The Renaissance, Freud, & jackass: the movie

Whether or not there is music in jackass: the movie is completely irrelevant. There probably is. But I doubt that this MTV/Paramount production (let’s not give too much credence to the “MTV” portion as both firms are owned by Viacom, so the fact that MTV provides some level of cred to the film is really irrelevant: it is nothing more than a certain type of conduit through which the wares of the firm that owns things including CBS, Showtime, Comedy Central, Infinity Broadcasting, Blockbuster, etc., etc., etc. are marketed) is something that people come away from humming a tune. That’s because, by and large, sound is irrelevant to jackass: the movie. In fact, it could be a completely silent film, one done, in effect in pantomime.

While certain people will undoubtedly decry the film is being moronic, filthy, puerile, and otherwise disgusting—which it is—what many people undoubtedly overlook is the fact that the exploits of Johnny Knoxville and his crew of post-juvenile delinquents are actually fundamentals of historic performance and psychology.

For the first, let me note that this film, which opened with a respectable $22.7-million weekend, is precisely in the lineage of the commedia dell’arte, which really came into its own in the 16th century. Although the commedia dell’arte tended to have a narrative story line, something that is completely lacking in jackass: the movie, which is nothing more than a series of brief sequences, what the two share is the character type. For example, while the commedia dell’arte performances often had a character known as the “Captain,” which was the young, adventurous type, jackass has Johnny Knoxville, who is clearly the leader of the group and is certainly adventurous. Wee Man in jackass has his forerunners in the characters of Zanni, the jester, and Punchinello, the hunchback. In either case, the character is somewhat short on brains and long on physical difference.

One of the departures from the classic form, however, is that while commedia dell’arte included women—and there were performances setup so that there could actually be naked women on stage as part of the festivities—jackass: the movie is all all-men’s—or all boy’s, as it were—club. The level of homosexual sadomasochism that pervades the movie is remarkable, all the more so as it tends to be underdetermined in the discourses that have looked at the film. Essentially, there is a single woman of any significance in the entire film, who remains fully clothed throughout. As she is Bam Magera’s mother, that’s probably just as well. Her key role is to be coerced, by her son, into uttering the word “fuck,” which opens up a huge can of Oedipal whoop-ass, all the more so as the father figure is portrayed as being completely ineffectual. There is a tremendous fascination in the film with excrement, both solid and liquid forms. Freud (who, oddly enough, wrote about the intersexuality of eels in his first publication) examined the anal stage rather carefully, concluding that the id likes to expulse excrement whenever and wherever, due to the fundamental enjoyment that’s consequence to the movement of one’s bowels (assuming, of course, that one doesn’t have a condom-covered Hot Wheels-like toy car shoved up one’s rectum, as is clinically portrayed in the film); the ego and the superego, as you might well imagine, counteract the id’s propensity to want to, say, take a shit in the showroom of a plumbing store or eating a yellow snow cone, which is the consequence of one’s own bladder relief.

Yes, there are undoubtedly those who will find the film to be revolting. But a thorough examination, based on the motions we have briefly referenced here, will undoubtedly indicate that there is much, much more than the filmic capture of a group of men who have a propensity to wear nothing more than jockstraps.

In addition to which, my 13-year-old nephew thinks it is “a classic.”

17 thoughts on “The Renaissance, Freud, & jackass: the movie”

  1. I don’t know about all that but I laugh my ass off every time Bam Margera beats the shit out of his dad. I can’t help it. It’s funny. However, I am not about to try that on my dad.

  2. Huh? Man, Stephen, what was your major in college? Them’s big words you usin’. Alls I knows is that them Jackass boys is funny!

    I’d like to just read a straight-up film review. All I see in the mainstream media are comments about the absurdity of the show/film, or allusions to it’s vulgarity.

    The other thing to think about is that it’s always funny to see your friends get hurt. It’s always funny to watch midgets, dwarfs and mongaloids embarass themselves. It’s always funny when someone gets drunk and makes a fool of themselves. And it’s always funny when guys get naked, especially if they’re fat, hairy, or just plain ugly. Whether any of that has to do with 15th Century European art forms, I don’t know. It really makes me laugh though.

