Jackass is high art & we should all be excited about Jackass 4
Dissecting the art of Jackass, and wondering if we'll ever be able to return to a movie theatre to see it.
I’ve been a bit nostalgic for the movies lately. You know, the whole theatre experience. That thing we all used to do together. We’d line up, pick our overpriced seats and buy our over-priced popcorn.
I miss the theatre etiquette of leaving a polite seat between us if we didn’t know each other. Of turning out phones off. And that tacit agreement we all had to remain silent - not even whisper - once the trailers were over.
And then we’d all go on a new journey, together.
I’m not sure when that experience will come back. If it does, it will be fundamentally different. For one thing, some of the tiny, independent theatres we loved won’t make it through. And the ones that do survive - well, it’s going to be a different experience. I imagine things will be a little more spaced out. Audiences will be shy.
And the movies themselves will change. It already feels weird watching scenes where people are in crowded restaurants, furiously kissing cheeks and shaking hands. Those days are numbered. How will the stories told in TV and film change to reflect that?
It reminds me of an incredibly and heartbreaking essay over at the New York Times written by Gabrielle Hamilton, who had to close her Manhatten restaurant Prune down. She’s coming to terms with the fact that chapter in her life is over:
I’m going to let the restaurant sleep, like the beauty she is, shallow breathing, dormant. Bills unpaid. And see what she looks like when she wakes up — so well rested, young all over again, in a city that may no longer recognize her, want her or need her.
I feel a bit like that about theatres. Ever since I first experienced a movie theatre when I was about 10, “the movies” have been my ever-present escape mechanism in life.
I can clock life events by the movies I’ve seen: good dates and terrible ones (once I got so drunk out of nerves I kept kicking the seat in front of me whenever I got a fright); times I’ve celebrated, and times I’ve felt the absolute pits.
I’ll never forget Jurassic Park at 13 - I’ve still got the collector’s cup I got from the concession stand. I associate seeing Thor: Ragnarok with a crazy Dark Tourist shoot in Kazakhstan, and Sicario with a mental escape I needed from Tickled.
So yeah, you could say I really want to see a movie right now. Which possibly explains why I had a strong reaction to learning a new Jackass move is in the works. So sue me. I love Jackass.
Hear me out. I really do think Jackass is high art, and this is why.
I did not expect to see this pop up on Deadline:
I could not be more excited. Not because Jackass 4 is being delayed, but that we’re getting a Jackass 4 at all. We don’t deserve something this good, and I tweeted accordingly:
I’m not joking. I think a lot of people (all of my friends) write Jackass off as a juvenile pack of boys hitting each other in the nuts. And it is that, but it’s more than that, too.
Yes, it has it’s issues — and I’ll get to them (the problematic bits, the arrests, the deaths). But I also want to celebrate it.
Before we went into lockdown here in New Zealand, I’d already started rewatching the films, because they’d popped up on Netflix. I started with 2002's Jackass: The Movie and Jackass Number Two, before buying a copy of the third film, Jackass 3D.
I’d already seen all three in the cinema back when they came out, and 2010’s Jackass 3D was transcendent. Some people got excited about Avatar. I got excited about Jackass 3D.
My love of Jackass started back in 2002, when I first left home.
I was in a hostel, and I’d use our shitty internet to download Jackass episodes. People from the hostel would crowd into my room, and we’d all roar with laughter, along with all the Jackass boys who were also roaring with laughter. It felt dangerous and interesting and I’d never seen anything like it. None of us had.
So sure, I guess you could argue I was the perfect target for this show. A kid in his first year of university. But it stayed with me, this show, and I’ve seen the cast and crew grow up, pushing themselves and their craft (the cinematography is inspired) to new heights.
A young man with movie-star looks being tasered, bitten by vile animals, shot with paintballs and enduring all kinds of punishment that somehow was laugh-out-loud funny in a Three Stooges way. It got tense when he argued with his crew over who’d fire a small-caliber handgun into the flimsy-looking bulletproof vest he was strapping on. Luckily, the vest held up and the tape became as valuable a calling card as The Spirit Of Christmas was for South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. MTV signed a deal and the Jackass empire was born.
A lot of “prank” shows have an underlying meanness to them. The person making the show - who has all the power - is taking advantage of someone who’s not in on the joke. We saw it in Ashton Kutcher’s P'unked (at least they were rich celebs being taken advantage of) and more recently in Prank Encounters (which took the piss out of people looking for a job. Fuck! How bleak is that!)
