It wasn't until recently that I started to hear that the Jackass movies are regarded by some to be cinematic masterpieces -- that's the phrase my friend Griffin Newman used to describe the first one in a recent episode (put out before the NYT story) of the movie podcast he co-hosts, Blank Check. The Times incident elicited a whole new wave of positive Jackass cultural criticism. New York magazine's Max Read tweeted: "the thing is that all the jackass guys were models of open-minded, emotionally available, body-positive, physically active, life-affirming masculinity, except for bam [margera]." Writer Caroline Moss replied to him, saying, "Every time I watch Jackass I am alarmed at how...joyful I feel watching them just live laugh love." Comedian Jaboukie Young-White wrote: "jackass is a docuseries about the cis, straight, white, american male id and how it coped with and responded to suburban ennui in the death throes of its cultural monopoly. it should be in the criterion collection."
After reading some of this commentary out loud to my boyfriend this past extremely lazy Sunday, he suggested we actually put on Jackass: The Movie. I was nervous. "It'll be gross, right?" I asked. "You love gross stuff," he replied, making an accurate statement about my current self. (Sorry, poop is funny.) Renting it, I had another stupid query: "So, is there a plot?" Ha.
With a cloud of smoke and the sounds of "O Fortuna," my Jackass journey began. As I watched I simultaneously learned about the origins of the show, the skater's manifesto that was Big Brother magazine (you can watch a documentary about it on Hulu), and how Steve-O actually trained at clown college. I reveled in the near-constant male nudity, which, frankly, still feels revolutionary. How likely is it, even in 2020, that you're going to find something that has essentially no objectification of naked women, but a ton of swinging dicks? I found the dangerous, chaotic energy bizarrely soothing. There's something artful about Jackass stunts, even at their most crude. They are poetically absurd, all little meta commentaries on the futility of human existence. There's also a lot of excrement. Of course, John Waters loves this shit.
I'm not quite willing to say that the Jackass movies hold up entirely. Any time I watched the guys messing around in another country, I started to feel uncomfortable, as if the joke was suddenly becoming less about their own bodies and more about the havoc they were inflicting on others. A bit where Bam Margera orchestrates a prank in which Preston Lacy switches places with Margera's father, sidling up beside Margera's sleeping, unsuspecting mother, raises questions about consent.