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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Inevitable Deterioration of the Human Body

by Tago Mago

Movie still from Cats. Two CGI cats with human faces play on a kitchen counter.

On January 3, 2020, I left the Yonge and Dundas Cineplex feeling monstrous. I called a friend, screamed into the phone, inhaled cold beer and hot starch, and biked across the city in what felt like seconds; weightless, elated, impenetrable. My evening spilled into night, and my inner mania poured out into every place and person I crossed. I thought I might explode, and even if I was hit by a passing bus I knew I would continue catapulting into the new form that my life was about to take. I had just seen CATS.

At the end of the night, sitting on a candlelit bed, I discussed this fever dream of a movie with another member of the viewing party, with awe and perplexion. We had never encountered the body imagined in any comparable way. It was raw, strange, and deliriously horny. We talked about CATS until we ran out of words to describe what we had just seen. We had something resembling sex with a deadened chemistry that I didn’t know was possible, and I barely slept while struggling to contain a fart until the light was bright enough to leave with something resembling grace. I don’t think I’ve had a good night’s sleep since then.

***

A common joke that I saw circulating on social media in the early days of the pandemic was that nothing was the same after CATS came out, and everything was worse. That somehow, this catastrophic misstep of a movie sent our timeline spiralling into a chaos best represented by the image of Rebel Wilson’s cat zipping off what appears to be her own fur, revealing it to be a costume sitting on top of an identically furry—but somehow more naked—body. 

"...bodies rendered wrong, displayed in excruciating detail, larger than life, and laughed at by thousands, perhaps millions, of people who found the dissonance so hilarious, so wrong it was right."

The grotesque human/cat CGI hybrid that is the hallmark and legacy of CATS—the undulating, gyrating fur loosely imposed on uncanny hands and head—has followed me for the past 2 years. It was the last thing I saw on the big screen; bodies rendered wrong, displayed in excruciating detail, larger than life, and laughed at by thousands, perhaps millions, of people who found the dissonance so hilarious, so wrong it was right. No amount of dysphoria or dysmorphia I know, no level of alienation from my own body, can compare to the experience of witnessing the human form transformed by CATS.

Some of my fondest memories immediately preceding the pandemic were of the delirious laughter that I shared with friends and strangers in the screenings I attended; glee at this deranged vision of how the human form could be compromised. These would be some of the last times for the foreseeable future where people could share that laughter without risking their health and safety, as a new debasement of the collective body began to take hold.

***

“When was the last time you got together with old friends to laugh your asses off?”

This is the question loudly and proudly posed to the viewer of the trailer for Jackass Forever. What follows is a montage of the many experiments in debasement that have made the Jackass franchise so iconic and beloved: cock and ball torture, vaudevillian stunts, zoological masochism, chaotic contraptions, and all other forms of spectacle that converge on the body as a site of something that it should not be doing, for its own sake good God… but damn if it isn’t fun to watch. The trailer draws explicit focus to the veteran status of its creators and stars. The new generation of performers in the Jackass roster talk openly about how old the originals are compared to them. After the amount of hell the creators have been through in 20 years of using their bodies in ways no God could intend—pogo stick to the penis, fart to the face mask, port-a-potty to the sky, super glue to the collective body, to name a fraction of a few—their enduring willingness to go back and give themselves up to the pursuit of spectacular entertainment is part of what makes Jackass so compelling and life-affirming.

Movie still from Jackass Forever. Johnny Knoxville is dressed as Icarus with wings, flying through the air after being shot out of a cannon.

Watching Jackass Forever in a theatre, laughing my ass off with old friends and all the other groups of people doing the same, I felt a special kind of collective delirium and joy that I hadn’t experienced since CATS. In some way, it felt like a bookend to the fever dream that CATS had supposedly set in motion. Within that space of the past 2 years, time has broken and everyone I know has spoken about feeling decades older than they once were, worn and weary from a constant state of stress and stagnant decay. Though the virus persistently remains a part of our lives, infecting seemingly every person at some point (wave 6 at the time of writing), a “fuck it” attitude has emerged for many people as a result of our inevitable brush with the thing we’re supposed to be avoiding.

"I may have inhaled something that I shouldn’t have from the breath of a stranger’s laughter in the theatre, but I’m insatiable and I want to taste it."

Knocked on our asses at best and suffering long-term damage at worst, we’re all more familiar with a certain level of risk we take in the pursuit of any kind of life experienced together. The members of Jackass, laughing deliriously with their friends through the pain as they lay waste to their aged bodies, show us the joys of that pursuit. I may have inhaled something that I shouldn’t have from the breath of a stranger’s laughter in the theatre, but I’m insatiable and I want to taste it.

