Lentis/Jackass: Media Driven Risk Propagation


The Jackass franchise started in 2000 as an MTV Series. The show was followed up by several spin-offs and four major movies: Jackass: The Movie, Jackass Number Two, Jackass 3D, and Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. The series depicts a group of professional daredevils, led by Johnny Knoxville, performing dangerous, crude, or humiliating stunts.

The franchise has been wildly successful, especially with young men.[1] The movies and spin-offs together grossed over $400 million worldwide.[2] All four movies were #1 weekend box office hits.[3][4][5][6] This success is remarkable considering that two-thirds of the audience for Jackass: The Movie were males, and one-half were males aged 17-24.[7]

This page explores the social factors that allowed such extreme movies to rise to popularity.

Responses to JackassEdit

The critical response to the Jackass franchise ranges from shock and disgust to enthusiastic approbation. MovieGuide.org, a family friendly movie review site, labels Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa as "one of the most depraved movies ever released by a major Hollywood studio [which] makes a very disturbing statement on how low a major American company is willing to go to appeal to fans of totally abhorrent and depraved humor."[8] Conversely, Playboy writer Tom Grierson calls the Jackass franchise "the single funniest phenomenon of the 21st century [which hones] in on men's fascination with the pain-pleasure dichotomy of physical comedy."[9] Greirson compares the Jackass crew to performance artist Monica Abramović and renowned comedic actor Buster Keaton. Despite moral outrage from critics such as MovieGuide.org, the Jackass formula undoubtedly works.

Another major criticism of the franchise is that it inspires fan to attempt their own stunts: thousands of amateur daredevils have filmed themselves attempting stunts or pranks from the movies, often seriously injuring themselves in the process.[10] [11] The crew of Jackass are almost always injured during filming; Bam Margera broke three ribs, his clavicle, and one of his feet during Jackass 3D alone.[12]

Escalating Violence in Amateur VideosEdit

Americans Funniest Home VideosEdit

The Jackass franchise is part of a trend towards increasingly violent amateur videos, popularized on television and the internet. This trend started with Americas Funniest Home Videos. On November 26th, 1989 the first episode aired on ABC with host Bob Saget[13]. The series was based off amateur video submissions from viewers. They received almost 2000 submissions for the first episode.[14] The videos are typically low quality and show people falling down or mildly embarrassing themselves. The show rarely depicts injuries or graphic content, and was billed as a family-friendly experience. America's Funniest Home Videos is incredibly mild compared to the stunts in Jackass a decade later. This series was popular through the 1990s.


The violence really escalated when Jackass aired on October 1, 2000. Common themes in the show include parody of disabled people, male homoeroticism, and scatological humor. In an MTV episode entitled "Self-Defense", Johnny Knoxville uses three self-defense weapons on himself: red pepper spray at “the highest concentration you can get,” a 120,000 volt stun gun, and a 50,000 volt taser gun. The episode shows Knoxville's extreme, self-induced pain from the three weapons, and also depicts him removing the Taser clips from his chest. Later in the episode, Chris Pontius pretends to be kidnapped in Knoxville’s trunk wearing only a thong. As is Pontius is shown jumping out of the car half naked, he comments in a voice-over: “from my experiments with sexiness, seems like some people are afraid at first, and fear usually equals violence. But eventually I win their hearts and instead of fighting they’ll want to make love to me.” The cameraman jokingly asks “even the men?” and Pontius replies “yep.” Knoxville takes the homoeroticism even further when he drives up to a gas station and asks “Excuse me sir, I have a full grown semi-nude man bound by duct tape in my trunk and I was trying to get out the desert to bury him. How do I hit the five south?”[15] In another episode, Bam Margera is pushed down flights of stairs or off curbs in a wheel chair while pretending to act mentally disabled. The episode shows shocked onlookers walking past and doing nothing to prevent the abuse. The Jackass franchise often uses these crass or offensive stunts to highlight uncomfortable truths like homophobia and the Bystander Effect.


A newly popular amateur video TV show is Tosh.0, which tops even some of the Jackass stunts. It's a Comedy Central show which first aired in 2009 and is hosted by comedian Daniel Tosh. Unlike American’s Funniest Home Videos, the producers of Tosh.0 strongly discourage video submissions. A message at the beginning of each episode warns: “Tosh.0 features videos from the internet and is intended for a mature audience. Comedy Central does not condone the activities performed and discourages anyone from attempting them. Enjoy.”[16] Nevertheless, the more violent videos are promoted and glorified. In one of the most horrific clips ever played by the show, a young man named Zac jumps off a cliff, hits a ledge on the way down, and is flung on his back into the water below. Tosh liked the clip so much that Zach received a six minute highlight called Web-Redemption, in which Zac reveals that he suffered from a collapsed lung as a result of his jump. Zac also says, “I’m kinda glad I jumped. I got some internet fame.” Tosh laughs and replies “I like your attitude.” [17] There is a clear discrepancy between what Tosh's statement and the warning message at the beginning of the episode.

Explanations of Jackass' PopularityEdit

Modern Day HeroesEdit

A hero is defined by Merriam-Webster as a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities. [18] Superman and Gandhi are considered heroes for their fictional or real contributions to society. One explanation of the popularity of Jackass is that the cast are perceived as modern-day heroes by their fans.

