Homo homini rodentius est

Knoxville for President!

If you haven’t seen Jackass Number Two, yet, because you think it’s too stupid, or you’re too sophisticated for such low-brow trailer-trash humor, you’re missing out on something great. Oh it’s exactly what you think it is, and less — there’s no argument here for artistry or any other socially redeeming quality — far from it. Seeing Steve O take a beer enema and Bam Margera plunge it out of his butt with a plumber’s helper is not going to make you a better person. No sir. But it will make you laugh your ass off.

A surprising number of mainstream film reviewers have given the Jackass crew kudos for their latest collection of stunts — the guy in the New York Times went so far as to invoke an esthetic parallel to Dadaism in the absurd performances the boys engage in. Yeh well, we’re very impressed with your education New York Times Guy, but this ain’t Dada. If anything it’s vaudeville, with a good old fashioned dose of travelling carnival side show — and that’s what makes it so easy to enjoy. You can turn your head off as soon as the opening credits roll and just sit back and marvel at the insane set pieces rolling out, one after another.

It’s a little like being back on your grammar school playground watching guys engaging in competitive gross outs — there’s an endearing quality to the simple kid-like way they present their stunts: they usually start them by introducing themselves and then giving the title of the stunt, “I’m Steve O and this is the Fart Mask”. Like kids, they want to impress you with what they are willing to do, but they also want to impress each other with how far they can push their limits. And the stunts themselves go beyond what any kid could imagine. I’m not even going to talk about “How to Milk a Horse.”

I’m amazed by the level of commitment these guys bring to their work. They’re entertainers in the truest sense of the word because all that matters is the integrity of the bit. Their honor comes in doing it right: there’s one stunt early in the movie where they’ve rigged one of those carnival gizmos that you hit with a hammer to make a weight fly up and ring a bell — except Bam Margera is supposed to hang his bare ass over the top and get hit in the balls by the weight. Margera protests that it should really be a big golden dildo that flies up into his anus. So they do that and it’s hilarious. I was listening to see how many guys in the audience were laughing at the sight (not too many). Like I said, commitment to the bit.

Some reviews have referred to the Jackass crew as “Merry Pranksters”, alluding to Ken Kesey and his crowd of self-involved counter culty acid freaks from the 60’s. Nothing could be farther from the mark. These guys aren’t “counter culture”, they’re not protesting anything. They’re entertainers and their work is completely self-contained. We know nothing about them before or after the stunt. All I know about Johnny Knoxville is that he likes to get drunk and have people kick him in the nuts. What else do I need to know?

Preaching to the choir

Last week I attended another in a series of talks sponsored by the New York Public Library, this one a “debate” between professional atheist Sam Harris and Oliver McTernan, a former priest and humanitarian. Ostensibly, it was supposed to address the charges leveled against religion in Harris’s slight new book [Letter to a Christian Nation], but it never really took off. McTernan tried, repeatedly, to get Harris to respond to charges that he was as anti-pluralist as he charges religious people to be — a secular fundamentalist — but Harris wouldn’t play.

The book under discussion, a pocket-sized polemic (literally, at 5 x 7.5 inches and less than 100 pages), is hardly worthy of serious consideration. It simply rehashes ages-old atheist complaints about the inconsistencies of ancient religious texts and the disconnect between the moral protestations of conservative Christians and their immoral behavior. In it, he holds up a straw man version of Christianity — closely identified with the loonier precincts of the faith — and ridicules it.

Ho hum.

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Autumn in New York

On Saturdays a green market opens in Union Square — and for a few hours an empty stretch of asphalt blooms with fresh herbs and flowers grown upstate, people can sample homemade jams and jellies and pick over ripe fruits and vegetables that make the underripe-for-shipping fare that we usually buy wilt with shame. It’s a little gustatory epiphany that I rely on.

On the walk home I passed by a young woman wrapped in a bedsheet and huddling against a building on 5th Avenue. She shook uncontrollably and was clearly very ill. I stopped and gave her money and saw white tear tracks etched against the ebony skin of her face. That broke my heart. I wished her well and she thanked me in a quiet voice. I looked back as I crossed the street and she was still looking after me. I blew her a kiss and waved. The walk home was hard, I thought of going back and asking if she wanted to go to the hospital, but it would be better if professionals helped her so I called 911 and asked if someone could check on her. They said they would send the police by and I knew they would — I’ve seen the police and EMS workers treat homeless people very gently here. I hoped that she would still be there when they arrived. I almost wrote that I prayed she would still be there, but that would be false. Praying in New York is useless. I cried hard for her when I got home — couldn’t stop thinking that no child is born with that as their destiny.

It’s a hard world for little things.

9/11/06

Five years or fifty years, I still can’t believe it happened. Didn’t want to relive it on TV. We’re still living with it everyday.

Dawn of the Dead

The scuttlebutt is that today marks the re-launch of perennially-becoming Radar Magazine, at least in its [online] incarnation. As of this writing (early Tuesday a.m.) their site is still having fits, so whether Maer Roshan’s long-gestating baby ever sees the dawn is up in the air. The overly-publicized [history] of this misadventure has already become legend in New York media circles. The ratio of product to hype is startling: since its original debut in 2003 there have been exactly 5 issues published, and despite talk about upwards of $25m having been committed to it, probably no more than a fifth of that has actually been spent (a guestimate from reading various sources). Why does this drama get so much play? I think because it’s a landmark in the evolution of media in this country. But not in the way its creator thinks…

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