Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The death of Ryan Dunn

The history of those involved in Jackass is one of self-harm and maiming. Danger was always close by to the Jackass crew, yet for so long they seemed to be protected by something divine and unexplainable. Johnny Knoxville himself only laughs his infectious, characteristic laugh every time something almost takes his life. As kids we grew up watching grown men injure themselves for our entertainment. And, if you asked thirteen year old me watching Jackass late at night on MTV which member would be the first to meet their end, Ryan Dunn would be the last on my list.

R.I.P. Random Hero

Dunn seemed the most sensible one in the group. He seemed genuinely affable and cool to hang out with. In short, he seemed pretty bro-tastic. He was my favorite member of Jackass. He didn't put himself at the forefront of the show like Knoxville of Bam Margera and he wasn't an annoying attention whore like Steve-O. He was just fun to watch. And, not counting Knoxville or Margera (arguably Margera), Dunn was the most successful outside Jackass. He had his own MTV with Homewrecker (only lasted a season but still, it was better received than Dr. Steve-O), guest starred in an episode of Law & Order and he had two projects coming out in 2011. G4's Proving Ground and a movie called Booted. Proving Ground has since been put on hold after Dunn's death.

I keep forgetting that director Spike Jonze technically got his start with Jackass.

Frankly, I'm shocked at the amount of attention Dunn's death is getting by the media. But with the 11 o'clock news a hold of it, it will mostly be played as a warning against drunk driving than anything else. Even Roger Ebert has chimed in on the accident. But the accident shouldn't be made into a drunk driving PSA. The people chiming in didn't grow up watching Jackass. While it is dumb to drink and drive, the point is that this was a man who made a living almost dying for our entertainment. And he did entertain us. Here now is a reprint of a column I wrote about Jackass 3-D when it came out.

They even have a video game.

“Hi, I’m Johnny Knoxville. Welcome to Jackass.”

Thus began the Jackass phenomenon. These immortal words ushered in a whole new world of painful opportunities. The MTV show that redefined the phrase “Don’t try this at home” is celebrating its tenth anniversary with a new film, Jackass 3-D.

The Jackass crew has been a part of growing up for many people of this generation. Their wild antics have entertained impressionable audiences for years. Some stunts were violent, some disgusting and others just plain fun to watch. In a world where you can’t count on much, it’s nice to depend on Jackass for its patented mindless fun. No matter how bad a mood someone is in, seeing a person get hit below the belt in creative ways is always pleasant to watch.

Ever since the first Jackass movie, the skits have been getting more extreme. Without having to worry about offending television audiences, Knoxville and his associates have the freedom to film new and creative ways of hurting themselves. The first film is relatively tame compared to the sequel. While the first Jackass film contained destruction and toy-car tomfoolery, the second one seemed downright suicidal.

Now that a third film is coming out this week with the now-overused 3-D gimmick, the antics can only be more insane. Each film, television show and project has gone further than the last. It will be safe to assume that the filmmakers will make the most out of the special effects and do things in 3-D that have never been seen before (and probably shouldn’t be seen at all).

While some may have been misguided enough to replicate some of the activities from Jackass, even a single iota of survival instinct should have prevented that. In the films, thankfully, the scenarios become more elaborate and less easy to replicate. Watching those idiots on the big screen should make for an enjoyable movie experience. The whole audience can laugh and groan together, uniting the packed theater in the spectacle that is Jackass.

Jackass is not high art. There is no artistic merit or deeper meaning. What the series stands for is the fun in stupidity. By performing these stunts, the crass entertain us and put their lives and souls on the line so viewers don’t have to try it at home.

Watching a semi-professional getting hurt is a lot better than peer-pressuring some kid from the neighborhood to try out homemade rocket skates. In a way, they are doing us a favor. They are angels of stupidity and self-inflicted harm.

Jackass 3-D premieres in theaters Oct. 15.

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