The cast of Jacass is incredibly relatable for fans. They’re regular looking guys who rose to fame based on gutsy stunts, not looks or money. Fans who emulate their pranks on YouTube are trying to gain that same level of social status. The Jackass crew are a new type of hero: the man-of-action hero, as defined by Drs. Holt and Thompson in a 2004 article. [19]

Research has shown that males are compelled to engage in risky behaviors as they reach adolescence.[20] It has also been shown than viewing risky behavior such as the stunts in the Jackass movies has a measurable impact on our perception of risk and our likelihood to participate in risky behavior ourselves.[21] This increase in risk inclination is most strongly seen in teenage boys. [22] We are inspired by what we see in the media and therefore are more likely to reproduce it. Adolescent males desire to be like these reality TV stars because they are men of action heroes who gain social status by engaging in dangerous behavior.

Affective EconomicsEdit

In his 2006 book, Cultural Convergence, Dr. Henry Jenkins of USC Annenberg School of Communication coined the term affective economics.[23] He defines it as “a new configuration of marketing theory…which seeks to understand the emotional underpinnings of consumer decision-making as a driving force behind viewing and purchasing decisions.” In his book, Jenkins uses this concept to explain the massive popularity of American Idol. He asserts that media producers are changing their marketing paradigm to build long-term relationships with a few loyal consumers, as opposed to shallow relationships with many consumers. According to Jenkins, “Brand loyalty is the holy grail of affective economics because of what economists call the 80/20 rule: for most consumer products, 80 percent of purchases are made by 20 percent of their consumer base.” With so many cable TV channels and movies available today, media producers are in stiff competition for consumers, so they aim to cultivate their fans' emotional investment in the brand. Loyal consumers form online brand communities, where they discuss the brand and its products and reaffirm their relationship. Think of Harley-Davidson or Apple and their consumer's intense loyalty and social structure. Reality TV intensifies consumers' emotional attachment because viewers come to see the actors as their friends.

It's unlikely that the creators of Jackass have heard of affective economics or intended to use it to gain loyal viewers, but they unwittingly utilized its principles with great success. The franchise has developed a large and loyal set of fans - primarily young men. It doesn't matter to the Jackass crew if movie critics call their content "depraved". By targeting a small subset of consumers, they have an extremely loyal and engaged fanbase who will watch anyways. Amateur video postings of fans performing the Jackass stunts and pranks are a powerful version of Jenkins' "Brand Communities". The videos attract more people to the brand and also make consumers feel closer to the Jackass crew. The Jackass website and videogame are broader components of the brand community.[24]

Targeted MarketingEdit

Why is Jackass so popular with young men in particular? Neither the movies nor the show had much of a plot (with the exception of the newest movie, Bad Grandpa). They are instead a compilation of many different unrelated stunts and pranks. Mary Crawford of the University of Connecticut found in a study of humor that men tend to prefer slapstick and aggressive humor, while women prefer funny stories with a narrative arc.[25] Therefore, the jumble of stunts in a Jackass film appeal strongly to men, but not women. Jackass is male bonding at its finest. It a group of average-looking guys who could be your best friends, who are doing stupid stunts and seem to be having the time of their lives. Comedy Central recently conducted research on the humor preferences of young men ages 18-34, who are their stated target audience. It found that "Unlike previous generations, humor, not music, is [young men's] number one form of self-expression."[26] One quote from the study directly illustrates the power of the Jackass brand among young men: "Millennials respond to humor that feels personal and authentic, finding that hilarity in everyday life speaks more to their experience than artificial, overly crafted narratives. Research found that the majority of Millennials ... are drawn to talent who look and sound like them and situations that reflect their experiences." The casual, low-budget appearance of the Jackass films and the improvisational nature of the dialogue play right into that research finding. These factors help explain how Jackass was so phenomenally successful in the box office and how two-thirds of viewers were men.[27]

Further ResearchEdit

Jackass was gained huge success in media markets by gaining a loyal target audience and exploiting modern day hero culture. There are many other factors that may contribute to the success of Jackass and similar media. Research within psychology on risk inclination explores controversial media such as violent video games and crude music. Other social factors may be explored to determine their role in the success of this media.


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  4. http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2006/JCKA2.php
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  8. http://www.movieguide.org/reviews/jackass-presents-bad-grandpa.html
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  12. http://guycodeblog.mtv.com/2011/05/24/worst-jackass-injuries/
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America's_Funniest_Home_Videos
  14. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Le_AO-S0xk
  15. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xrRmNcLigM
  16. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1430587/
  17. http://tosh.comedycentral.com/video-clips/fd3i0h/cliff-jumper
  18. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hero
  19. Holt, D. B. & Thompson, C. J. (2004). Man‐of‐Action Heroes: The Pursuit of Heroic Masculinity in Everyday Consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 31(2), 425-440.
  20. Slovic, P. (1966). Risk-Taking in Children: Age and Sex Differences. Child Development, 37(1), 169-176.
  21. Fischer, P., Vingilis, E., Greitemeyer, T. & Vogrincic, C. (2011). Risk-Taking and the Media. Risk Analysis, 31, 699–705.
  22. Fischer, P., Vingilis, E., Greitemeyer, T. & Vogrincic, C. (2011). Risk-Taking and the Media. Risk Analysis, 31, 699–705.
  23. http://books.google.com/books/about/Convergence_Culture.html?id=RlRVNikT06YC
  24. http://www.dickhouse.tv/
  25. http://psychcentral.com/lib/how-and-why-humor-differs-between-the-sexes/0007851/2
  26. http://thearf-org-aux-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/ogilvy/12/PDF/ComedyCentral.pdf
  27. http://lubbockonline.com/stories/102802/ent_LA0515-7.001.shtml