the 100 minutes that comprise the fourth and (supposedly) final feature in the Jackass oeuvre.

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It’s what the Lumière brothers sought more than a century ago when they revolutionized filmmaking equipment, paving the way for the birth of cinema; it’s what Nicole Kidman gazes upon in reverent awe at AMC, those “dazzling images on a huge silver screen” that make her laugh, cry, and care; and it’s what the Lumière brothers sought more than a century ago when they revolutionized filmmaking equipment, paving the way for the birth of cinema. It’s also something I would have never imagined myself doing in the past, when I considered lowbrow art as a negative reflection of oneself and society in general.

Now, seeing Jackass Forever was very similar to my first experience with it last summer, which was in a pub with my buddies, surrounded by people who were talking, laughing, and schmoozing with each other. (This was post-double vaxxed, pre-Omicron.)

I was so moved that I was on the verge of tears. It was, however, distinct from the other boisterous, crowded theater experiences I’d had since the outbreak began, such as watching Venom: Let There Be Carnage, or Licorice Pizza, or The Beatles: Get Back, which I saw in IMAX on a rooftop.

All of these shows were entertaining and instilled hope in the face of ongoing theatrical despair, but there is something particularly pure and beautiful about the masses converging together in a small dark room to laugh at something as simple and innocent as middle-aged men bruising their ballsacks and drinking rotten milk so that they can puke on themselves while being spun around on a small carousel meant solely for torture.

But, let’s take it a step farther. When I was in middle school, my then-boyfriend went me to watch Jackass 3D with his friend, and I had a great time. Despite the fact that my boyfriend’s friend served as the third wheel in terms of logistics, it was I who was accompanying someone else on a date.

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Prior to my presence at this screening, I had experienced a significant degree of personal opposition. My boyfriend was a Jackass fanatic—more specifically, he was a fan of Bam Margera and his Jackass spin-off series Viva La Bam—and he was a zealot for the character. I never heard the conclusion of the story about that individual, and I developed a strong dislike for Margera and the rest of the Jackass group as a result of my secondary exposure to them.

Additionally, the idea of participating in the consumption of “poor art” did not sit well with me. Despite the fact that this was before I had really gotten into capital-C Cinema (which included niche, high-brow masterpieces like American Psycho, Fight Club, and Pulp Fiction), I was still a precocious high school student fascinated with outward appearances. Watching a video in which human beings debase themselves through their own filthy bodily processes is the worst thing you could possibly do. Girls, on the other hand, would never do such a thing. It’s critical for us to present a pleasing appearance and engage in pleasing activities in order to eventually attract a suitable mate.

But, somehow, this tiny lover of mine was able to persuade me to accompany him. Historically, when I find a boy to be attractive, I am easily persuaded of almost anything. Nonetheless, I recall sitting in that theater and watching through my shoddy 3D glasses with utter revulsion as Steve-O was hoisted into the air inside a Porta-Potty that had been equipped with a cache of human feces, which would soon cover his body as gravity pulled the portable toilet furiously back down to earth.

Throughout the film’s 90 minutes, I couldn’t find anything amusing. I didn’t laugh once; instead, I recoiled in disgust and abhorrence at what I was seeing. When I try to recall what happened in the immediate aftermath of this viewing, my memory becomes hazy, but I’m pretty sure it included me standing there, speechless and silent as the three of us walked out of the theater, feeling ocularly violated, while my boyfriend and his friend reflected on their experience with the kind of unadulterated delight that comes from witnessing art that has truly moved them. As the final credits of Jackass Forever began to roll, I experienced the latter sensation.

As a result of my involvement with Jackass 3D, I have evolved into a lady of the world. However, it was not until a little more than a year ago that I began delving in the collected works of Jackass, thanks to the persuasion of a good buddy who convinced me to do so.

It makes pathetically little sense why it took me this long to appreciate the Jackass flicks (it should be emphasized that I have yet to view the series), but for me, it represented the end of the last connections that tied me to the last vestiges of my remaining stuffiness in the direction of low-brow culture (along with my recent embracing of Adam Sandler pictures).

