How Johnny Knoxville built a lasting empire out of the angst of the 2000s
Johnny Knoxville is a somewhat unexpected Silver Fox in the backing shoot for GQthe last profile of the “half-assed stuntman”, as he calls himself, and “the craziest stuntman ever seen live”, as Steve-O, his casting mate, puts it. The profile of the infamous prankster has made its way across the internet, sending waves of early nostalgia through social media, while also creating an account for the millennials on our age, and the television that raised us, really have now. What could have been a puff promoting the fourth and final to come Donkey film with the participation of Knoxville, ended up arousing the recognition of the power Donkey was influencing the internet age we know today.
Profile writer Sam Schube explains, “I can’t describe how much he rearranged my sense of what was funny; neither can I express how quickly it permeated the fundamental grammar of my friendships. And while it seems to have had the same profound effect on most millennials – whether actively or just quietly in the subtext of whatever came of it – it has almost become a rarely mentioned relic in our world where anyone can capture the nonsense of the ordinary. people on their iPhones for all to see.
As Knoxville begins what will be its final arc as Jackass, the question arises as to what the franchise’s old cultural maelstrom has to offer a world twenty years later where things like TikTok and Youtube have picked up. or Donkey leave behind. We live in a world now where the internet is as entertaining as it is endless, as exciting as it is disturbing, and all it takes is a search or scrolling Instagram to see people getting hurt in dangerous stunts. And yet, really, this latest film will be reintroduced Donkey to a new generation who may not fully realize the origins of their own stunts and gags with a place in mainstream culture.
It will also be interesting to see, in today’s world more easily triggered, whether the new Donkey the film gets any pushback. During the original broadcast of the first Donkey season, then Sen. Joe Leiberman campaigned for MTV to cancel the show after the teens started injuring themselves trying to recreate the stunts. The negative press led MTV to add more oversight to the show, ultimately leading to Knoxville’s exit from the TV side of Donkey after just 24 episodes. But the freedom of network television has only encouraged the cultural phenomenon of Donkey become a successful juggernaut and cover multiple spinoffs.
With the return of the actors to the big screen to cap off that original gravity in their middle years, the return also ushers in a consideration of the lifestyle that Donkey promoted, whether intentional or not. Reaction gifs distributed to GQ photos of Knoxville in shock at being fifty now and looking as hip and healthy as ever – a grim comparison to the fact that all Donkey the oldies are still with us (beloved original cast actor Ryan Dunn was killed in a drunk driving accident in 2011), and several others have publicly struggled with addiction since. the show. Most recently, Bam Margera has been in and out of rehab, which led to his dismissal from the fourth film when he couldn’t approach it soberly. Knoxville is caring, but careful GQ telling Schube, “We want Bam to be happy and healthy and to get the help he needs… We have tried to move this forward. I think that’s all I really want to say about it. He admits that they are all adults responsible for their own actions, and always have been, but it’s hard not to draw attention to the more damaging long-term effects of the kind of partying that Donkey invoked and promoted as an unintended side effect of their fame.
While the internet has certainly picked up where Donkey left, nothing ever seemed to capture the accessibility that Donkey provided, where the cast seemed as knowable as the bad boy class clowns who rode skateboards in school. Today’s videos of viral stunts and pranks rarely result in a star, let alone a series. The culture of physical shock entertainment no longer comes with the cultural commentary that Donkey seemed to deliver in a subliminal way. Without saying it, the show withstood the white middle-class wealth boom of the early 2000s that many young people at the time were starting to rebel against – and very few of the stunt / prank genre have been able to. resume this rebellion.
If a group of white men walked into a network presentation meeting today with a series of “guys doing the dumbest shit they can think of while hurting themselves often and badly” they would probably laugh at the room. The current entertainment climate is thankfully (and slowly) shifting to center more diverse stories and voices than white males and the ridiculous lines they, and only they, are typically allowed to push. In today’s media context, something like the original Donkey would appear tired and perhaps offensive in his display of this privilege. But in 2000, it was actually some kind of subversive television that went against the boomer-centric norm that Generation X kids needed to button up and become a cog of capitalism like their parents before. them.
In many ways, Donkey was an unwitting response to the fact that the young people of the time were part of the first American generation who earned less than their parents before them. It allowed children to see people get rich and famous by being a child at heart, not growing up and in a cubicle. It was television punk rock. And after the pandemic just ushered in the biggest redistribution of wealth in human history in favor of the already rich, maybe seeing our MTV alumni kick each other’s balls with Chuck Tailors. is exactly what the doctor ordered.