“Jackass” 3-D: Mirror of our World

I had an interesting weekend recently, one that took me from yoga to Jackass 3-D to The Merry Wives of Windsor.

And while I did my best to “take the yoga” with me to Jackass, I must admit that it is Jackass that I am most inclined to think and write about (perhaps the best of the Jackass oeuvre, while Merry Wives is widely acknowledged to be one of the weakest efforts on the part of the Bard)—as Jackass turns out to be an absurdist work of non-sense that could have come right out of Weimar Germany or 20’s Paris.

It’s not that the Merry Wives was not delightful, as it was performed by The Globe Theater’s troupe and is a work dealing with middle-class Elizabethan manners, a nice counterpoint to the rectal temperature reckoning to which Jackass subjects the American Zeitgeist.  If Queen Elizabeth was a woman who apparently could not get enough of that philandering jackass, Falstaff, the movie Jackass has everything to give the Queen’s English the bum’s rush.

While I endured Jackass more than I enjoyed it, the film turns out to be performance art of near perfect pitch.  The more I think about Jackass, the more I feel like a Frenchman digging on Jerry Lewis (and on that subject you truly must watch The Bellboy, super cool 60’s sublime, if you still don’t get what the French saw in that daft goofball; Netflix by all means).

Consider the roots of surrealism and dada—exhibiting urinals as art, and causing riots with a strongly subversive streak.  This stuff came out of the outrage of WWI and the cutting edge mechanization of war.  And it is Breton, DuChamp and Artaud who set the stage for Jackass 3-D, and I am confident that they would hail it as pure genius.  And now in a world on the brink, but of what we do not exactly know, Jackass serves up odious sweat in a fur teacup.  If only the middle class would riot, or revolt, or be truly revolted… or care.

Johnnie Knoxville and his troupe of wily wiseasses do everything they can to deconstruct all pretense.  There is no narrative at all, just bits of cruelty strung together with crazy glue and copious helpings of shit.

The “film,” if you could call it that, is an Hieronymus Bosch pastiche of sucker-punches, flying feces, guileless cruelty to humans on the part of animals and images of extreme pain (i.e. a gauntlet of tasers and cattle prods, a tooth extracted by string and a sports car).

I have to admit there were moments I simply had to train my 3-D glasses upon my shoes or risk involuntary gag-reflex… but as the hours recede from the event I find myself marveling at just how canny these vulgarians turn out to be.

Oh, did I mention that I was at Jackass 3-D in the first place because it was my son’s fourteenth birthday weekend celebration and the R-rated film required an adult in attendance.  Feel free to question my parenting, but the basic truths of Jackass 3-D were freely shared many moons ago with both my children when they were wee tykes still circling the kiddy potty—sagely transmitted in the guise of the literary masterwork, Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomi.  I think implicit in the “everyone does it” lexicon of Everyone Poops is the inferred understanding that everyone also vomits, sweats and hurts when you hurt them; in case you weren’t sure about these universal truths, Jackass does not hide its light under a bushel.

Jackass also had me thinking about karma, as clearly it was my karma to be with my kid and a couple of his compadres-in-gross friends (who I adore), groaning and laughing together at the outrageousness of it all.  The opening and closing credits are of particular merit (perhaps Meret, as in Oppenheim), and could have come out of Warhol’s Factory… only now I spied families at the mall watching the virtual end of the world (at least the cultural world) and in 3-D.

But this is no time to lament, perhaps it is time to celebrate like some Dionysian rite that is sure to end in tears and destruction, some sausage tossing lurid carnival from the dark ages—blowing off sex, and steam and anger in the face of oppression so that the Church could keep it’s iron glove on the neck of the populace for the other 364 days of the year, but what can one truly do unless the zeitgeist is willing?  Perhaps the end of Western civilization is the only way that some phoenix of a better world may rise from the ashes of what we have done.  After all, a vulgar circus of shit and vomit is hardly as offensive as the pinstriped atrocities that make war into business and imprisoning people with few prospects into business, and not truly educating children into business, and not taking care of our own into a dying business, a nasty business but a business nonetheless.

Thus I see Jackass as a non-film, one that would offend even most of my own heroes of cinema from Billy Wilder (although perhaps not Victor Sjöström, directing Lon Chaney in He Who Gets Slapped another MUST SEE film, if Netflix even has it) to Truffaut to any “normal” storyteller.  But perhaps we’re nearing the end of our narrative thread in the venerable history of film?  Perhaps it has all already become only a game and we are just slowly realizing that we are in that beautiful and vexing game and there is no sideline.