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I now choose to indulge in works of art and films that are specifically designed to upset, disturb, and nauseate me. Disgust, in my opinion, is one of the most effective feelings that a film can elicit from its viewers. This is due to the fact that it is one of the key feelings that we do our hardest to avoid feeling, or that we avoid the things and actions that could cause us to feel this way. Having a body, on the other hand, is a source of disgust: the majority of the things that our bodies are capable of doing are absolutely nasty.

A simple fact of life that the guys (and now women) of Jackass are intimately familiar with, and one that they have earned their ongoing success from, and one that we would all benefit from coming to accept as a matter of course. It is pointless to attempt to free oneself from their primality, something I sorely wanted to do as a teenager who was repulsed by Jackass and by the uncouthness of my own existence.

In addition, neither acting above Jackass nor over-intellectualizing Jackass serve any useful purpose in the long run. Since Jackass is such a strong and uniting artistic force because it is so beautifully uncomplicated, the latter endeavor is pointless. The legendary Buster Keaton once dazzled audiences with his illusions of deadly stunt work, and the Jackass crew continues that illustrious tradition (albeit in a very real and very painful way), dazzling audiences with both reverence and disregard for the human form in their stunt work.

While the clear homosexual camaraderie amongst the Jackass team is certainly noteworthy, it is also another example of how the show crosses deeply-held differences in our attitudes toward our own bodies and the bodies of others, which is something that Jackass does in spades. Johnny Knoxville clearly separates his friends’ proclivity for stripping down to their underwear and stroking one another’s genitalia as not only gay-coded, but also outright gay in the film.

My middle school boyfriend and his friend were the types of adolescent males who went to extreme lengths to establish their heterosexuality, but who couldn’t get enough of watching these specific men go nude together and explore each other’s sexuality. It’s as if the Jackass cast and crew executed a sophisticated trick with consummate skill. Intimacy with other guys is masked as “bro conduct,” which is a looseness with the male physique that is regarded acceptable by straight men who would otherwise be uncomfortable with closeness with other men.

My emotions were actually impacted both when I watched all of the Jackass films over the summer and as I walked out of Jackass Forever this past weekend. In the latter situation, it was the pleasures of community art that elicited laughter from others in my immediate vicinity, and in both cases, it was the long-lasting camaraderie of the men on screen who were forced to engage in hilarious acts of serious bodily injury. It is the relationship between the individuals that make up Jackass that serves as a significant part in their attraction.

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This goes beyond my personal development as a hypersensitive teenager into a nasty pervert-art admirer. Similarly to what I recently read in an article from my colleague and long-time Jackass lover Hannah Strong, “Jackass was developed out of real-life friendships and a serious devotion to the collaborative process.” She goes on to say that such enduring dedication to one another feels more poignant now, in the wake of COVID-19 epidemic lockdowns and isolation.

Along with dealing with the devastating loss of member Ryan Dunn back in 2011, the crew is now dealing with the mental illness and addiction that has caused former member Margera to be barred from the set of Jackass Forever. (Margera was involved in the early stages of the creation of Jackass Forever, and he even contributed to one of the stunts seen in the movie.) Even so, the members of the team and the citizens of Knoxville do not talk ill of their struggling neighbor.

These lovable and indisputable characteristics of Jackass have gradually captivated the hearts and minds of reviewers. A notable example can be seen in the progressive shift in the overall critical perspective on Jackass, which began with an unsatisfactory 49 percent on Rotten Tomatoes before steadily improving with each installment until the final picture, which currently has an excellent 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Although the movies never got any better (they were always good), our world, which is becoming increasingly inhospitable, has slowly become more hospitable to their simple, silly charms, which are free of oppressive and culturally destructive intellectual property and buoyed by genuine, human connection.

Jackass is a cultural phenomena that has become more visible than ever in the year 2022, and it is pointless to try to stop it. It is a disservice to ourselves if we continue in this manner. The lowest common denominator of entertainment, whether it was a camera cleverly hidden inside Steve-taint O’s or a mass of swarming bees dangling from his cock, had me willingly surrendering to the lowest common denominator of entertainment. Because, in our hellish world, where we are besieged on all sides and from which it appears we will never be able to escape, it is in our most primal human impulses and functions that we might discover reminders of what is genuinely great about being human.

The Simple – Primal Pleasures of Jackass