The Jackass franchise has been the subject of countless books and articles over the past two decades, covering topics such as whether or not it’s good for kids or ethical to broadcast/produce it (who cares and absolutely), whether or not it qualifies as performance art (yeah, it does), how much of an impact it has had on popular culture (tonnes, of course, mostly good), and whether or not the original cast and crew can continue doing the I’m not going to say much about any of these topics since I don’t have anything useful to offer them beyond the quick replies I just gave. What I will say is that the newest part of the series, Jackass Forever, is possibly the year’s most necessary theatrical experience.
But why is that? You may inquire, and I completely understand your viewpoint: For a certain generation of stoners, skaters, alt kids, goths, jocks, or whatever, the series is defined entirely by the original TV show, which can be watched alone late at night or in between grav bong hits with your friends and bouts of the spins from drinking a little too much Evan Williams before trying to hold that nug smoke in your lungs long enough to breathe out clear air. Jackass was predominantly a theatrical experience for my age (middle millennials) — yeah, the DVDs featured extra films’ worth of stuff, but it was the audience that made it so darn wonderful — and I believe it’s particularly pertinent to the viewpoint I’m taking on this today.
I’ll offer you a single phrase of high-minded criticism if you’re looking for it: Essentially, Jackass has evolved into the skate vid version of Michael Apted’s Up series, in which we check in on our subjects at least once a decade and comment on how they’ve aged, changed, and also how little they’ve changed in the decades we’ve known them. But, unlike the stunts, pranks, and setpieces that Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, and the rest of the group are striving to deliver to us, Jackass resides in your limbic system and has a very limited set of aims. They want you to laugh out loud and often; they don’t want you to be bored; they want to make your heart race now and then; and, finally, they want you to wince, whether from shock at seeing Pontius’ Godzilla-styled dick wreaking havoc on a model city in the film’s hilarious opening sequence or from the fact that Knoxville is hit by a bull in this downright terrifying scene (not to mention all of the acts of genial genital trauma that the cast undergoes, often in short succession). To say they succeed at these aims is an understatement, regardless of whether you believe they’re “positive influences” or deserving of Abramovich-level scrutiny, and Jackass Forever follows that pattern. It’s kinetic joy, the rush of agony formed by solidarity and brotherhood. It’s often said that homoerotic male bonding is the driving and sustaining motivation of Jackass, but I’d expand it a little further: It’s about safety and trust first and foremost, with the safety (ironic, I know) coming from knowing that your friends have your back and wouldn’t subject you to anything they wouldn’t do themselves, and the trust gained through its constant demonstration.
Trust is in short supply right now, whether it’s in the government, the media, the military, scientists, academia, Spotify, or whether the person next to you will put their mask back on after they finish eating their popcorn, or whether you’ll end up on Twitter for forgetting to put yours on when you leave the theatre. The indications of the Covid era may be seen throughout Jackass, but they’re ultimately irrelevant to the beautiful displays of love and courage between these men on film, even if they don’t seem to be so by any normal yardstick outside of the BDSM community. It’s a hell of a thing to be reminded that normalcy is a state of mind by slices of hot and fresh hangout cinema, that even with masks and face shields and everything else that we’ve come to associate with the fact that COVID Isn’t Over, Even though some say “We’re Done With COVID,” one can still have a good time with their friends and do dumb shit and suffer the consequences for it, but pick themselves up with cheer in their hearts and
Even with a slate of great comedies having hit in the last year, it’s one of the few occasions in recent memory that I can recall a collected audience howling in laughter or gasping in agony, regardless of whether or not they’re wearing a mask. If Jackass is a celebration of the community that these people have built for one another, watching it in the dark at 10 p.m. on a Thursday night with a bunch of drunk BU students is a celebration of the communal aspects of the theatrical experience, which we’ve been deprived of for far too long, even though movie theatres have been open and showing new releases for nearly a calendar year now. The only thing that made me believe that things would return to normal were the yells, chuckles, and moans that erupted from that auditorium.That’s a wonderful sensation to have once again.