But by-and-large, everyone in Jackass is in on the joke. They’re mates. The joke is on them. The occasional bystander gets sucked in, but this is a story of friends goofing around and messing with each other.
And “goofing” sells it short. Logan Paul goofs. Johnny Knoxsville, Johnny, Bam, Steve-O, Wee Man, Ryan, Preston, Chris and Dave engage in elaborate, carefully conceptualised stunts.
And they’re brave. They do things on camera that leave me shaken. Steve-O putting a fishhook through his cheek and being cast into an ocean of sharks? That happened. So did a limo being turned into a bee hive:
And an entire floor of mousetraps:
It’s high art, and a lot of it has to do with the direction of Jeff Tremaine, who’s been there since Jackass debuted on MTV. But there’s also long-term collaborator Spike Jonze, who wrote and produced Jackass 1, 2 and 3.
Jonze’s DNA is all over Jackass. You know, the guy who also directed Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Her.
He’s also going to write and produce Jackass 4. So yeah, you could say I’m excited.
Look, it’s not perfect. The Terror Taxi sketch springs to mind, where stereotype of “Middle Eastern Terrorist” are turned up to 11.
In essence, the execution is brilliant, as the whole sketch is flipped on Jackass’ Ehren McGhehey’s head. He thinks it’s his job to terrify a taxi driver, by dropping constant hints he’s a terrorist (and, you know, because he’s dressed up as a terrorist).
But the taxi driver is in on it, and pulls a gun on McGhehey. He’s kidnapped and thrown in the boot. He’s terrified. Eventually Knoxville and the director intervene, as McGhehey becomes increasingly hysterical.
He’s freed, only to suffer a final indignity - discovering the fake beard he’s had glued on the entire time is actually made from the cast’s shaved-off pubic hair. There’s a crab in there, somewhere.
See, the execution and twist are great - but it all relies on a Middle Eastern terrorist stereotype. Sure, you could argue McGhehey is ultimately punished for that - but the fact is, we’re all meant to be laughing along with how he looks.
It’s also uncomfortable in Japan, where the crew take advantage of Japan’s infinitely polite population.
There's also been a combination of tragedy, breakdowns and creepiness from various cast members.
Bam Margera was arrested for trespassing, and his uncle and occasional Jackass cast-member Vincent Margera got 10 years probation for groping two 12-year-old’s at a signing. He died of kidney and liver failure in 2015, aged 59.
Cast-member Ryan Dunn was killed in 2011, when he drove his Porsche into a tree. He was 34. Zachary Hartwell, a PA on Jackass Number Two, was in the car and also died. Toxicology reports showed Dunn was driving with twice the legal limit of alcohol in his bloodstream. It was all a bit confusing for Hulk Hogan, who years later thought it was Bam who had died.
“Sorry Bam!!!” Gets me every time.
There are plenty of issues to find about the show itself, I suppose. The cast isn’t particularly diverse - it’s a bit of a white boy’s club to say the least. Sometimes, the pranks between friends border on mean-spirited (locking Bam in a cage of snakes when he’s terrified of snakes), but it’s rare.
When all is said and done, Jackass is a bunch of friends clowning around, that can be enjoyed by anyone. The pranks are universal. We all want to laugh when someone gets hit in the nuts.
Fuck, I really ended things on a low, didn’t I? But I wanted to be honest about all this. For all the love I have for Jackass, I think we have to be aware of the not-so-good-bits in the mix, too.
As I mentioned, perhaps the worldwide upheaval and uncertainly around this global pandemic has me looking back at simpler times. Maybe it’s got me all sentimental, thinking about friendship and what it means. And I really do think at its core, Jackass is about friendship.
So I’m looking forward to seeing Johnny Knoxville and his mates on a screen in 2022. Maybe even a theatre screen. I hope some form of that experience will have returned in a few years’ time.
I want to watch Jackass 4 with my fellow humans — perhaps with a few spare seats in between us — as we laugh at these idiots doing things we’d never dream of doing ourselves.
And I hope they survive making it. Knoxville was in his 20s when he started hurting himself on camera. He’ll be 51 when Jackass 4 comes out.
PS - Remember the movies? Remember?!!!