Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Jackass Number Two


This is the only way we could ever have seen a Jackass movie, as a second feature with something we really wanted to see. I warn you, America, there will be more of these. Getting our Subway sandwiches before going to the theater, the girl behind the counter asked us what movies we were seeing. Lee said The Depahted (actually, she said Departed, since she doesn’t have a Boston accent). “Oooh, I want to see that.” Then Lee said Jackass, clearly expecting a yuck! reaction. Not so. The girl started laughing, telling us how funny it was. Then, a little sheepish, that it was gross, sure, but it sure was funny!

She’s not alone in her opinion. Here’s some of the publications whose critics gave it a thumbs up, courtesy of Metacritic, where it scored an aggregate of 66%: Film Threat, Hollywood Reporter, New York Times, LA Weekly, Austin Chronicle, Entertainment Weekly, Onion A.V. Club, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Rolling Stone, Salon, Chicago Reader, Washington Post, TV Guide, Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald. Only the Chicago Tribune and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had the balls to identify this wad of cowflop for the turd it is. Ebert and Roeper liked it, too.

We lasted 15 minutes. Lee was ready to go after 5. I would have held out a little longer, since I wanted to cite more atrocities in this review, but I’m not sad I missed them. I know from my reading that much worse was yet to come.

What have we come to, my friends? What has our culture come to? I was going to say what has America come to, but it’s much broader than that. Survivor was based on a Swedish show. Japanese TV has stuff you wouldn’t want to subject the inmates of a Turkish prison to. It’s infected the whole world.

And what infection am I speaking of? Why, “Reality TV.” It has now come to the movies, with a vengeance. God, how I loathe the whole phenomenon.

Yes, I know it’s been with us in one form or another for a long, long time. Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour was reality TV, and some of the people were pretty bad. Then came The Gong Show, where they wanted you to be bad, where they were laughing at you, and the people lined up. But lately we’re talking about something very different. I thought it was kind of creepy all the way back to its roots, the Loud family on PBS in 1973. Sure, sure, it was PBS, it was done tastefully … but I wondered what impulse would drive people to invite the whole fucking country into their house to see their lives, both the good stuff and the wild dysfunction that is native to almost all families. What led Mrs. Loud to ask for a divorce while the cameras were rolling?

I guess it’s Andy Warhol’s famous 15 minutes … but the scale of things you have to do to get that quarter-hour now has been ratcheted up drastically. When I was a teenager I went to a sideshow to see a guy with feet that weighed 50 pounds each. At another such place I saw dozens of “pickled punks,” aborted fetuses with horrible deformities. I was fourteen or so, okay? I’m sorry! But I grew up! By the time I was 16 you couldn’t have paid me to enter a ten-in-one. We’ve pretty much outlawed them now (depriving a lot of “freaks” of the only way they had to make a living), but they still exist, on the Jerry Springer Show, on Fear Factor, very much so on The Apprentice. Why would someone want to see inbred toothless hillbillies slugging it out on stage? Why would you want to see bright young aspiring bottom feeders stabbing each other in the back? Is watching someone eat a spoonful of slugs your idea of a good time?

There is also “performance art,” which is basically just a variation of a guy biting the head off a live chicken, the infamous old-timey geek show. There are touring troupes these days that do things like eating a hamburger, throwing it up, and eating it again. If that isn’t your cup of vomit, how about a guy who lifts a suitcase with his dick?

Jackass is the bottom of the bottom. Lee said it reminded her of that infamous video (which was shown endlessly with the appropriate tut-tutting) of the teens cruising with a paintball gun, shooting pedestrians and laughing to bust a gut. Cruising around on the dozens of online video sites, I’ve seen things that leave me totally stunned at how stupid people can be. Anyway, I pointed out to Lee that it wasn’t quite the same, since these jackasses were doing it to themselves. And it’s true, no innocent bystanders are hurt. Nobody gets hurt but the ones who are … not risking injury, many of the stunts are intended to cause injury. For some reason this makes some people—a lot of people, judging by the box office—admire Johnny Knoxville and his idiot crew.

I guess the main casualty here is the sense of human decency. Taste, decorum, privacy … these are all old-fashioned concepts, headed for the dustbin of history. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s an MTV production. Not content with killing the radio star and leaving us with the vast cultural wasteland that is modern pop music, full of talent-free but beautiful people who look good in a video, MTV now gives us this steaming pile of puke. I shudder to think what they’ll come up with next.