I never especially cared for Jackass. 

Actually, that’s an understatement. When I first heard about Jackass in 2001 or so, I was an annoying snob with a new diploma and a newer job. A show on MTV featuring morons in their early-20s endangering themselves in the name of entertainment? No thank you. I was in my early 20s right then, and had gone to college and gotten a real job, as one does. I did not have to drink horrifying smoothies or get bitten or stomped or gored. I just had to go to college and then sit in a cubicle at ABC News and I was on my way. I knew what I was doing and I knew I might be good at it, given the chance. 

Twenty-six-year-old me knew it doesn’t take any talent or skill to get people to wince. Any moron can get a rise out of an audience by putting themselves in danger and/or squicking people out with grossness, right? I felt this way about most stunt TV — looking at you, Fear Factor — and eventually most entries in what I think of as the “DIY home stunt category” in the early years of YouTube. I knew the jackasses had made some movies, and I knew there were some lawsuits and legal issues — go figure — but Jackass stayed mostly off my radar once the initial wave of hype was over.  

Then I was sitting in a movie theater earlier this year, cheerfully watching trailers for coming attractions, and one of them was for Jackass Forever.

I don’t work in news anymore (besides this paper, I guess). And my diploma is gathering dust along with the critical career wisdom I gathered in earning it, like how to edit reel-to-reel tape with a razor blade and where the cheapest parking in the Loop was if you worked weird hours. I’m in worse shape than I was and working on less exhilarating things. I’m 47. Stuff, especially fun stuff, hurts more than it used to, and I have less time to do the fun things that hurt more besides. 

You start to see the finish line. It’s way off in the distance, of course, but … imagine the Las Vegas Half Marathon if it started on Fremont Street. You run the whole Strip, downtown to Mandalay Bay, and everything is amazing, and then the last 40% is just straight out into the desert. “Life finds a way” eventually starts to seem like an expression more appropriate for tones of resignation than wonder.

But here comes the Jackass crew, all grey hair and scars and stories of rehab, getting stomped by bulls and fired out of cannons and licking Tasers. And what used to look like anything-for-fame idiocy at our age Then starts to look like an act of comedically insane defiance against the dying of the light at our age Now. 

Imagine giving the Joker a squirting flower and a mallet and sticking him in among the Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae.  

Respect is not something you give. Respect is something you earn.