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My Tortured Relationship with Jackass: Or How I Ended Up the One with a Stick in His Ass

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | October 18, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | October 18, 2010 |

Maybe a movie that involves a one man batting a tee ball into the junk of another doesn’t deserve the print or attention it’s received over the last few days, but I can’t seem to exorcise the shit-smeared demon.

I badly botched the weekend box office report, detailing the $50 million opening of Jackass 3D, and now I’m repenting. I opened that post with, “Just because you saw Jackass 3D (and I know many of you did), and just because you might have even enjoyed parts of Jackass 3D (as I know many of you did), it doesn’t mean you have to be happy about the film opening at number one this weekend with a whopping — a whopping — $50 million.”

What I should have opened with was, “Just because I saw Jackass 3D, and just because I might have even enjoyed parts of Jackass 3D, it doesn’t mean I have to be happy about the film opening at number one this weekend with a whopping — a whopping — $50 million. “

The truth is, I have a tortured relationship with Jackass, and while there are plenty of you who suggested that it’s not something to get worked up about, that it’s a one-off, that I should remove the stick from my ass, I’m a movie critic. Ridiculous, pointless-to-the-real world bullshit weighs on me because it’s my job to overthink pointless-to-the-real world bullshit. I’ve been wrestling with Jackass 3D for days.

I honestly didn’t mean to sound self-righteous in the box-office round-up, and perhaps my history of intentionally sounding self-righteous colored the reception. Still, when I said, “I’m not passing judgement,” I meant it. I meant it because it would’ve meant passing judgement on myself. When I asked if the collective you were tortured by your own hypocrisy, I really meant: I feel tortured by my own hypocrisy. I took comfort in the fact that at least I was in good company, that of Mike Judge and Spike Jonze, who are smart and talented people. And who have seemingly made amends with themselves, and squared away their love of Jackass with their apparent aspirations to contribute something more meaningful to our culture. I was trying to clumsily pass along that comfort to those of you who, also, have a tortured relationship with Jackass.

I haven’t fully squared away my dichotomous feelings, although there were some comments in the round-up that I thought were good defenses of Jackass. While I don’t feel comfortable about the “intent argument” that a lot of people brought up, PuppetDoug wrote a great comment that began:

“I think the Jackass movies are more tolerable, and therefore superior to offerings like Norbit or Meet the Fockers because of intent, and I don’t just mean the not aspiring thing — I think your point was that something like Norbit isn’t aspiring, either. Jackass is self-aware.”

I have a difficult time with that argument if only because if it is stupid and culturally bankrupt, then why should it matter whether the people behind it knew it was stupid and culturally bankrupt? The end product is the same, regardless of intent. If Eddie Murphy knew that Norbit was a tremendously huge chunk of shit, would’ve it have mattered? Because I’m guessing that, based on Murphy’s earlier work, that he knew it was a piece of shit, but he knew it would make money, so he made it anyway.

mightygodking contributed this in Jackass’ defense: “Norbit and Meet the Fockers use some slapstick, but ultimately they’re bad films that refuse to innovate in the realm of physical comedy. Jackass, whatever else you might think of it, genuinely tries to invent new types of physical comedy rather than just go to the nut-crunch well once more.”

That would’ve been some comfort to me after the first Jackass movie, and maybe even the second. The third Jackass, unfortunately, didn’t try to innovate. It did the same things that the first two movies did; it just made them more vulgar. It went to the nut-crunch well repeatedly. And when Steve-O drank the sweats off an obese man, and the audience laughed between their retches, I felt alienated. Because it only elicited retches from me, and I felt old, like maybe I’d outgrown that brand of comedy, which depressed me, because I don’t want to outgrow it. I like to maintain a sense of immaturity where it suits the situation. But then again, Steve-O drank that man’s fecal-flecked sweat and puked all over the fucking place. Why is that funny? Does the fact that I didn’t find it funny mean I’m broken? Did the stick up my ass break me?

Some Guy, who may or may not be the same Some Guy that often trolls the site, did make a very astute retort to TrickyHD’s suggestion that Jackass viewers were the same types of people who got George Bush elected. Wealthy middle-aged white people and right-leaning Christians are not the Jackass audience, he wrote. The youth — and many of those who voted for Obama — are the target audience. Bush voters would’ve had Jackass banned from theaters, which is a point in Jackass’ favor, I would argue. In either respect, nice point, Mr. Guy.

Rubble44 added this: “There are literally hundreds of movies that come out and pretend to have something to offer to the public but are more damaging to them then Jackass 3D. ”

And again, is it a question of intent, and again, whether it’s crap pretending to be good, or crap that knows it’s crap, why does it matter if the end result is still crap?

However, Rubble44 also offered this: “You say you aren’t passing judgment, but that’s all you are doing. Just because I liked this movie, I never have a leg to stand on when I say something sucks ever again?”

This is exactly the rub for me, and if it really did sound like I was passing judgment, then I was mostly passing it on myself. If I admit to liking this movie, do I have a leg to stand on when I say something sucks ever again? You’ll notice that I reviewed the last two Jackass movies. In fact, the review for Jackass 2 was one of my favorite reviews. But in both cases, I’ve been ambiguously hyperbolic. A straight review of Jackass is an exercise in futility — no one decides whether to see Jackass based on a review. I’d much rather delve into the cultural commentary. Or at least try and have some fun with the review. If I’d written a straight review for the second Jackass movie, I’d have said something along the lines of, “I laughed. A lot. And I felt really guilty about it.” If I’d written a straight review of the third movie, I’d have said: “I laughed a few times, but there was nothing particularly clever or innovative about the stunts. It was the same shit, only now with more shit.”

Still, if I weren’t reviewing it, would I have paid to see it? Based on the strength of the first two movies, yes, I would’ve. I would’ve willing added $10 to the $50 million pot. But I would’ve felt guilty about it. Does that make me part of the problem? Probably.

So, do I have a leg to stand on when I criticize Life As We Know It and Meet the Fockers, if I admit that I liked the first two Jackass movies? Have I lost the moral high ground? If I had honestly liked Jackass 3D and admitted to it, would I have been pandering to the mainstream?

I dunno. But, I’ll return to puppetdoug who did, I believe, offer the absolute best intellectual defense of Jackass:

“It is a group of clever idiots figuring out more and more inventive ways to hurt one another. That ingenuity is amusing because it is absurdly married with stupidity, and that irony is the source of all comedy. It is the comedic amoeba, swirling in the primordial funny bone of the first gefilte fish to climb from the ooze and tell a joke about his ex-wife.”

I can get behind that argument, although mrcreosote wisely noted, “We’re giving Jackass a pass because they are “aware” of how stupid they are? I’m not convinced Steve-O knows what day it is.”


He also added this: “It is possible to be BOTH stupid and smart. Airplane did it, Tropic Thunder did it, even Idiocracy itself did it.”

Also true. It is possible.

But the question is this: Is Jackass BOTH stupid and smart, or just stupid? And if it’s the latter, and I admit to liking it, do I destroy my credibility? Or did I destroy it years ago when I admitted that Son in Law was one of my secret shames? It’s just that I feel a lot better about my guilty pleasures when they don’t open with $50 million, and it’s a lot harder to admit when one of your secret shames involves a man applying leeches to his eyeball (now that was innovative).

Finally, thanks for all the comments and feedback, both negative and positive, on the review and the box-office report. I know that Jackass is divisive, and that most people are solidly pro or anti-Jackass. But for the few of us conflicted ones in the middle, it’s helpful to read cogent, articulate arguments on both sides.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.