The Cultural Gutter

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"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

I Double Dog Dare You

alex macfadyen
Posted December 16, 2010

jackass bullseye thumb2.jpgLast month I wrote about Jackass as a cultural project, but what I initially intended to write about was how I feel just a little bit better about myself and the world after watching it. And no, it’s not because they’re all more of a jackass than I am.

It seems like a show about a bunch of
guys trying to impress each other by doing the most dangerous,
painful and/or disgusting things they can think of would play into
all of the stereotypes about masculinity and body shame, but under
the surface Jackass is the opposite of what you’d expect.

In some ways the Jackass version
of masculinity is pretty standard, but in other ways it’s
subversive. There’s a macho one-upmanship involved in who can be
the most extreme, but it’s coupled with an insistence on having no
pride and a mandatory willingness to look like an idiot that are
counter to the usual goal of proving masculine worth. And they do not
take their male parts seriously, witness “Snake Bites Penis
Puppet
.”

The behaviors that draw genuine mockery
or contempt on Jackass are not necessarily stereotypical macho
ones. Sure, no one is supposed to chicken out or be a downer, and
everyone tries to top each other’s stunts, but when they criticize
someone it’s usually for acting like a jerk. There’s a quality of
everyone being in it together and no one being above anything. They
value good sportsmanship, especially respecting each other’s
physical and creative abilities, not judging one another and not
holding grudges. When they put one over on each other, they shake
hands. In short, they display genuine affection for one another.

Like the finer points of playground
goading, in which “I double dog dare you” is not the same as
“don’t be a chicken,” it’s all about testing limits and the
thrill of doing something crazy and idiotic. There’s a big
difference between making fun and having fun, and one of the best
things about Jackass is that they’re having such a great
time, rolling on the floor in agony notwithstanding. They’re doing
stupid things, but, like clowns, they’re doing them on purpose to
entertain you. Contrast that with embarrassment-based shows like
America’s Funniest Home Videos or Canada’s Worst
Handyman
, which are designed to get the audience to laugh at
people for being unintentional idiots, and you have the difference
between slapstick comedy and social humiliation.

toycarupbuttfinal.jpgTheir creative repurposing of objects,
their delight at a good idea or a stunt that succeeds, and their
twisted science fair approach to scientific discovery remind me of
some of the most fun (and yes, stupidest) things about being a kid.
Like racing down a hill inside giant truck tires, for
instance. They also remind me of a time when having a body wasn’t
something I really had an opinion about, it was just interesting to
see what I could make it do.

The Jackasses are willing to show off
everything about their bodies, and a no shame philosophy is essential
to the project. Their acceptance of their bodies as is allows each of
them to use what their body can do that other people’s can’t,
whether it’s Dave England’s projectile pooping or Wee Man
posing as an aggressive traffic cone
in Toyko. It also allows
them to play with social norms and other people’s perceptions, like
they do in one of my favorite skits from Jackass 3D, “Watch
My Dog
,” where the sizeable Preston asks a bystander to watch
his dog while he goes into a store, and, a minute later, Wee Man
comes out dressed exactly the same, thanks the guy for watching his
dog, and walks off with it.

The casts’ range of body types
doesn’t include gender variance or race, but since Jackass
operates at the body’s lowest common denominator, having no use for
shame extends to everyone. They genuinely appreciate each other’s
abilities, and excrement is cast as the great equalizer: everyone’s
bodily fluids are equally gross and mundane. They manage to celebrate
the differences between their bodies while highlighting the ways in
which all bodies are the same, which is essentially the basis of
egalitarianism.

Basically, looking bad just doesn’t
bother them. I mean, I think about how much I’d hate constantly
having my outfits ruined or my hair messed up, and how annoying it
would be to come to work and end up covered head to toe in flour
or blue paint or urine. Or how horrified most people would be
at the idea of going to the doctor to have a toy car removed from
their butt
.

In fact, Jackass seems like a
project in radical non-attachment. They push each other and
themselves to dive into the things they’re uncomfortable with and
face their fears. Knowing Bam Margera is terrified of snakes, they
trick him into snake skits: “I realized the hard way that you don’t
tell people from Jackass what you’re terrified of because
that’s just a new skit for them to film. But, I deserved it.” I
suspect that if they think of something they’d hate to do, they
immediately pitch it as a stunt.

Of course, self-image naturally adapts
to environment, so as men they may be jackasses, but as Jackasses,
they know they’re awesome.

~~~

alex macfadyen is a former bookstore manager who
is currently a house hippo, spending his days exploring the universe
of the tiny with his toddler.

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Comments

2 Responses to “I Double Dog Dare You”

  1. NefariousDro
    December 16th, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

    You know, what strikes me as affirmation of your point the most is that last quote: “…But, I deserved it” says it all, I think. Having been the small outcast from a small town, I admire their courage to make themselves the butt of their jokes, and the lengths they’re willing to go for the joke.

  2. Carol Borden
    January 17th, 2011 @ 4:24 pm

    johnny knoxville recently did a nice little documentary about detroit. (and no, it’s not all ruin porn):
    http://www.palladiumboots.com/exploration/detroit

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