Thursday, July 12, 2007

Don't Raise a Jackass

If you are under 30 (or maybe even if you’re not), you are probably familiar with the Jackass phenomenon. The MTV show where a bunch of skater punk frat boys perform dangerous and obscene stunts has become wildly popular, spawning numerous videos and two full-length movies.

I have never had the “privilege” of actually watching one of the episodes or the movie, though I have seen a couple partial clips of the more tame events on TV, and have read stories detailing some of the other stunts. And if you are like me, you probably shake your head in wonder trying to figure out just what is the attraction.

Even though I will hit the “40” milestone this year, I don’t think of myself as out-of-touch. Maybe I’m giving myself too much credit, but I like to think I’m still “with it”, and can view life through an objective lens. But this? Sorry, I just don’t understand. I asked myself all the obvious questions - Is it a need for attention? Is it the natural extension to our culture’s obsession with video voyeurism? Or is it just a bunch of idiots with no clue to what it means to be funny, twisting the light-hearted premise of Alan Funt and Candid Camera into something mean and vicious.

I had actually started to resign myself to the fact that maybe, just maybe, I was starting down the road to irrelevance, the place we get to as we grow older where, no matter how hard we try, we just don’t understand that younger generation. It was then that I read an interview with Conn Iggulden, author of the book The Dangerous Book for Boys.

The Dangerous Book for Boys is an awesome piece of work. If you have not heard of it before, go to and take a look; the video on the page is a great introduction to what is inside its wonderful pages. Basically, the book celebrates everything that it means to be a boy. It encourages boys to build go-carts, hunt rabbits, learn about famous battles and adventures, and even how to treat girls. It teaches you how to build a tree house, what you can communicate with U.S. Naval flag codes, and what things are great for making invisible ink (you don’t want to know). It is a throwback to a not-so-distant era when boys were encouraged to be boys, not emasculated to fit into some liberal educator’s notion of political correctness. If you have boys, or ever were one yourself, buy this book.

Anyway, in this interview Iggulden was asked why he thought the book was such a big hit, being a runaway best-seller in England before recently being introduced on this side of the pond. He said:

I think we've become aware that the whole "health and safety" overprotective culture isn't doing our sons any favors. Boys need to learn about risk. They need to fall off things occasionally, or --and this is the important bit -- they'll take worse risks on their own. If we do away with challenging playgrounds and cancel school trips for fear of being sued, we don't end up with safer boys, we end up with them walking on train tracks.

I think he’s right. I have a son, and though my girls like to wrestle and do “boy stuff”, he approaches life with a completely different state of mind. He wants to battle, he wants to crash, he wants to jump, and hit, and run; he wants to live on the edge. And then it hit me – with that one sentence Iggulden answered all my questions about Jackass and its popularity. It all makes sense now. See, reactionary behavior is usually going to be directly proportional to the thing against which it is reacting. So when our culture strips away everything that it means to be a boy and does not value the process of becoming a man, when we take away everything that is fun because of perceived hazards, when we raise our boys to be ultra-careful, and to avoid calculated risk, we end up with a bunch of kids who will do absolutely anything to try and create the thrill associated with living out their God-given nature because it was not cultivated properly as they grew up.

When I was in high school, my friends and I would take our motorcycles out to the gravel pits behind our subdivision and jump those bikes like there was no tomorrow. We got pretty brave, and did some crazy aerobatics on those huge mounds of dirt. Sure, there was an element of danger in what we were doing. But we were careful (mostly), wore helmets, and practiced over and over. One day my dad came out to watch us. I think even he was taken aback by what he saw. But the only thing he said to me was, Son, don’t ever let you mother see you do this.” And with that statement my dad gave me his stamp of approval. That’s what I’m talking about.

So show your boys how to use a BB gun. Teach them to play football (or soccer I guess, if you really must). Buy them an old used dirt bike. Let them balance on the top beam on their backyard playset. Celebrate their boyness. And they just might grow up to be an emotionally healthy and balanced young man instead of a jackass.



Anonymous said...

I salute you for writing this one and for recognizing that it needs to be written...even again and again.

I was a Big Brother to a Pontiac boy for awhile years ago. We lost touch around when he turned 16. Just before then, we hung out one day. He'd brought a video he wanted me to watch. He'd been hanging out with some new "friends" in Pontiac. The time spent with them basically consisted of pretending to be homeless (with wig, etc) and begging for money (on camera) or causing scenes in grocery stores (on camera), etc. They were running the footage on a local cable channel. I remember not showing much excitement about the videos, and I wasn't able to get a return call from him after that day. I hope it was just a phase.

Anyway, good article.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's just crazy. It's unfortunate that it happened, and it's unfortunate that they would air it on a local TV channel. I've heard of other kids who go one step further and actually start playing pranks on the true homeless. You're right, you hope its a phase, and then hope they get through it before they have kids themselves.

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Great commentary! It would be interesting to see a study done on the family life of those in the tv show Jack Ass and find out what it revealed.

This country definitely needs boys to be boys again and great men to lead them into manhood.

Don White said...

Even the Boy Scouts are cowtowing to the emasculation of our young men.

This article about sent me over the edge.

It's no wonder that Jackass is so popular!

Great post Jerry!