Mountains upon mountains of ink have been spilled over the last two decades about the Jackass franchise: Whether or not it’s good for kids or ethical to be broadcasting/producing it (who cares and absolutely), whether or not it qualifies as performance art (yeah, it does), what its particular influences have been on popular culture (tons, of course, mostly good), and whether it’s really feasible for the original cast and crew to continue doing this well into their AARP memberships (again, who cares/knows). These are all things I will not discuss because I don’t have anything to offer beyond the answers I gave. What I will tell you is that Jackass Forever is the best theatrical experience of the year.
But… why? you may ask, and I totally understand that mindset: For a certain cohort of late gen-X/elder millennial stoner/skater/alt kid/goth/jock/whatever, the series is wholly defined by the original TV show, watched either alone late at night or in between grav bong hits with your buds and bouts of the spins from drinking a little too much Evan Williams before trying to see if you could hold that nug smoke long enough in your lungs to breath out clear air. Jackass for my generation (middle-millennials) was a primarily theatrical experience. Sure, there was additional content on DVDs, but it was the people that made it so special. This perspective is very relevant to what I am examining now.
I’ll give you one sentence of high-minded criticism if you are looking for high-minded criticism. Jackass is basically Michael Apted’s skate video equivalent to Up. We check in on our subjects at least once per decade and make comments about their age, how they’ve changed, and how much they’ve changed over the years. Jackass lives and breathes in your limbic system. He has very few goals that are beyond the ones that Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O and Chris Pontius have set for us. They want you laughing loudly and often, to have fun, and to keep your pulse racing. It’s an understatement to say they achieve these goals, regardless of whether you consider them “good influences” or worthy Abramovich-level analysis. Jackass Forever continues this trend. It’s kinetic bliss, the joy of pain that is created through friendship and camaraderie. It’s commonly said that homoerotic male bonding is what drives Jackass. But I would expand it more than that. It is safety and trust first, the assurance that your friends have your back and won’t force you to do anything they wouldn’t. And the trust that is built through constant demonstration.
Trust is something that’s in short supply right now. It exists across the entire spectrum of government, media, military, scientists, academia and Spotify. You can also find out if the person next to you will remove their mask after they finish eating, or if you’ll be criticized on Twitter for not putting yours on when you get home. The Covid signs are everywhere Jackass. But they’re secondary to the amazing displays of love, bravery, and friendship between these men on screen. It’s amazing to be reminded that normality can be a state of mind with slices of hot and freshly filmed hangout cinema. That even with face shields and masks, one can still have fun with friends and do stupid things. They will then return to the fray with cheer and a hearty laugh from their fellow covidians.
Even with the recent success of a number of good comedies, it’s the first time in recent memory that I can recall a crowd gasping in pain or roaring with laughter, regardless of whether they have a mask on. Jackass celebrates the friendships these people have built. The experience of viewing Jackass at 10 p.m. Thursday night with a group of college students from BU is a celebration the communal aspects of theatre. This is something we have been deprived of for far too many years, even though movie theaters have been open for almost a year. It was the laughter, giggles and groans from that auditorium that convinced me that things could once again be in an acceptable balance. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to do that again.