Two big stories from last weekend were the NFL cracking down on violent hits in their games and Jackass 3-D setting an October box office record (unseating The Social Network from the top spot it held for the two weekends previous). One is a group deciding that they want to take steps to reduce injuries in a violent situation; the other is a group deciding that they want to subject themselves to violent situations designed to result in injury. Both proved very lucrative, indicating people have an interest in seeing the infliction of damage, be that upon another highly paid athlete or on oneself by a self-proclaimed "jackass."
However, it seems more likely that the typical American mother would be much more proud of a son who makes it to play for a football team, making money for purposefully performing physical punishment upon others than she would be of a son who chooses to punish himself for the amusement of others.
Now, it's highly questionable that as a civilization we should be encouraging either having our sons crash into each other on the gridiron or be crashed into by stampeding bulls, but in the end, might it be somewhat hypocritical to suggest that one is somehow more legitimate? Do not both appeal to some infantile fascination with the exploration of pain, where we want to experience a vicarious thrill of seeing someone else get a little bit hurt but then pop up and do it again (and thus assuage any shame we might feel for wanting to see that)?
Jackass is idiotic, extreme slapstick that plays on the same comedy that made many of the bits on America's Funniest Home Videos a popular show (and account for probably half of YouTube). If you ever laughed at a father get hit in the crotch by a child, you have no high ground in the matter.
But in the end it seems like as a society there's vastly mixed messages to be drawn from the way one form of entertainment (sports) starts handing out hefty fines to those who do what they've always done in order intending to condemn their violent actions while at the same time another form of entertainment (filmed pranks) draws more moviegoers than any other over a key period, essentially rewarding the same sort of violence.
It's enough to make one want to hit somebody...