The Satanic School
I came across Steve-O at Marrakech airport in the fall of 2017. To this day, it remains one of the greatest moments in my life.
I surreptitiously followed him into a newly-opened massage parlor nestled between a store selling magazines and a Dior boutique. I had to pay the equivalent of five euros to be able to watch Steve-O from a vibrating chair in the back as he was given a real massage.
I’ve seen Franziska von Almsick in Leipzig and George Clooney in Berlin and Spike Lee in Rome, but sitting in the same room as Steve-O gave me shivers. I was familiar with his biography, so I was surprised to see that he nevertheless looked young at the time. Young and wise.
“Do an accident”Steve-O has earned his money through mistakes, which is perfectly possible, especially in the United States. Steve-O was our role model. My brother Ferdinand and my friends Viola and Tobias copied his stunts back in the day. We did not see the failed stunt (the accident) as being a pseudo-action but as being a proxy move of sorts, representative of our fragility and representative of a battle against human seriousness.
There’s a Super 8 video, I can’t have been much more than three years old at the time, that shows me wearing a big blue paraglider helmet. In this home video, I’m telling my mom that I want to “do an accident.” My mom says that I should go ahead and “do the accident,” so wearing my father’s blue paraglider helmet, I launch myself between two chairs and a shoe closet and end up buried under a pile of pillows, blankets, and toy cars. I became a fearful child after these difficult phases. And Steve-O remained the bravest person in the world in my eyes: he was an anarchist and a hooligan, a ruffian and a destroyer. For me, his greatest stunts involved sticking a fishing hook through his cheek and allowing his stupid friends to use him as human bait in some stretch of deep water or other off the coast of South Carolina; putting a stinging jellyfish on his head; swallowing a goldfish and then puking it up again; and even attaching a leech to his eyeball. Recently he repeated a stunt he had performed in 1996 in which he jumped off a motel roof and did a forward somersault into a pool. Just to prove to everyone that he still has what it takes. As if to say: I’m not scared of dying. What gives?
Steve-O is not vainLeonora Wright, an author who grew up with slapstick comedies, writes: “The problem with people is that they simply exist and don’t know what to do with themselves, that’s the entire problem. If everyone was dead, then I quite honestly believe that this dark world would be a much better place for everything else that God created.” This is just what Steve-O might say. I’m quite certain that Steve-O believes neither in his own superiority nor in the supposed superiority of humankind; he does not take himself seriously. By elevating slapstick and stunts to an art form, and by celebrating individuals like Evel Knievel or the Undertaker (or formats such as FailArmy), there is one thing that Americans, no matter how primitive Europeans may consider them, know better than us: that sooner or later we will kick the bucket. Americans are not vain.
Steve-O is not vain. Steve-O reproaches spectators for their haughtiness by laughing the entire time himself, a guttural laugh that is not only the result of smoking too many cigarettes but no doubt also of consuming countless ampules of nitrous oxide, as can be seen in the documentary film Steve-O: Demise and Rise (Dimitry Elyashkevich,2009). In other words, Steve-O is also a philosopher because: “The man who trips would be the last to laugh at his own fall, unless he happened to be a philosopher, one who had acquired, by habit, the power of rapid self-division and thus of witnessing the phenomena of his own ego as a disinterested spectator.” This may be a rare occurrence, according to Baudelaire, yet it is precisely the concept behind the Jackass group: to laugh at themselves, to self-divide, and to watch themselves fall. Each of them, from Bam Margera to Johnny Knoxville and Ryan Dunn, knows that humans are poorly designed and anything but superior. None of them pretend to be anyone else! They are aware of the irony of their movements, and of the irony of their existence!
Laughing at the failI laugh at the slapstick and the fall and the abortive stunt more than at anything else. I laugh at and with Steve-O. I am not primitive, nor naïve. I laugh at people who inflict pain on themselves, at people who I do not know. And through Steve-O, I have learned to laugh at myself, at failure, and I have learned to celebrate mistakes.
When I saw Steve-O at Marrakech airport, when I was being massaged and he relaxed and I relaxed, I noticed that his laughter and my laughter, and the connection between his and my laughter, is only the perpetual explosion of our anger and our anguish over the fact that humans are not, in fact, superior to anyone or anything, but are inferior to everything. Humans are so terribly vain! And when I think about this, I see Steve-O in my mind’s eye as he sits on a portable toilet full of shit and is propelled through the air.
As Baudelaire says, we learn to laugh at mistakes in Satan’s school. And Steve-O was my favorite teacher at this school. To this day, I ask myself why mistakes do not always acquire such exalted status as they do in stunts. And Satan’s assistant taught me one more thing at school: the one who makes the mistake must apologize, and the one who suffers as a result must also apologize.
This article was commissioned and created in collaboration with Das Wetter – Magazin für Text und Musik.