***

Watching the spectacular failure of CATS made me feel invincible, arrogant in my body. Like the actors, performing confidently unaware of the form they would inevitably take, I entered 2020 on a high that had nowhere to go but back towards reality; crashing into a new uncanny version of itself. After living in that uncanny place for long enough, where the body is always hurtling toward its next state of destruction and failure, the world that CATS wrought has been sowed by Jackass Forever. In 2022, my body is a middle-aged entertainer, shot out of a cannon with costume wings and something resembling grace, into unknown and unavoidable consequences.

At the end of the night, sitting on a candlelit bed, I discussed this fever dream of a movie with another member of the viewing party, with awe and perplexion. We had never encountered the body imagined in any comparable way. It was raw, strange, and deliriously horny. We talked about CATS until we ran out of words to describe what we had just seen. We had something resembling sex with a deadened chemistry that I didn’t know was possible, and I barely slept while struggling to contain a fart until the light was bright enough to leave with something resembling grace. I don’t think I’ve had a good night’s sleep since then.

***

A common joke that I saw circulating on social media in the early days of the pandemic was that nothing was the same after CATS came out, and everything was worse. That somehow, this catastrophic misstep of a movie sent our timeline spiralling into a chaos best represented by the image of Rebel Wilson’s cat zipping off what appears to be her own fur, revealing it to be a costume sitting on top of an identically furry—but somehow more naked—body. 

"...bodies rendered wrong, displayed in excruciating detail, larger than life, and laughed at by thousands, perhaps millions, of people who found the dissonance so hilarious, so wrong it was right."

The grotesque human/cat CGI hybrid that is the hallmark and legacy of CATS—the undulating, gyrating fur loosely imposed on uncanny hands and head—has followed me for the past 2 years. It was the last thing I saw on the big screen; bodies rendered wrong, displayed in excruciating detail, larger than life, and laughed at by thousands, perhaps millions, of people who found the dissonance so hilarious, so wrong it was right. No amount of dysphoria or dysmorphia I know, no level of alienation from my own body, can compare to the experience of witnessing the human form transformed by CATS.

Some of my fondest memories immediately preceding the pandemic were of the delirious laughter that I shared with friends and strangers in the screenings I attended; glee at this deranged vision of how the human form could be compromised. These would be some of the last times for the foreseeable future where people could share that laughter without risking their health and safety, as a new debasement of the collective body began to take hold.

***

“When was the last time you got together with old friends to laugh your asses off?”

This is the question loudly and proudly posed to the viewer of the trailer for Jackass Forever. What follows is a montage of the many experiments in debasement that have made the Jackass franchise so iconic and beloved: cock and ball torture, vaudevillian stunts, zoological masochism, chaotic contraptions, and all other forms of spectacle that converge on the body as a site of something that it should not be doing, for its own sake good God… but damn if it isn’t fun to watch. The trailer draws explicit focus to the veteran status of its creators and stars. The new generation of performers in the Jackass roster talk openly about how old the originals are compared to them. After the amount of hell the creators have been through in 20 years of using their bodies in ways no God could intend—pogo stick to the penis, fart to the face mask, port-a-potty to the sky, super glue to the collective body, to name a fraction of a few—their enduring willingness to go back and give themselves up to the pursuit of spectacular entertainment is part of what makes Jackass so compelling and life-affirming.

Movie still from Jackass Forever. Johnny Knoxville is dressed as Icarus with wings, flying through the air after being shot out of a cannon.

Watching Jackass Forever in a theatre, laughing my ass off with old friends and all the other groups of people doing the same, I felt a special kind of collective delirium and joy that I hadn’t experienced since CATS. In some way, it felt like a bookend to the fever dream that CATS had supposedly set in motion. Within that space of the past 2 years, time has broken and everyone I know has spoken about feeling decades older than they once were, worn and weary from a constant state of stress and stagnant decay. Though the virus persistently remains a part of our lives, infecting seemingly every person at some point (wave 6 at the time of writing), a “fuck it” attitude has emerged for many people as a result of our inevitable brush with the thing we’re supposed to be avoiding.

"I may have inhaled something that I shouldn’t have from the breath of a stranger’s laughter in the theatre, but I’m insatiable and I want to taste it."

Knocked on our asses at best and suffering long-term damage at worst, we’re all more familiar with a certain level of risk we take in the pursuit of any kind of life experienced together. The members of Jackass, laughing deliriously with their friends through the pain as they lay waste to their aged bodies, show us the joys of that pursuit. I may have inhaled something that I shouldn’t have from the breath of a stranger’s laughter in the theatre, but I’m insatiable and I want to taste it.

***

Watching the spectacular failure of CATS made me feel invincible, arrogant in my body. Like the actors, performing confidently unaware of the form they would inevitably take, I entered 2020 on a high that had nowhere to go but back towards reality; crashing into a new uncanny version of itself. After living in that uncanny place for long enough, where the body is always hurtling toward its next state of destruction and failure, the world that CATS wrought has been sowed by Jackass Forever. In 2022, my body is a middle-aged entertainer, shot out of a cannon with costume wings and something resembling grace, into unknown and unavoidable consequences.