Guilty Pleasures: Dana Cameron

Jackass: The Movie

Help me.

I pondered my guilty pleasure for this essay, not getting too far. The best I could come up with was Desperado or Buckaroo Bonzai, but I could totally rationalize watching or recommending either of those. No problem.

Then Mr. G came in to the room, and said: “Jackass. You are constitutionally incapable of changing the channel when it’s on.”*

Waves of guilt and horror washed over me. Ding, ding, ding: we have a winner.

When I first saw the show, I was amused and appalled—and massively intrigued. There is nothing remotely like a narrative—it’s nothing but physical-comedy skits—dares, really—invented by the cast. They must be performance artists, I figured at first (because MTV is known for performance art, right?). Nope, just a group of stuntmen slash clowns with a flair for the inventively masochistic. Most of the stunts would have to work hard to rise to the level of the sophomoric—“Bungee Wedgie,” “Rocket Skates,” “Alligator Tightrope,” and “Off-Road Tattoo” come to mind—and I will still find myself laughing like a drain. There are a few I cannot watch (hello, “Paper Cuts”), and it’s during these, I’m convinced the show should never have been aired.

I don’t get it. I’m not a skater, the connection most of the cast members share. I’ve never liked The Three Stooges, and my taste in movie violence runs to Hong Kong martial arts or the Bond/Bourne variety. Gross-out humor doesn’t really do it for me. This is a specific, inexplicable fascination, a decidedly guilty pleasure. I hear those first four electric guitar chords and hit the couch with giddy, nervous, visceral anticipation. I watch, I flinch, I laugh until I weep and hyperventilate, all the while thinking: This is not good. It’s not…right.

There are moments of inspired, horrifying genius in Jackass: The Movie, like a nearly-naked “Party Boy” unnerving innocent shoppers in Tokyo, or the complicated makeup that transforms Spike Jonze and Johnny Knoxville into convincing old men on run-away scooters. The opening sequence, of the cast riding a giant shopping cart to almost certain doom, “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana playing in the background, is hypnotic. I want to go on that ride. Almost.

There’s a careless glee with which they undertake the stunts—and as I type this, I realize that’s the answer. It’s exactly like watching monkeys in the monkey cage tear around, slap each other, and throw feces. The Jackass guys look like they’re having fun—and they are. Right up until someone inserts a toy car where it has no business being, or fills his bathing suit with shrimp before swimming with whale sharks, or get concussed by rolling over a golf cart. Then, by gum, they line up for more.

That kind of brash, manic, dare-you attitude, evoking a spinal-cord response of that’s-funny-I’m-glad-it’s-not-me—there has to be something redeeming in that, right?

Help me. Please.

*You can’t really separate the series and the movie spin-offs; apart from duration and editing, there is no difference.

Dana Cameron’s short stories have explored both the darker side of
American history and a more hopeful, lycanthropic present. Her Fangborn story “Swing Shift” won the Anthony and the Macavity this year. “Love Knot” appeared this summer, as did two Anna Hoyt colonial noir stories,”Disarming” and “Ardent.” You can find her at www.danacameron.com, and
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