  3. “Whether any of that has to do with 15th Century European art forms, I don’t know. It really makes me laugh though.”

    Ah, but it does, and that’s Mac’s point!

  4. Check your brain at the door and you will probably be entertained by this movie. That is, if you can make it through the vomit inducing sequences referenced above. (Not to mention many, many more.)


  5. Please, nobody give away too many plot points of this movie, I haven’t seen it yet.

    Great article Stephen. I loved the references to the 16th commedia dell’ arte. There is certainly something timeless about Jackass, isn’t there? There was a comic in the State News today (MSU’s student paper) referencing theatergoers’ laughter at Jackass to one caveman’s laughter when another fell on his face.

    Also appreciated the references to Freud. I am learning about his theory right now in counseling school. And oh boy, if he wouldn’t have a field day with Jackass.

    When you write, I come away feeling like I learned something- commedia dell’ arte, case in point. Your sophist’s pen is much appreciated.

  6. Scotty: Seems to me that a “straight-up film review” would be nothing more than: “More hilarious hijinks and antics from the boys you’ve come to know and love/abhor from the TV series of the same name. See them go to new levels of Three Stoogesesque violence. Watch them blow chunks in a way that gives Regan from “The Exorcist” a run for her spew. . . .”

    Ryan: Thanks–I think.

  7. Thanks Ryan. That will qualify as a film review! When you put it that way, there really is no point in saying much more than that. I only wish I’d had a camera in hand for many memorable moments in the recent past. Times when many of these illustrious GloNo staffers were shitfaced drunk and executing all manner of wild antics!

    But alas, tis not to be. Those times are lost in the vague haze of my clouded mind.

  8. My, my how things have changed from ‘pie in the face’. I think the crowd that spends money and then actually likes this film are showing there true IQ. I would love to take names at the door as an indicator of ‘least likely to succeed at anything’. I’m sorry but anyway you turn it “sick” and “crual” just isn’t funny! unless of course you’re an immature loser soon-to-be quasi-sociopath. The progress of human nature has come to a screeching halt and worse has reversed to a place I don’t even think we were ever at in past social standards time.

  9. “My, my how things have changed from ‘pie in the face’.” Right. But before that, we had wacky entertainment like feeding people to lions and public hangings. I think, in the grand scheme of things, chasing dwarves around in their underpants and pounding on dads when they’re not expecting it is pretty fucking tame. It’s still funny, but far from evidence that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. We’re just finally, seventy years into it, ditching the Puritan rules that formerly goverened television. Big whoop.

  10. Ryan, “…built on the premise that humans were devolving.” and Jake,

    “….but far from evidence that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. We’re just finally, seventy years into it, ditching the Puritan rules that formerly goverened television.”

    Both good points! And I might add as Lucretius the great Roman Philosopher said “Let us spend but a moment in the background of life.” and so even though ‘Jack-ass is not my ‘cup of tea’, PROGRESS is.

  11. If you like progress, you might like progressive rock. Why don’t you try on a little Gentle Giant or perhaps The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp. “Spend but a moment in the background of life”, indeed! (stroking beard)

  12. i thought that was a great movie and i loved it and i don’t think i’m stupid are that my iq is low. anyone that is normal it’s gonna laugh at at least one thing in the movie. i thought it was hilarious.

  13. It just seems to me that first we had court jesters then moved up to Charlie Chaplin, moving onward to Cheech & Chong, and countless other comical ideas in movies. But today it’s as if writers have run out of new and actually funny stuff, so writers digress to crap (literally) and vomit. What will be funny next….eating used mini pads? HaHa? The last really funny movie I saw was “Snatch”, and now I’m still waiting and hoping for something truly funny that would be a little more advanced than my little brother and his friends tiresome ole’ “potty” humor.

  14. whats bam address i live in west chester were he lives and i cant find his house i jus want 2 c it ! plz !

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