Most of all Jackass 3-D made me think of Passolini, a filmmaker I found quite hard to get through, especially his Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom, which made me feel almost the same mixture of disgust and confusion (although Jackass is in a sense superior, dispensing with any pretense of the sort one could write post-modern deconstructionist Derrida-inspired junk without invoking the ire, mock in the mire of the sadomasochistic tricksters that made Jackass in the first place).  Passolini may be the true cinematic father of Johnnie Knoxville (with Seven Beauties’ Lina Wertmuller as his mother).

Finally, I am left puzzling and appreciating:  puzzling, as a psychologist, about what exactly makes men willing to do anything for a laugh or a buck; but also appreciating that while my karma was to watch it, it was the Jackass guys whose karma it was to film it.  Filming is a lot of work, even when there is no overt torture, but when it comes to cruelty, every shot in Jackass is a money shot.

Hopefully, it is your karma to merely read about Jackass and not actually have to watch it, but I have shit on my hands on this one because I paid for tickets—and thus I paid these human beings to debase and hurt themselves.  Yet I also see that they are wily performers who know exactly what it is they do… and who end up revealing raw humanity, some sort of truth stripped of all art that circles back upon itself to be “art” the way every turd is actually homo sapien’s first sculpture.

So, despite my saunter today down lanes less sacred than profane, I nonetheless dedicate all musings to the benefit of all our collective children.  Thus, we might trade up from judgment to discernment, idealizing none and devaluing none, realizing that we’re all cooking in the same human stew pot, sometimes all huddled in the common human outhouse, and well-advised to treat each other with love no matter what.  Maybe in the end Jackass can shock, revolt and disturb us into simple human kindness.

Namaste, Bruce



12 Responses to ““Jackass” 3-D: Mirror of our World”

  1. rebecca @ altared spaces Says:

    I do not fail to notice that you end almost every entry with some sort of dedication to our children. Yoga to Jackass… and lingering on Jackass…I think you will keep our focus where we will all (or I should simply speak for myself) where I will best see.

    These kinds of films (nay subjects) make me squirm. But I too have a 14 year old boy. The giggles he emmits when I will dive into the fart jokes are like champagne. So I have begun to imbibe.

    To my surprise…I have gotten gentler. Not just with the boy, with everything, most of all myself. Is there a coorelation??? Who can say. We welcome the shadow, there is more room for the light, eh?

  2. Darlene Chan Says:

    Love the cineaste take on the Jackass ouevre!

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Although Andy rightly pointed out that Passolini made some kinder and gentler (and better) films such as Canterbury Tales, showing quite a bit more range than that delineated by the Jackass ouevre.

      Still, I don’t think any of them would have done the trick for my kid 🙂

  3. Randy Says:

    To love Jackass is to love ourselves. Perhaps a better phrase is: To accept Jackass is to accept ourselves. Shit on a stick is actual and true. I’m still sorting this out emotionally, but it really brings up the dicotomy for me between thinking about being in the moment and BEING in the moment. Acceptance without judgment or superiority. Also, thanks for making me Google Meret Oppenheim. I am again stretched and unable to return to my old size.

  4. Mark Brady Says:

    One of the great joys of Being a parent of young children or teens is the permission they grant to see movies that I’ve never really grown too old to see. Just too embarrassed to be seen at alone. 😉

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Carte Blanche for guilty pleasures (although it has also meant confronting movies I would otherwise be simply too scared to see: someone in front of us was literally crying at the end of “Paranormal Activity”).

      Being married is like this too—why else would I have seen “Twilight” as the father of sons? Although I’m not sure there was much pleasure in that guilt.

  5. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    My son went with friends to that sucker on opening weekend. I was thrilled that he can now drive and do those things on his own! While I appreciate a good fart joke as much as anyone, an hour and a half of them might do me in.

  6. BigLittleWolf Says:

    “Truth stripped of all art” to the point of becoming art. Surreal and Warholian indeed.

    I recognize that these movies entertain (kids, teens, and the kid and teen in certain among us?) – but I’ll take a urinal as art object (clean please) over this sort of film. But my hat is off to you for sitting through it – especially as it’s often the sort of thing that kids love to see.


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