The Tortured Soul of a Jackass
Jackass: Number Two / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | October 14, 2006 | Comments ()
There’s a scene in Johnny Knoxville’s latest documentary, Jackass: Number Two — a gritty, urbane examination of the post-adolescent retardation of men in their late 20s/early 30s — that involves a container of horse ejaculate. I’m reluctant to disclose the details, mindful as I am about revealing the fine intricacies and schematics of the Jackass plotline, but there’s an almost undeniable hidden metaphor in that half-bottle of prostatic fluid, and what the bearded jackass (Chris Pontius) and Mr. Knoxville — who turned in a literally haunting performance as Luke Duke in last year’s Dukes of Hazzard — do with the equine spunk provides a suitable distillation of the movie as a whole, propelling the narrative undertones to another, more complex stratum. It’s probably obvious to anyone, but what the director, Jeff Tremaine (who in addition to the Jackass films, also directed their sublime precursor, Boob), is trying to essentiate with in this particular vignette is that the three leads — Knoxville, Steve-O, and Bam Margera — really, profoundly want to fuck each other. On a chair. In the backseat of a Volkswagen Bug. In a library carrel. Or against a rock. Wherever. It doesn’t really matter, just so long as there is penetration involved.
But what’s made clear when Knoxville and Pontius drink the horse’s spooge (oops — sorry, I didn’t mean to ruin it for you) is that in a society still driven by the Christian right and red-state morality, 30-year-old men with wives, girlfriends, and masculine reputations to uphold still cannot whip out the lubricant and give in to their primal urge to slip it into the backdoor. And unfortunately for these poor, subdued men — two of whom have children — the only real outlet for the repressed sexual frustration is to drink the ejaculate of a horse, or stand around in the nude and inflict pain on one another, while anointing the appropriately named Wee Man as their phallic mascot. It’s a cheerless state of affairs —nearly a year after Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger mainstreamed man-love into our cultural zeitgeist — that this group of men still must play with poisonous snakes in lieu of one another’s sexual members or, worse still, substitute the goring of a bull’s horn for the feel of a man.
There are other critics, mostly middle-aged white men who write for print publications, who fail to understand the plight of the Jackass crew. They unfairly decry both this movie, the original Jackass film, and the television series (yes, there is that much pent-up sexual frustration) as the beginnings of the moral bankruptcy of America, presaging a time when the profundity in our pop-culture landscape will erode into nothing but a series of blows to the groin. I cannot buy into that sentiment. Clearly, these critics’ minds have been so addled by decades of Scorsese, De Palma, and Spielberg that they can no longer recognize the significance of a grown man who would literally deign to eat horse shit — such an act is unmistakably tied to one’s inability to progress beyond Freud’s anal stage, providing ample subtext to the film’s homoerotic overtures.
But is Jackass 2 funny? In a word: Yes. In fact, if it weren’t so hilarious, it’d be outright heartbreaking. And rather than being derided by critics, Mr. Tremaine should be applauded for elucidating so clearly the sexual-identity crises bubbling beneath the surface of so-called “frat-boy” America. Like the men of Jackass, millions of fraternity brethren must spend their weekends with Greek letters affixed to their chests, self-destructively drinking themselves well past the point of inebriation simply to cope with the psychological torture of having to share a room with an attractive floppy-haired collegiate with a popped collar. Borne out of those frustrations were the almost paganistic hazing rituals of fraternities, the circle-jerks, and the alcohol-fueled self-punishment and humiliation that Knoxville, et al., have simply filmed and turned into a snuff-like form of entertainment, billed as “low-brow” to those not in the know.
But we know, Mr. Knoxville, Mr. Margera, Mr. O, and Mr. Wee. We know that no one who wasn’t experiencing a great deal of emotional conflict would anchor a fish-hook into a cheek and swim with a school of deadly sharks. We know that you would not punch a bear trap unless you were trying in vain to stifle a great deal of rage. We know that you wouldn’t play with an anaconda in a tank full of balls unless they were metaphors for what you cannot have. And we know that no one who wasn’t crying on the inside just a little would rocket-propel themselves over an ocean, unmindful of the dangers of death, unless some part of him longed for an afterlife where he were free to love whomever he would, in any uninhibited manner he chose. And certainly, nothing even need be said of the segment entitled, “The Butt Chug.”
By and large, the intended audience for Jackass: Number Two will miss the not-so-subtle implications of the film. Most will be too busy wiping away the cherry-flavored Icee spewing forth from their nostrils to recognize the emotional ache underlying the series of stunts — there were times, in fact, when this critic was so overcome with sick, adolescent joy that I, too, forgot what the film was really about. And that’s the real genius of Jackass: Number 2 — the message, undoubtedly, will filter down into the infantile subconscious of America. And little by little, these Jackasses will chip away at our collective prejudices. And when this group of “merry pranksters,” closing in on their 40s, makes a third or a fourth installment and someone finally succumbs to a painful, tragic demise, we may finally understand that lying beneath the goofy grins and perpetually unclothed torsos of these men are tortured souls begging to be set free. And once we realize the sacrifice he is willing to make for his art, maybe — just maybe — we will finally recognize that there is nothing at all wrong with one man’s love of another.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives in a blue house with his wife in a hippie colony/college town in upstate New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.