Monday, December 13, 2010

Jackass Mountain

It has been five years since Jack and Ennis took their cowboy hats off and got their groove on, and so Brokeback Mountain is getting a lot of attention recently.  For example, The Autry National Center, which is dedicated to the history, culture, and art of the American West,  put together a special event about the film, “Beyond Brokeback,” and a series of events, “Out West,” about gay cowboys, lesbian school marms, and bisexual outlaws.

Even Cosmopolitan magazine has taken note, in the December story titled “The New Trend That’s Turning Women On.”   It seems straight women got bent about hot guy-on-guy action in an episode of Full Blood and elsewhere.  According to Cosmo, these steamy dude interludes were made possible, in part, by Brokeback Mountain.  That movie from 2005 is credited with making it possible for Hollywood cinema to feature physical love between men.

I wholeheartedly approve of expanding our accepted expressions of love in real life and in cinema.  But I have a complaint.

What about Jackass: The Movie?

It was released three years before Brokeback Mountain, and it also celebrates the erotic attraction between men.   In fact, some critics have suggested it is incorrect to call Brokeback Mountain a homosexual love story.  They have said it is more accurately a bisexual love story, since Ennis and Jack have wives.  Meanwhile, Jackass: The Movie is all homo and no hetero.  There are just two women in the movie: Bam Margera’s mother and a kickboxing champion who demolishes Ryan Dunn in the ring.

Granted, there are no kisses, no sweet embraces, no emotional silences.  Instead, Johnny Knoxville and his compatriots clothe their homoerotic tendencies in more publicly accepted manifestations, such as attaching electronic muscle stimulators to their testicles and hiding Hot Wheels in their butts.

The public thought the movie was some twisted version of “Candid Camera” or human endurance tests – how long can Johnny tolerate a baby alligator biting his nipple?

But how can the film not be gay when we have Chris Pontius draping his arm around Steve-O, both standing in the roaring surf and wearing only thong Speedos, and Pontius telling the camera he needs to “rub one out”?  They then take an underwater camera beneath the waves and pretend to masturbate together with sea cucumbers standing in for their penises.  The audience laughs.  How outrageous!  How strange!   Little realizing they are watching two men share physical intimacies that could get them kicked out of the Army.

In two scenes Pontius rips off his track suit to reveal himself in a thong (again).  He begins to dance happily but suggestively with strangers in Japan: a sales clerk, a security guard, and a fortune teller on the street.  All men.

The film is filled with men, and there is not one scene of heterosexual desire in it.

In Jackass 3, we see the lads sitting on the floor in only their briefs and spreading their legs wide apart.  They take turns tossing a tennis ball at each other’s ‘nads. 

You may ask, “How is this homoerotic?  Sado-masochistic perhaps.  Middle school slapstick maybe.  But homoerotic?”

I think this and other stunts involve a process of erotic identification.  When one of the gang is hit in the nuts, of course he collapses and clutches his injured cojones.  But the others in the circle do the same, perhaps not to the same degree, but everyone winces, clutching his crotch.  And they all are laughing, even the person who just got whanged in the wang.  They all identify with the target.  Sex, after all, can be defined as a process by which people share their junk.  In this particular game, they vicariously share the experience of getting zapped in the crotch.

This circle of pain is also a circle of pleasure and can be understood as a kind of ritualized celebration of the male body.  Attacking the most vulnerable part of their bodies is a type of acknowledgement of its special status.  One could mistake the attack for a kind of self-loathing, but often culturally powerful narratives or religious rituals involve something important or sacred being threatened and then rescued; if it were not important, its threatened loss would not be of concern; if it were not important, its rescue would not be a relief.  Jackass rituals end with high-fives, pats on the back, handshakes – everything is OK at the end, nobody’s ‘nads are truly damaged, and everyone is a little bit closer for having shared the experience.

The homoerotic nature of this gets much more explicit elsewhere in the film.  In fact, it is rather beautiful.

Things have changed since 2002.  Chris Pontius’s penis in the first and second Jackass films was covered by either a thong bikini or a sock.  In Jackass 3, it is out in the open.

In this scene, Pontius is naked.  No thong.  No sock.  He is standing.  His eyes are closed.  He is smiling, ecstatically, blissfully.  In slow motion, he swings his hips.
Johnny Knoxville is crouched in front of him.  He slow-pitches a ping-pong ball toward Pontius, who then bats it with his penis.

Between them is Bam Margera.  When Pontius hits the ball, Margera lunges forward and tries to catch the ping-pong ball with his mouth.

All in slow motion.

As I said: beautiful.

Let’s see Ang Lee top that.

(The scene also mocks the need for censorship in the earlier films.  A "blackout" square initially covers Pontius's swinging penis, but it cannot keep up with the action and his dingaling is in view most of the scene.)

I realize that three dudes playing dickball is not the same as two cowboys making love.  But how ready is Hollywood to show homosexual romance AND a penis?  With this scene we have the penis and romance by a kind of sublimation.  The Freudian concept of sublimation involves a person taking a desire of which society disapproves and substituting it with an acceptable desire.  If Margera were to put Pontius’s penis in his mouth, society – Hollywood -- would  disapprove.  Substitute the penis with the ping-pong ball it swatted, and society sees slapstick rather than sodomy.  The American viewers think, again, that they are watching juvenile pranks, not knowing they are learning how to appreciate a lovingly recorded three-way.

I know the homoerotic potential for the Jackass movies is nothing new.  Knoxville and Steve-O have talked openly about it, and Knoxville’s production company is called Dickhouse and features a rainbow in its logo.  They are aware of this quality of the films, and they welcome the discussion.  Knoxville has said he is happy that John Waters called his crew “the gayest straight guys of all time.”  But this discussion has assumed that the films were “gay” simply because the guys were often nearly naked.  The discussions I had seen did not explain HOW they were gay.  And, believe me, there is much more in Jackass 3 than I have discussed here.  For instance, I could unpack the scene of Steve-O drinking a cup of Preston Lacy’s sweat....

Perhaps Jackass 3 is paving the way for more breakthroughs when Ang Lee makes Return to Brokeback Mountain.


  1. This is so true. The Brokeback Mountain phenomenon was a missed opportunity in my mind, because the characters were bisexual but everyone wanted to talk about how they were closeted self-denying homosexuals. Jackass actually forces people to face the murkiness of categories much more honestly.

  2. Ennis and Jack were not bisexual. You´re missing the point. They both did what was expected of them - that´s why they married. Does anyone really think of Brokeback Mountain as a story about two men who first fall in love with each other, then fall in love with women?

    No, Ennis and Jack married - not because they wanted to, but because that´s what you were supposed to do. So to say that they were bi-sexual because they were married is to completely miss a big point of the story.

  3. Buffymonmon,

    Thanks for reading! I do not take a position on the true nature of "Brokeback Mountain." I simply place "Jackass" in the context of what others have said about it, and there has been much discussion about that, as you know.


  4. You could subtitle this post "How many ways can you say 'penis'" in the spirit of the Jackass films, I was laughing hysterically more and more as I read each additional iteration for the male member. Very enjoyable. Of course the cultural observations are as intriguing as ever too.

  5. LMFAO! This was hilarious and right on the money. I just told my friend how gay the movie was. I am a girl who hangs out with a bunch of guys and I can not imagine even one of them saying..."Hey lets stick a corncob up our ass and have a pig eat it out of it" I thought maybe it had switched to some beastiality porno. I watched the movie at the theater and I was like un....this is homoerotic. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought so.