Farewell, Ryan Dunn
There are very few things that most of us purposely still own from high school. Outside of some trophies, pictures, and certain prom night rashes, almost everything from that seemingly "most important time of your life" has gotten thrown away and/or forgotten. The hand-me-down Civic got junked, any senior pictures retrospectively look like portraits of 14 year-olds, and the street value of that $600 class ring from Jostens was six Mickey's malt liquor grenades (I know a generous pawn shop.)

Getting rid of these material things from high school is like losing your baby teeth. Without this ritualistic shedding of youth, adulthood could never be attained. Those early incisors were good for chewing through chicken nuggets, but the adult version must come if you are to truly enjoy steak. That letterman's jacket was great for commemorating the magic of sophomore track, but adult clothing must come if you are to avoid routine public shame.

As the years pass, most have little trouble emotionally detaching from bad fashion and now-fat high school crushes. Era-specific popular culture, however, is curiously clung to. TV, movies, music - good grief, music - are things that remain lodged in your brain. When recalling a favorite memory, it's easy to modify the fashion and appearance of the participants, but it's impossible to forget that they were all listening to Ziggy Stardust.

As time continues to move on, I physically own less and less from high school. But one of the things that I will always "own" is the real life cartoon, "Jackass." These days, through movies and relentless late-night reruns, everybody and their cool Dad has seen and secretly giggled at Preston Lacy running around in a diaper. My introduction to Jackass came much earlier, in a film that predates the MTV launch. In a story too fantastic to make up, my friend, Joey, was at the doctor's office when approached by a total stranger who initiated this conversation:

Stranger: You look like a cool guy.

Joey: I am.

Stranger: Go to the skate park in Moorhead and buy a movie called, "CKY2K."

Joey: Done.

Joey is not a skater, nor is he a regular consumer of waiting room tips. But needless to say...movie purchased. This film, which was essentially home video Jackass stunts with skateboarding mixed in, was unlike anything any of us could have conceived would be sold as entertainment. And at sixteen years-old, it was like a giant brain infusion of comedic sugar. The copy of CKY2K made rapid rounds through the locker room and high school hallway, all to unanimous approval from the acne-fighting crowd. This reaction was obviously playing out all across the country, because Jackass soon appeared on MTV not long after. Complete with the CKY2K characters, it became the only good thing on MTV since the fleeting period of time where "Celebrity Deathmatch" was still funny.

The outcry against Jackass was relatively quiet at first, because nobody outside of testosterone-pulsing youths knew what it was. Taking in the 11:00 PM screenings was like being in a secret club of bad behavior and BMX jousting. It was a secret club that we knew our parents would absolutely hate if they ever saw it, which of course made it all the more addicting. But unsurprisingly, it wasn't long until some kid charbroiled himself like human barbecue, and the mainstream lid was blown off. Gray-haired commentators howled, gray-haired Congressmen legislated, and gray-haired network executives eventually canceled the show.

The whole run of the CKY movies and Jackass itself is entirely contained in my high school years. Considering my age group was clearly their target audience, it shouldn't surprise you that, damn right, I own Jackass. The show and its viewers took a ton of crap from those among us who constantly search for the next sign of civilization's crumble, and yet, the subways still run and the country still prints IOUs.

All of this explains why Ryan Dunn's death is hard to take. Facebook, Twitter, and hopefully in some alternate universe, America Online, are littered with posts from people saying that he was their favorite character. That's fine even if I question the sincerity of some. I'm not going to cross-examine someone on which particular self-mutilator was their favorite. I will admit, though, that Ryan Dunn was no more remarkable to me than the rest of the cast, and certainly wasn't my favorite (That would be Chris Pontius - I kinda feel like partyin'.)

But as an original CKY member, of course I have a huge appreciation for Dunn. If my expectations about movies and television were a train, in 2000 he threw the switch and adjusted its course forever, making it impossible for me to unsee what I had just seen.

There really is no way to politely describe the first real scene of CKY2K. To sugarcoat it would be to diminish its shock appeal, which was the entire purpose for the scene - "scene" as in the minimal movie part, and "scene" in the greater Jackass cultural circus sense. CKY2K essentially opens with a bowl shot of one of the CKY members taking a dump. With a new millenium audience already seismically donkey punched, the offending party scoops the offering out of the bowl with a towel, charges to a sleeping Ryan Dunn, and yells, "Congratulations!" as he smears it all over his face. Train = Derailed.

When Bam Margera tells Dunn to get his attacker back by squirting jelly on him, Dunn famously responds, "Jelly? The guy fucking put shit on my face. And you're talking about jelly? I'm gonna drop a fucking brick on his head. I'll fucking piss on his face. I gotta piss."

Guess what happens next.

And so it went. For the next eleven years, the CKY/Jackass gang proceeded to see who could out-gross, out-mutilate, and out-shock each other. Since the human hamburger patty pulled back the curtain on Jackass and spilled the beans to all of our parents, Jackass has remained a constant target for the holier-than-thou culture and society police. Publicly, every "mature" person scoffed at this juvenile nonsense. Privately, they all snickered about the time that Steve-O got buckled over in orange jai lai ("What was that, a grapefruit?")

Against this history, it's not surprising at all that Dunn's death has been met with a vocal minority of derision. Roger Ebert posthumously lambasted Dunn's decisions and death, even refusing to offer the phony "I-don't-mean-this-but-okay" apology when criticism erupted. In less famous circles, I saw this response to an "R.I.P. Ryan Dunn" message on Facebook:

It might be tragic to his family and friends but lets face it, when you do drugs, drink and drive then get killed in a car accident its really just natural selection doing it's job more than anything. Dont be that guy....Ryan Dunn spent his... life being "that guy" and while it was entertaining, it was bound to wind up like this. Not sure which is more suprising, that most of you are shocked that he is dead or that it took this long for one of those idiots to kill themselves.

Like most criticism of Jackass, this message totally missed the point. Nobody is surprised that one of the guys got killed, just like nobody was shocked that Steve-O ended up in rehab or that Johnny Knoxville started hooking up with total babes. Similarly, very few took them to be role models. We didn't think theirs' was a life of great productivity. They just made us laugh.

The people that threw and throw stones at Jackass like to twist the argument into saying that fans idolize immature behavior, and that this filth is going to be the ruin of television and the minds of America's youth. I suspect they take this tack because saying, "I think the show is stupid" has less punch. After all, nobody really cares about your opinion, especially if the recepient of your unsolicited advice doesn't agree with it.

We get it: You hate Jackass. The rest of us living outside of a shell do not. We're not really surprised that one of the guys that numbed his system with toxins to pull this stuff off died. But at least allow them to dig the grave before you piss on it. And keep in mind that the doomsayers said that Elvis, the Simpsons, and "NOW That's What I Call Music 17" would be the ruin of us all. They were wrong. And you're wrong about Jackass, too.

Sadly, I'm not surprised Ryan Dunn died. And I don't think he's a hero for doing so. But he sure as hell made me laugh...

Thanks for a truly enjoyable eleven years. Ryan Dunn, you will be missed.

Leonardite.com © 2011
Dedicated to The Stick